Applause, Protest Greet Ryan at Commencement

Article excerpt

ATCHISON, KAN. * Processing behind a parade of graduates, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., made his way May 11 toward O'Malley-McAllister Auditorium at Benedictine College here to deliver the commencement address. While applause greeted Ryan inside the hall, protesters voiced their disapproval of his selection at the entrance of the small Catholic college.

Choosing not to directly discuss the protests or his federal budget proposal, Ryan spoke about the tenets of Catholic teaching and how his faith has influenced his life as a public servant.

"Faith isn't a Christmas ornament; it's not something you save for a special occasion," Ryan said. "It's something you live with and struggle with every day. That's why it's so frustrating and so comforting."

He encouraged graduates to continue to search for their faith. Ryan told the graduates that if they did not have all the answers after four years at the college, "discover for yourself what it is you really believe."

The grandmother of one of the graduating seniors, Barbara Luttrull of Watsonville, Calif., told NCR she enjoyed Ryan's speech, which she said was geared toward the graduates and their futures.

"I think he wants [graduates] to put God above everything and walk in the right direction in their life," she said.

"How does a Catholic public servant apply Catholic social teaching?" Ryan asked. On certain issues, such as preserving the sanctity of life, Ryan said "the teaching is crystal clear," but when it comes to other issues, "there's a broad arc of prudential judgment, and there's room for everybody."

One of those issues involves solidarity and subsidiarity, two tenets of Catholic teaching that critics of Ryan's budget plan have focused on, including some U.S. Catholic bishops.

In defining solidarity, Ryan said, "We are all in this together, so we must be good to one another ... and when we write laws of our nation, we must never lose sight of our primary purpose: the common good."

Ryan said the government should not act for others or tell them how to do their work. He said those most likely to solve problems are the people who are closest to them because of their familiarity with the community.

Ryan received substantial applause from the crowd when he voiced support for religious liberty for Catholic hospitals, schools and other institutions, saying they should be allowed to do their work according to their moral standards.

Sesinyios Haileselassie, a graduating senior from Pittsburgh, said he appreciated Ryan talking about the Catholic identity and applying it in real-world situations.

However, "I thought Ryan was actually defending himself a lot more during his talk because he was criticized for his budget plan," he said. …