About 25 Roman Catholics sat around a crackling fire in Monclova Township last night for casual conversation about Barack Obama, his presidential candidacy, and what he plans if he becomes president.
One of them happened to be Victoria Reggie Kennedy, wife of U.S. Sen. Edward ''Ted'' Kennedy (D., Mass.). Another was former U.S. Rep. Tim Roemer (D., Ind.), who was a member of the 9/11 Commission.
Both spoke of their faith and their support for Mr. Obama. For more than an hour, they and the guests - including a teacher, a person who works in health care, a priest, and religious sisters - discussed social justice; war and peace; gun violence and poverty; immigration; education and vouchers for nonpublic schools.
Mrs. Kennedy said she and her husband had lots of friends among the once-large field of Democratic presidential candidates.
"Teddy said, 'I'm waiting to see who inspires me,'•" she recalled. "Suddenly out of Iowa is this man, Barack Obama."
Last month, Senator Kennedy endorsed Mr. Obama at a rally in Washington.
Mr. Obama also inspires young people, Mrs. Kennedy said, including friends of her daughter in college who otherwise might not show much interest in a presidential campaign.
"There's something happening out there, and it's exciting to be a part of it," Mrs. Kennedy said. "I know Senator Obama grew up with the values that I grew up with and that I know you grew up with."
Mr. Roemer said that Ohioans on Tuesday "will be making decisions for the rest of the country.
"It's on your shoulders. It's in your heart. It's up to you," he said.
Mr. Roemer said his parish priest has spoken of the need for Catholics to support a just immigration policy, and Mr. Obama advocates such a policy - one "that reflects the Good Samaritan in us all."
Mr. Roemer said Mr. Obama's message of hope is not empty rhetoric.
"Hope is what our country is based on," he said.
Mrs. Kennedy said that Mr. Obama's speeches and plans are so specific "it's almost staggering.
"He's the real deal," she said. "I think what people are responding to is that he shares their hopes and dreams."
The gathering is part of the efforts of the Obama campaign to reach out to communities of faith. Mrs. Kennedy and Mr. Roemer will be with Catholics in Cleveland today for a similar event.
The gathering last night was in a high-ceilinged building next to the home of Dean and Judy Ludwig, who attend Corpus Christi Parish at the University of Toledo.
Mrs. Kennedy and Mr. Roemer sat in wood rockers made by Mr. Ludwig and listened to questions and concerns. Conventional wisdom might place abortion rights as a hot-button issue, but the topic came up only once.
Mr. Roemer, who described himself as a "pro-life Democrat," said Mr. Obama would approach the issue with the goal of reducing the number of abortions, "not talk about it, not use it as a wedge issue."
He said Mr. Obama speaks to the dignity of life when he addresses such concerns as health care, and "those are exactly the things we talk about in our faith."
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