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RELIGION

Priest's benediction touches on abortion and gay rights

As the Democratic Party nominated a Catholic for president for the first time since 1960, the Catholic priest who gave the final words at the convention alluded to the church's concern with the Democratic Party's support for abortion rights by calling on God to ''guide every citizen of our United States to cherish all life."

The Rev. John B. Ardis spoke at the close of the convention, around 11:15, to a packed FleetCenter crowd that just seconds earlier had been dancing and shouting to celebrate Kerry's nomination. As the priest talked, his arms outstretched and palms facing upward, the nominees, Senators John F. Kerry and John Edwards, bowed their heads and closed their eyes in prayer, balloons and confetti swirling about them.

In his benediction, Ardis, director of the Paulist Center of Boston, also referred directly to gay and lesbian rights, asking God to ''give us the courage to embrace each person as our neighbor, regardless of gender, race, or ethnic origin, regardless of sexual orientation, religious tradition, or age."

Kerry, a supporter of abortion rights, decided to avoid the question of whether Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley would agree to speak at the convention by not inviting the Boston archbishop.

Kerry chose Ardis because the senator and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, are regular communicants at the Paulist Center's chapel, which is located on Beacon Hill, just a few blocks from the couple's home on Louisburg Square.

Ardis's words were constructed around a biblical theme first used Monday night by Bill Clinton, who said that during the Vietnam War, and at various other moments in his life, Kerry had volunteered to serve, saying ''Send me."

That phrase is an allusion to the prophet Isaiah, who says in the Bible: ''I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?' Then said I, 'Here am I; send me.' "

Ardis picked up on that theme.

''Help these public servants to safeguard the common good; give them courage to live lives of integrity; inspire them to speak with a prophetic voice for the disenfranchised and disinherited; and when these candidates hear your call, give them the strength and wisdom to say, 'Send us,' " he said, in the first of several sentences ending with the phrase ''send us."

Also yesterday, the invocation was given by Rabbi Ronne Friedman of Temple Israel in the Fenway. Kerry's brother -- attorney Cameron F. Kerry, a convert to Judaism -- is a member of Temple Israel.

Friedman called on God to ''instruct us all in the ways of peace and bring security to our troubled world."

Michael Paulson can be reached at mpaulson@globe.com.

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