Roman Catholics who back President Bush held the first of their daily
Masses Sunday during the Republican National Convention, highlighting their
presence as the candidates vie for the Catholic vote.
The services are not official convention events and no political endorsements were made during worship at the Church of Our Saviour, one mile from Madison Square Garden where the convention starts Monday.
But the Masses are listed on a schedule distributed among conventioneers by the volunteer Catholic Working Group, which is helping Bush's drive for the Catholic vote and has opened a hospitality suite in the convention hall.
The Rev. George Rutler, who led the Sunday service, said during his sermon that political debate in the United States had become "nasty" because the country was engaged in "spiritual warfare" over preserving human life. He also touched on the national debate over whether Catholic politicians at odds with church teaching should receive Holy Communion.
Bush is a Methodist whose position on abortion is more in line with Catholic teaching.
About one-quarter of the electorate is Catholic and many live in battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio. Bush split the Catholic vote in 2000 with Democrat Al Gore and has been courting Catholics ever since.
Analysts say the Catholic vote could go to either candidate. Catholics no longer vote as a bloc and surveys indicate that most do not choose candidates based on their position on abortion.
About 26 percent of the GOP delegates are Catholic. New York Cardinal Edward Egan is scheduled to give the benediction Thursday, after Bush accepts the nomination.
While pastors are barred from partisan political activity, it is not uncommon for churches to hold worship services surrounding presidential conventions. Still, the practice has drawn criticism from church-state separation watchdogs, who say Masses such as the one held Sunday amount to a tacit political endorsement.