By a Special Correspondent (`CATHOLIC, Protestant and Is-41 Jewish seminarians in Washington have been keeping a joint vigil for 24 hours a day since April 19 across the street from the Lincoln Memorial in support of the Civil Rights Bill now before Congress. The Bill would establish new liberties for Negroes
The day and night vigil is expected to log 2,000 hours, day and night. About 2,500 seminarians from all parts of the nation are taking part. They stand for threehour shifts behind a sign.
They are recording their impressions as the hours go by. There are many friendly visitors, but there are also ugly episodes of people shouting from passing cars, screamed obscenities, harangues from demonstrators who maintain a post near by.
NEGRO'S THANKS Yet taxi drivers stop unasked in the early hours of the morning with coffee. Tourists, civil servants, even Senators come over with a word of encouragement. A passing motorist stops to give a raincoat to a seminarian caught by an unexpected shower.
A Protestant student records that one elderly southerner spent an hour with the watchers, mouthing invective against Negroes. "He said he kept In shape by getting 30 minutes of practice every day. At this point he wiggled his trigger finger ominously. The Catholic Brother with me smiled beatifically while I gazed at the memorial and looked noble, hoping the man would get tired and go away."
The Catholic organiser, Brother Jude Molnar, T.O.R., from Cleveland, says that sometimes as many as 15,000 people pass by on foot each day. The vigil, he states, has had a tremendous impact on the public and on the seminarians themselves, who keep silence during their duty shifts.
One night, a Negro approached the watchers hesitantly. He said: "It's kind of awkward for me to say thanks, but thank you".
The seminarians intend to keep the vigil going until the Bill has passed the Senate and received the President's signature.
Meanwhile, a noted Protestant scholar has written an open letter to the American Catholic bishops urging them to support a wide range of topics in the Second Vatican Council, including statements on religious liberty and antiSemitism. Robert McAfee Brown, professor of religion at Stanford University and an official Protestant observer at the council, told the bishops their "vigorous advocacy" of a statement endorsing religious liberty would be "your most significant contribution as American bishops to the Second Vatican Council".
His letter appears in the June 26 issue of Commonweal, a Catholic weekly review edited by laymen.
The open letter also urged the bishops to press for a wider role in the Church for laymen, reforms in seminary education, abolition of the Index of Forbidden Books. and a statement on collegiality—the concept that all bishops share with the Pope in the teaching and governing authority of the Church.
Dr. Brown, a Presbyterian, asked the bishops to change Church law so that marriages between Catholics and Protestants performed by Protestant ministers could be considered valid.
On the subject of birth control, he said he is aware the Church will not "change" its teaching, but he added: "I must hope . . . you will not prematurely silence the moral theologians who are struggling with a matter on which the last word has not been said".