Holy Name Province will hold the annual commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 19 at St. Joseph Church in Wilmington, Del. — a parish with a long history and a large African American population. As every year, the HNP African Ancestry Committee chooses a ministry site at which to remember the slain civil rights leader and to pray for racial equality.
The Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. by Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM. A reception will be held after the Mass, said Paul Williams, OFM, pastor.
The commemoration is being held at St. Joseph’s because of historical significance. Next year is the 125th anniversary of the founding of the parish. Throughout 2014, events will be held to celebrate the anniversary, said Paul. The parish, 80 percent African American, is the oldest African American one in the Diocese of Wilmington, he added. The friars have staffed the parish since 1993, assuming leadership from the Josephites.
David Hyman, OFM, chair of the African Ancestry Committee, said he urges friars to locally promote the commemoration.
“Racism is not dead,” he said. “From the committee’s perspective, anything on the enduring issue of racism and the value of raising the issue with our constituents is always timely. Celebrating Dr. King on the holiday weekend means celebrating the ongoing movement of freedom for both blacks and whites in our society.
“Sometimes we play our hand of racism without even knowing it,” said David. He is preparing a letter promoting next month’s event to be distributed to friars. “I still remember the words of a lady interviewed for NPR prior to the last election, a lady attending the veterans convention, who said, ‘We need a first lady in the White House who acts like a first lady and looks like a first lady.’ What was that about?”
Earlier this year, Paul reflected on racism in a piece titled “Racism and Profiling” that appeared in this newsletter several weeks after a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder following the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin.
“As an African-American, I know how it feels to be profiled,” he wrote. “When I have been out and about dressed in street clothing, I have seen the look of fear on the faces of those who are profiling me, assuming and judging that I may be a perpetrator. If I allow myself to succumb to the fear and belief that every young male, black or white, who approaches me is dangerous, then I am no better than George Zimmerman.”
The 2013 Provincial commemoration of King was held in Boston at St. Anthony Shrine.
In addition to publicizing the 2014 commemoration of the King holiday, the African Ancestry Committee is making final arrangements for the upcoming Go Down Moses retreat offered to black men aged 18 to 40. The Dec. 27 to 29 gathering in Maryland will include a visit to St. Joseph Church and a vocation talk by a friar, said Gerald Hopeck, OFM, a committee member and one of the organizers of the event.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.