Commemorations of Civil Rights Leader Catch Media’s Attention

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

Prayers and peace marches, along with banquets and community-organizing, highlighted this year’s celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. around the Province. From New England to the Carolinas, friars and their partners in ministry gathered to recognize the legacy of the late civil rights leader who fought racism, poverty and war.

The Boston Globe featured the Province’s Jan. 20 Mass at St. Anthony Shrine in an article titled Faithful remember Martin Luther King Jr.’s message.

Provincial Councilor Joseph Nangle, OFM, a Massachusetts native, spoke at the noon Mass, which Francis McHugh, OFM, celebrated. The Globe reported:More than 200 people of all races filled the pews of St. Anthony Shrine in downtown Boston,” to hear Joe, who called King a prophet.

The friar from Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Arlington, Va., “challenged people of all faiths to call upon Obama, as King once called upon President Lyndon B. Johnson, to confront issues of poverty, war abroad, and violence at home,” the story said.

“Our Catholic Church in America, I believe, has become what Dr. King called ‘a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound,’ ” Joe said, quoting King’s influential “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

A Call to Action
Joseph said the Church had become too associated simply with “opposition to abortion, stem-cell research, and same-sex marriage” when focus should be on opposition to “national and global poverty, war-making, and the destruction of our beautiful planet.

“We, with our Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim sisters and brothers, are called at this time in history to be the kind of prophetic presence we celebrate on this inauguration and Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend,” he said.

Meanwhile, the National Catholic Reporter reported on a community event in Camden, N.J. Students of St. Anthony of Padua School planned to enhance a local park, a project on which Jud Weiksnar, OFM, and seventh- and eighth-graders have been working for several years. “Student Task Force Transforms New Jersey Park with Franciscan’s Help,” described how over the past two years, Jud, pastor since 2005, has mentored Student Leaders’ Von Nieda Park Task Force. They have met with not only local government officials, as well as national leaders in Washington, D.C.

“It’s not easy being a pastor in Camden,” NCR quoted Jud. “But when you’ve got a group of kids like this, it helps you keep the hope alive.”

At the Martin Luther King Day gathering at Von Nieda Park, “the task force got a commitment from their county council representative to improve the park’s lighting, increase police protection, and look into surveillance video cameras for the park, moves Weiksnar called ‘significant victories for our students and our neighborhood,’ ” according to the NCR article. “The group has received awards and citations from local and state levels of government, and it was one of five groups nationwide to receive a Youth Service Challenge award for environmental work through the Jefferson Awards for Public Service.”

The students were quoted in the story as saying, “The things that took Father Jud six years to do, we get done in 48 hours.”

Ministries At Work
Other HNP ministries also commemorated the holiday. In Greenville, S.C., residents and members of St. Anthony of Padua Parish focused on the words of King and also worked in neighborhoods needing rehabilitation.

Patrick Tuttle, OFM, pastor, said the parish, which in 2008 held the Province’s commemoration, “had a rousing Dr. King week. St. Anthony of Greenville posted 36-inch-by-36-inch posters of Dr. King and his quotes throughout the church and school. The homily Sunday and Monday was inspired by his three-fold concerns against poverty, racism and war.”

Patrick led the invocation and grace at the city of Greenville’s MLK Dream Weekend Banquet, which, he said, was “a sea of influential black leaders, over 1,000, including Sen. Karl Allen, National Merit winning poet, and keynote speaker Nikki Giovanni, and more than 50 local pastors. We then participated in Hands on Greenville, doing work in neighborhoods suffering particular blight.”

Near Philadelphia, a group of 50 people, that included Patrick Sieber, OFM, stood outside the headquarters of munitions manufacturer Lockheed Martin with banners and signs. A video of the Jan. 21 demonstration appears on the website of the Brandywine Peace Community.

Siena College hosted the 8th Annual STOP Conference on Jan. 18. STOP, which stands for Students Together Opposing Prejudice, celebrated King’s legacy and welcomed hundreds of Capital Region middle and high school students to campus for the anti-prejudice conference.

Facilitators from the Anti-Defamation League’s A World of Difference Institute led students through group activities, workshops, discussions and action-planning around issues of tolerance and respect.

Friars and partners-in-ministry at Siena College and the University of Georgia, Athens, will continue celebrations of his legacy with events during February — Black History Month — and April — to mark the 45th anniversary of his assassination.

 Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.