Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream lives on at ministries around the Province, as friars and their partners-in-ministry demonstrated by commemorations of the civil rights leader this weekend. In addition to reflecting on King’s work, some ministries took an active role in continuing what he began more than 60 years ago.
Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, celebrated Mass during the Province’s annual commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day at St. Joseph Church in Wilmington, Del. During his homily, he recalled an incident when King received a death threat, while organizing the 1955 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott that made King consider leaving the public eye.
“Sometimes we face criticism and even persecution for our faith, especially when we are on a quest for justice,” John said in an article published by The News Journal. “Like Dr. King, we are called to speak out.”
Paul Williams, OFM, pastor of the oldest African-American parish in the diocese, said that if the civil rights leader were alive today, he would have much to talk about in Wilmington.
“If he were speaking to this city, he would remind us that violence is not welcome,” Paul noted. “King would challenge us to find ways to ensure that the young people of our city remember the most important gift in the world, which is the gift of life.”
The Jan. 19 Mass was attended by several Delaware government officials, John said.
In Camden, N.J., the Student Leaders Von Nieda Park Task Force, a group of sixth to eighth grade students from St. Anthony of Padua and local schools, invited Camden County sixth to tenth graders and their parents to the 5th annual Martin Luther King Day of Community Organizing. They were assisted by their adult mentors: Mirta Nieves, Kristen Nalen, Grace Kincaid and pastor Jud Weiksnar, OFM, pastor of St. Anthony Parish.
“One veteran community organizer visiting from Philadelphia called that ‘the most radical MLK celebration in the country,” said Jud. “And perhaps it was. Approximately 75 students participated in the only event in the country to celebrate the memory of Dr. King by doing community organizing, rather than community service.”
After learning the basics of community organizing through faith reflection, games, presentations, roleplays and a walking tour of Von Nieda Park, the students prepared for and then conducted interviews of public officials in the afternoon. They had conversations with the deputy chief of police, a county freeholder, city councilman and a former school board member, who came in the place of the mayor.
The student leaders shared with their peers how, through community organizing, they were able to convince Camden County to plan to install new lights for Von Nieda Park totaling more than $200,000. On their walking tour of the park, they showed other victories, such as a $11,000 fence, erected to keep the playground safe, new recycling bins and murals on the Cramer Hill Community Center, and a local warehouse, according to Jud. The warehouse was painted by students this past fall with help from Juan Turcios, OFM. The student leaders won the money for the paint through a grant from PNC Bank.
“One of the most enthusiastic groups of students attending came from Holy Name School, another Catholic partnership school in North Camden, considered the toughest neighborhood in Camden,” Jud said. “The student leaders, under the guidance of Ms. Nieves, have recently expanded to Holy Name.”
Protests, Prayer Services and Volunteer Work
In Pennsylvania, Patrick Sieber, OFM, participated in the annual demonstration against materialism, militarism and racism on the property of Lockheed Martin, one of the world’s largest defense contractors and weapons manufacturers.
“A group of us tried to issue a warrant on behalf of the least of our brothers and sisters, to try to keep the company from doing any more harm,” Patrick said.
Special Masses and other faith events were held across the Province. David Hyman, OFM, celebrated morning Mass for the community at the Catholic Center at the University of Georgia. During his homily, he shared “A Prayer for Deliverance from Race Prejudice” by Morney Williams.
Following Mass, a group of UGA students spent the day serving at Oasis Catolico, an immigrant community cared for by the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Volunteers helped clear a “soccer field,” paint a building, and build a new trench for better water drainage.
“All projects helped make the surrounding playground and buildings safer for the children in the community,” said David Briones, collegiate coordinator.
St. Bonaventure University held a prayer service to honor the civil rights leader who was slain in 1968. Participants processed by candlelight from the Thomas Merton Center to the University Chapel, where the service began — that included spoken word, dance, prayer and silent reflection to celebrate King’s life. Tyrone Hall, pastor of Fresh Joy Ministries in Olean, N.Y., also spoke at the event.
Siena College’s annual Martin Luther King Lecture will be given by Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP. The talk will be held April 3, near the anniversary of King’s assassination, in the Marcelle Athletic Complex on campus.
— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province. Fr. John is pictured in the above photo with Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington, who attended the Mass at St. Paul’s Church.