WASHINGTON — Friars and laypeople from St. Camillus Parish and Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Md., were among the tens of thousands of people who gathered Saturday on the National Mall to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech given at the 1963 March on Washington, D.C. John Aherne, OFM, George Camacho, OFM, Gerald Hopeck, OFM, Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, and Ramon Razon, OFM, took part in the rally that drew attention to the racial inequality still faced by many Americans.
“I participated in Saturday’s event because of the profound effect that a 1965 photograph had on me,” John said. “The photograph was taken during the March for Voting Rights in Selma, Ala. In the photograph, nuns and religious are linked arm-in-arm with their African-American brothers and sisters as they march for justice. When I saw that photograph … I immediately thought ‘this is where religious belong. This is what we should be doing.’ So when my brother Gerald mentioned he was gathering people to attend the event, I didn’t think twice.”
The Aug. 24 rally began at the Lincoln Memorial, where Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Attorney General Eric Holder, Martin Luther King III, Rev. Al Sharpton and Rep. John Lewis of Georgia — the sole surviving person who spoke at the 1963 march — gave speeches before the crowds marched east to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. From there, the participants proceeded to the Washington Memorial.
“On one hand, it was a little sad. So many of the problems that Martin Luther King Jr. hoped to call attention to with the 1963 march are still major issues 50 years later,” said John, who, as the other friars who participated on Saturday, was born after the first march. “On the other hand, there was such a tremendous sense of hope, energy, enthusiasm, and commitment from the participants at the march and rally that it was impossible not to feel optimistic about the future.
“I was also struck by the tremendous variety of people at the march,” he continued. “There was such a wide variety of ages, races, culture, beliefs, political inclinations and the like. It was a truly panoramic view of the wide, deep and multifaceted kingdom of God.”
Though the younger members of the St. Camillus Parish community hadn’t been born before the 1963 march, John believes they still drew meaning from the 2013 rally.
“Although they may not have understood exactly what the event was about, they couldn’t have missed the positive energy surrounding the march,” John said. “I kept thinking how wonderful it was that these kids were growing up with such an acute awareness of justice, peace and social awareness. In 50 years, they’ll be able to look back at this march and say, ‘I was there!’”
Neil O’Connell, OFM, a member of the HNP Ancestry Committee, is trying to gather friar memories of the 1963 march.
“Edward Flanagan, OFM, commented that his participation in the original march will remain a ‘special memory’ for him,” Neil said. “I recall watching the march with about 100 other ‘clerics’ on a television located in the lounge between Falconio and Robinson halls at St. Bonaventure University, where we were staying for a three-week vacation at the end of our summer studies. At the end of King’s speech, there seemed to be an air in the room that we had just witnessed something powerful and transforming for the nation and the world.”
In a reflection written for the December 1995 Anthonian, Benedict Taylor, OFM, who had not attended King’s marches, recalled meeting King when the Secular Franciscans awarded him the St. Francis Peace Medal in New York City.
“As a spiritual assistant of the Seculars, I participated at that award dinner,” he said. “I expressed my regret to King that I hadn’t taken part in his work. He responded that the work of peace and justice must also be done within the community, and this is the more lasting and difficult part.”
Several other HNP friars and ministries recognized the significance of the 1963 march by offering educational opportunities to members of their communities.
In Hartford, Conn., more than 70 members of St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish participated in a program recognizing the need for non-violence.
“’The Beloved Community — How to Embody Nonviolence’ was a three-part program co-sponsored by our adult faith formation and social justice ministries,” said staff member Patricia Curtis. “Each night on July 15, 16, and 17, we gathered to discuss the many key events in the civil rights movement which was so profoundly shaped by the words and witness of Martin Luther King Jr. Under the leadership of Deacon Arthur Miller, director of the Office for Black Catholic Ministries for the Archdiocese of Hartford, we explored nonviolent courage and love by addressing topics titled ‘Dehumanization: Blaming the Victim,’ ‘Forming Community Through the Lens of Summering, Hope and Abundance’ and ‘Commitment to Conversion and Discussion of What’s Next?’”
She continued: “Our primary sources were King’s writings, scripture, and video clips of historical events. This proved to be a powerful combination to bring to light the issues then and now, many the same, that need our attention and advocacy if we are to develop into a ‘beloved community.’”
In Greenville, S.C., members of St. Anthony of Padua Parish were encouraged to attend local programs. One talk, titled “Altruism, Civility and Protest in Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,” was sponsored by nearby Furman University, where Patrick Tuttle, OFM, serves as a campus minister.
— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province. Jocelyn Thomas contributed research to this story. The friars shown in the photo on the newsletter’s cover are John Aherne, OFM, Gerald Hopeck, OFM, Ramon Razon, OFM, George Camacho, OFM, and Jacek Orzechowski, OFM.