Martin Luther King Interfaith Events Celebrate Unity

HNP Communications In the Headlines

Communities throughout the Province were reminded last month about the importance of unity rather than diversity, similarities and not differences, as parishes and ministries marked the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The celebrations, many interfaith, included Masses, marches, readings, and civic and social justice events that honored the late pastor and civil rights leader. Perhaps the biggest turnout took place at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Md., where more than 700 persons, including children from the parish school, filled the sanctuary to remember King’s legacy and vision.

The Jan. 15 morning Mass, organized by Gerald Hopeck, OFM, was considered to be the Province’s official event, as Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, celebrated and gave the homily.

Teenagers of Hispanic and Indonesian backgrounds joined John at the altar reflecting the multicultural nature of the St. Camillus community.

“It was a very uplifting celebration, with about 800 adults and children present,” said John. The children came  from the neighboring St. Francis International School. The Gospel choir was superb, as was the special liturgical dance presentation done by the children, after communion. The liturgy was followed by a delicious dinner served in the At Camilla Hall. A number of friars were present, especially from the community at Holy Name College.”

South Carolina
Farther south, in Greenville, S.C., Patrick Tuttle, OFM, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church, marked the day at his parish as well as at  nearby Furman University, where he is chaplain, and as part of the city’s prayer service.

Patrick attended a reading at theuniversity’s Daniel Chapel by Furman students on Jan. 16 of King’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” written in 1963.

King was also remembered at St. Anthony’s daily Mass, where parishioners and friends could peruse a display of photos and quotes of King. The exhibit of six images, lining  the church foyer and hallway, was well received by parishioners, according to the pastor.  Patrick also participated in Greenville’s Martin Luther King Dream Weekend kickoff, offering a prayer for returning troops for help in overcoming their struggles to re-assimilate back home.

Patrick, who has previously taken part in other commemorations in both the North and the South, said Dr. King is hailed more as a hero and martyr down South, and more of a civic leader in the North.  “We are waiting and mourning.” he said. “King’s words have not come true yet and we feel the loss of his voice, calling us to change.”

In North Carolina, racial injustice and the judicial system were the topics of a forum at Immaculate Conception Church in Durham. Approximately 200 people gathered to hear Darryl Hunt, an African-American who served 19 years in prison and was later exonerated. Following the documentary “The Trials of Darryl Hunt,” National Public Radio commentator and Immaculate Conception parishioner Frank Stasio moderated a panel discussion that included Hunt; State Sen. Floyd McKissick; John Dear, head of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty; Mark Ribal, Hunt’s attorney; and Daniel McLellan, OFM, pastor of Immaculate Conception.

“The racially charged adversarial justice system highlighted the need for the elimination of the death penalty so often applied according to the color of one’s skin,” said Daniel.

At University of Georgia in Athens, the community of the Catholic Center, where Thomas Vigliotta, OFM, is director, heard a lecture by Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, of Our Lady of Guadalupe Province.

He spoke “with a message of emerging Christian contemplation and a call for Christian open mindedness,” according to UGA student Kathryn Kirkpatrick. “What we’re calling emerging Christianity is a rather broad recognition that most organized religion up until now has been preoccupied with belief systems and belonging systems,” she quoted Fr. Richard saying, in a report about the Jan. 16 presentation.

St. Paul Parish in Wilmington, Del., commemorated the day by holding its annual March for Non-Violence and Racial Harmony, according to pastor Todd Carpenter, OFM. It was followed by a brief prayer service and reception in the church hall attended by approximately 100 persons. This march,  started by Michael Tyson, OFM, when he ministered at the church,  was one of several peace marches throughout the year emphasizing unity. “We were joined by the Wilmington Peacekeepers, as well as students from two local Catholic schools,” wrote Todd. The story was covered by Delaware Online.

New Jersey
Students from St. Anthony of Padua Church and School in Camden, N.J., where Jud Weiksnar, OFM, is pastor, participated in a day-long interfaith event with children from more than 20 schools, including representatives from Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist and Faith Tabernacle churches. After lunch at St. Anthony Church, students from the other churches discussed the topic of civic duty, later walking through a local park that has been hard hit by dumping, vandalism and grafitti.

“Jud has done an informal survey online and cannot find any other Martin Luther King Day of community organizing in the country,” said Hugh Macsherry, OFM, associate pastor. “St .Anthony School students really challenged city and county officials to answer questions and to respond to the problems.”

Local legislator Ian Leonard, a freeholder, visited the students and discussed civic and community organizing issues. He was quoted in a Camden County website as saying, “I was totally impressed by the students, their teachers, the leaders of the group and Fr. Jud Weiksnar of St. Anthony.”

MLK-lNew York City
Holy Name Parish on the Upper West Side of Manhattan held its 10th Annual Peace March on Jan. 16. Michael Tyson, OFM, said he worked for several months on the march, which included four churches of various denominations. Approximately 350 persons gathered at Holy Name at 2 p.m. and marched to Central Baptist Church, West Park Presbyterian Church, St. Paul’s and St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, and Advent Lutheran Church. Prayer services were held at all the church stops.

Friars participating included Daniel Kenna, OFM, pastor, Lawrence Ford, OFM, Michael McDonnell, OFM, and Matthew Pravetz, OFM.

Mike Tyson said this interfaith effort is only possible because Holy Name has built strong relationships with other churches in the neighborhood. The parish likes to hold interfaith and unity events at least once a month, said Michael. “We like to cement our unity. Rather than emphasize diversity, we emphasize unity.”

Upstate New York
Students and friars at the two colleges sponsored by the Province also marked the occasion.

St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, N.Y., celebrated King’s life with a presentation about the slain civil rights leader and a performance by a trio of hip-hop poets on Jan. 18. Barry Gan, Ph.D., professor of philosophy and director of The Nonviolence Program, gave the keynote address, “The Real Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y., welcomed hundreds of Capital Region middle and high school students to campus on Jan. 18 for the annual for Students Together Opposing Prejudice conference. Students from 18 school districts participated in small group discussions, workshops and activities run by the Anti-Defamation League’s A World of Difference Institute. Throughout the day, students worked closely with facilitators to develop ways to promote tolerance and end bullying, cyber-bullying, gang violence and discrimination in their schools.

— Wendy Healy, a Connecticut-based freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today. Jocelyn Thomas provided research to this story.