Over the past few weeks, from New England through the southern states, ministries have commemorated the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and remembered the civil rights leader’s message.
In Georgia, hundreds attended a prayer breakfast on Jan. 15 that has been held annually for more than a quarter of a century at St. Peter Claver Church in Macon to commemorate the birthday and the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., who – until his death in April 1968 – promoted civil rights and nonviolent peacemaking.
“Members of the parish’s Knights of St. Peter Claver directed traffic and parishioners welcomed attendees,” said William McIntyre, OFM, pastor, who along with John C. Coughlin, OFM, led prayers at the event. “The mayor and sheriff, as well as county, civil and other religious representatives also participated.”
During the breakfast, which was served by students from schools affiliated with the parish – St. Peter Claver Elementary School and Mount De Sales Academy – along with students from nearby Mercer University, children recited portions of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Participants later joined a communal march and rally at city hall after the event, according to William.
In Buffalo, N.Y., Ss. Columba-Brigid Parish commemorated King’s message of justice and unity for three days. Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo celebrated a standing-room-only Mass on Jan. 14 at which Deacon LeRoy Gill of the Archdiocese of Chicago – an expert on nonviolent peacemaking – served as guest preacher.
On Jan. 15, Ss. Columba-Brigid “picked up the mantle from St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Camden by hosting the nation’s only Martin Luther King Day of community organizing,” according to Jud Weiksnar, OFM, pastor. “We were expecting 20 people to show up since this was the first year we did this in Buffalo, but we were overwhelmed by the final count of 76 attendees. One of the keynote speakers was Dr. Barry Gan, director of the center for nonviolence at St. Bonaventure University.”
“The participants learned how crucial local organizing efforts were to Dr. King’s success, and participated in a hands-on workshop called Community Organizing 101,” Jud said. “There is momentum to start a community organizing group at Ss. Columba-Brigid.”
Many of the participants also attended a hearing the next day at Buffalo City Hall on participatory budgeting, according to Jud. “Many youth spoke out strongly on the need to shift funds from the police budget to the education and community services budget.”
In New York City, friars and laypeople from Holy Name of Jesus-St. Gregory Parish on the Upper West Side participated in the annual MLK Interfaith Peace Walk, the theme of which was immigration. The walk began at Holy Name of Jesus Church and included stops at places of worship of other religious communities on the Upper West Side. Among the friar participants were Lawrence Ford, OFM, pastor, and Lawrence Hayes, OFM, Abraham Joseph, OFM, and Matthew Pravetz, OFM.
“The most important idea I heard many religious leaders speak about was that one person or group cannot fight injustice alone,” said Abraham. “We must join forces in showing solidarity for the most vulnerable people. It’s time for Christians to become good Samaritans.”
Students and friars at the two Province-sponsored colleges also honored the civil rights leader and his message.
Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y., welcomed hundreds of Capital Region middle and high school students to campus on Jan. 12 for the annual Students Together Opposing Prejudice conference. The students 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 to end bullying and discrimination at their schools.
On Jan. 22, the college held an interfaith prayer service for peace and nonviolence. “We welcomed seven local leaders from different faith traditions to offer prayers and speak about how their faith reflects the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on social justice and inclusion,” said Lisa Witkowski, associate director of communications at Siena. F. Edward Coughlin, OFM, Siena’s president, represented the college.
Siena will hold a special presentation on March 15 by Luis Alberto Urrea, a prolific and acclaimed writer who uses his dual-culture life experiences to explore greater themes of love, loss and triumph, as part of its Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King Lecture Series on race and nonviolent social change.
The college established the lecture series in 1988 to preserve the legacy of the nonviolent human rights movement as it was expressed in the life and teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. and was continued after his death by Coretta Scott King.
“As a nation, we still need to achieve the unity, equality, and healing that Dr. King and the civil rights movement called us to,” said George Camacho, OFM, assistant director of Siena’s Damietta Cross-Cultural Center. “King understood that despite the biases and violence that separate us, there are values that unite us beyond race and other social identities. As rising leaders, Siena College students are inherently part of this mission, which ties directly into our Catholic and Franciscan values of social justice and respect for the human person.”
In Western New York, St. Bonaventure University celebrated King’s life with events that included a presentation on Jan. 16 on “seeking love in an unjust climate” by Francis Di Spigno, OFM, executive director of University Ministries, and a viewing of the film “The Long Walk Home” on Jan. 17. Francis said he spoke about joy in the face of suffering, highlighting the idea of “perfect joy” which St. Francis preached.
“Knowing who God is for us and knowing who we are, gives us strength,” said Francis, who has been stationed at SBU since 2011. After the presentation, students discussed how they can be peacemakers, he said.
As part of a weeklong service project, the university held a cleaning supply drive from Jan. 15 to Jan. 19 for the Warming House, the student-run soup kitchen in nearby Olean.
“This year, which marks the 50th year of the assassination of Dr. King, we’ve decided as a community to honor the life and legacy of the civil rights hero throughout the entire semester,” said Parker Suddeth, coordinator of the Damietta Center for Multicultural Student Affairs. ”Our theme is MLK 50: We Win With Love.”
Dennis DePerro, university president, added, “I encourage everyone to not only attend these events but to engage and participate in the larger conversation about the ways we can we build a more inclusive and loving community and the direct link between Dr. King’s vision and Franciscan values.”
— Johann Cuervo is a communications assistant in the Provincial Office. Jocelyn Thomas provided research for this story.
- Reflections by Friars: Martin Luther King Day
- “Ministries Bear Witness to King’s Message of Activism” – Jan. 18, 2017, HNP Today
- “Parishes Effect Change Through Community Organizing” – July 18, 2012, HNP Today