Provincial Vicar Celebrates Martin Luther King Day Mass

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

NEW YORK — History and current events, music and tears, visitors and parishioners were all part of the Province’s 2009 commemoration of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

As the nation commemorated the 80th birthday of Dr. King, the civil-rights leader assassinated in 1968, Holy Name Province offered two special Masses on Jan. 18 at St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street.

The Sunday evening Masses were celebrated by Provincial Vicar Dominic Monti, OFM, assisted by Neil O’Connell, OFM, and Benedict Taylor, OFM, residents of Harlem. The visiting priests both wore colorful stoles.

Neil introduced Benedict and himself as founders of the Province’s 30-year-old African-American Ministry Committee, which sponsored the annual holiday Mass.

Holiday and Historic Week
After mentioning that he had decided to travel to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration festivities, Dominic spoke of the significance of the coming week. He incorporated into his homily reflections on both Dr. King and on this year’s presidential inauguration.

He described the historic nature of this inauguration, with the first minority president being sworn in, and of the years of work that African-Americans completed to arrive at this day.

“This weekend, the United States honors one of the many people who worked to make this day happen,” Dominic said, mentioning Dr. King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. “Dr. King’s dream was for all God’s children to be free.” Dominic said, “We celebrate as Americans and we celebrate as a community of faith.”

The fact that Dr. King was an ordained minister determined the way that he did what he did, Dominic said. King’s methods of nonviolence were used because King believed that “the Gospel of Jesus calls us to be peacemakers.”

”Dr. King said that too many times, we are silent when we see injustices,” according to Dominic. “He also said that the Church often is silent when it should be speaking out.”

Dr. King, who was the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work through civil disobedience and other non-violent means to end racial segregation and racial discrimination, led the 1955 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott and helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957. By the time of his death, Dr. King had refocused his efforts on ending poverty and opposing the Vietnam War, both from a religious perspective.

Dominic mentioned that when Ben was ordained in 1960, America was a very different country.

01-22-09-MLK-LGMusic and Prayers
Those in the congregation — both visitors and regular community members — listened to music led by Meredith Augustin, the parish’s music director, and cantor Michael Templeton.

Several poignant songs were part of the Masses, including “We Shall Overcome” and “Now is the Moment.” One congregation member mentioned that she was brought to tears as she watched Ben and imagined what he might have been thinking, as an African American listening to the lyrics and reflecting on the events of this week.

Among the intercessions offered by Michael Harlan, OFM, at the Mass was one for the new president. “Let’s pray for President-elect Barack Obama, that he may be strengthened to carry out the responsibilities placed before him.”

Several congregation members complimented Dominic on his homily. One man enthusiastically presented Dominic with a colorful cap  displaying  Obama symbols.

Following the Masses, parishioners, friars and staff members enjoyed a reception in the Clare Room adjacent to the church. The celebrations preceded the holiday on Monday and the inauguration on Tuesday.

Snow fell lightly on the streets of New York after the Mass, a peaceful prelude to an eventful week in the United States.

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.

Editor’s note: Holy Name Province’s past commemorations of the Martin Luther King holiday have taken place at churches in Greenville, S.C., and Wilmington, Del., among other locations around the Province.