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Seasonal Reflection: Martin Luther King’s Call to Action

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Michael Tyson walks with a group of demonstrators during a Martin Luther King Peace Walk in Wilmington, Del., in 2010.

For the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday — celebrated this year on Jan. 18 — a friar who has been involved in advocating for peace and justice describes why he thinks it is important to stand up publicly for the ideas of the civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968.

Most people are aware of what Martin Luther King Jr. said and did. One may even be able to quote the chapters and verses he said. But are we willing to do what he did — to take to the streets to dramatically emphasize what our aims are? We as a Province are dedicated to peace, justice, and the integrity of creation. It is one thing to talk and discuss these aims but do we publicly demonstrate for these aims, like Dr. King did? We should back up our words with action.

Dr. King’s biggest contribution to society was his stance on nonviolence. In parishes such as Holy Name of Jesus on 96th Street in Manhattan, we organized marches for peace, marches that called for an end to war, and this year, the parish has as its theme “Hear the Cry of the Earth, Hear the Cry of the Poor.” It is crucial that we actively pursue these actions.

At St. Paul’s Parish in Wilmington, Del., we marched for causes — especially anti-drug demonstrations — not only on Martin Luther King Day, but throughout the year. When the drug lords in the Bronx, N.Y., reacted to our anti-drug march by attempting to burn down Holy Cross Church, we responded with a bigger and greater march that included all religious denominations and political dignitaries. As a result of our efforts, a crack house that was located on the corner of Commonwealth and Randall avenues was closed. A permanent deacon later bought that house for his family and refurbished it, and I was called to bless that house. Action is necessary as well as words.

Recently, Gov. Andrew Cuomo outlawed fracking in New York State. The Food and Water Watch organized demonstrations in Manhattan to send the message “Don’t frack New York” whenever the governor visited New York City for a fundraiser or to celebrate his birthday. We demonstrated against fracking. I like to think that by raising our voices to safeguard our environment, we contributed to the governor’s decision.

Martin Luther King literally paid with his life for the causes of peace, justice and right. Are we willing to stand up publicly to advances these causes? If people are encouraged to demonstrate, they will show up. One of the things I liked about the movie “Selma” was Dr. King’s being fearful as he led his non-violent protests, not for himself but for the people he led. It is natural to feel apprehensive about standing up publicly for causes. But let us overcome our fears and stand up for what is right.

— Fr. Michael, a native of the New York City, is stationed at Siena College, Loudonville, N.Y., and works at St. Francis Chapel in the Wolf Road Shoppers Park in Albany, N.Y. He marked 50 years as a friar in 2012. 

Editor’s note: Friars interested in writing a reflection for HNP Today on a timely topic — a current event, holiday, holy day, or other seasonal theme — are invited to contact the HNP Communications Office at communications@hnp.org. The newsletter’s previous seasonal reflection, by Raymond Mann, OFM, was about Christmas

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