By ERIKA ANDERSON-Staff Writer | Published January 19, 2006
In downtown Atlanta, a city often referred to as the “birthplace of civil rights,” Catholics joined together Jan. 14 to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to pray for a continued commitment to the work that he pursued in his short life.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory celebrated the annual King Mass, which is sponsored each year by the archdiocesan Office for Black Catholic Ministry.
King’s legacy was evident in the faces of those gathered for the Mass. Representing many ethnic backgrounds—black, white, Hispanic and Asian—Catholics packed the pews at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Approximately 20 priests concelebrated the Mass with the archbishop.
The soul-stirring music of the Archbishop James P. Lyke Memorial Choir and drummers from the Lyke House Catholic Student Center at Atlanta University provided the soundtrack for the Mass, which had the theme “Striving for Peace in Spirit and in Truth.”
In his homily, Archbishop Gregory spoke of John the Baptist, who made Jesus his legacy.
“Great people throughout human history at some point in their lives have usually given thought to the legacy that will remain from their hard work,” he said. “What will remain after death is a legitimate question for anyone who has labored hard at a project or led a movement or begun an enterprise. John the Baptist was no exception.”
Though people were drawn to John’s charisma, the archbishop said, John’s focus was always on Jesus.
“What legacy did John want for his disciples? John was unique among influential, captivating figures,” the archbishop said. “His legacy was to point out something that was about to happen but had not yet occurred—to call attention to the One who was to come.”
“John’s entire mission was never about himself, and that alone distinguishes him from other famous people.”
Throughout the weekend, much attention would be given to the legacy of King, the archbishop said. But people should not “look to stone edifices, or speeches, or pieces of legislation as the true heritage and legacy of Dr. King—although there are many of each of those items to be sure.”
“The real legacy of which Dr. King himself would be most proud are the opportunities that now exist for young people of color and young white people to see each other as brothers and sisters,” Archbishop Gregory said. “The enduring legacy is the horizon of possibilities that exist for this nation to live out the fulfillment of its lofty heritage of equality and the unfettered human potential that was restricted to only one segment of society when he first began the struggle for freedom.”
As the archbishop continued to point out important aspects of King’s legacy, he noted that it was important not to believe that his goals had all been fully realized.
“We are challenged, no less than those who went before us, to envision a better world, a more just society, a community of real welcome and kindness,” he said. “The work of fulfilling Dr. King’s dream, of fashioning a worthy legacy that would honor him is far from complete. We must work as intently as he did to achieve the type of nation and community that the Founding Fathers dared to propose and Dr. King and his coworkers had the courage to refine and to perfect … We must be (King’s) legacy in working to achieve that which he dreamed.”
The annual King Mass also honors members of the Catholic community who have made a difference.
Raymond Bell, a parishioner at St. John Vianney Church in Lithia Springs, won the 2006 Father Bruce Wilkinson Founders Award. Named after Father Wilkinson, pastor of Most Blessed Sacrament Church in Atlanta and founder of the Office for Black Catholic Ministry, the award was given to Bell, who “has proclaimed the Gospel through his actions and has been a true witness of his Catholic faith in his parish and community.”
According to the biographical information listed in the MLK program, Bell is a Knight of Columbus and volunteer at St. Francis Table, which is a hunger ministry of the Shrine to serve needy men, women and children. He “brings the message of Christ into everyday circumstances and inspires others to transform the world into a better place.”
St. Peter Claver Regional School in Decatur was also honored at the Mass, taking home the 2006 History Maker of the Year Award.
St. Peter Claver principal Catherine Spencer and eighth-grader and student council president Angeline Brew accepted the award on behalf of the school.
“We hope we can continue to be history makers,” Brew said as she accepted the award.
After the Mass, those in attendance gathered for refreshments in the parish hall.
Leonard Chambliss, a parishioner at St. Philip Benizi Church in Jonesboro, said that he and his wife, Rhonda, have attended the MLK celebration for the past four years.
“It shows that our church recognizes the contribution that Dr. King made first to our city and to our nation and to the world at large,” he said. “It was all based on his love for God and his appreciation for Christ’s struggle that he formed the vision he had for our nation. It’s especially important being here in Atlanta. He was a native son. I’m so pleased our church has elected to honor his work.”
His wife appreciates the timelessness of King’s message and work.
“He was a man who stood for equality, not just for black people, but for all people,” she said. “It’s important for young people especially that we keep the dream alive.”