By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published January 19, 2012
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was remembered at the annual Atlanta Archdiocesan Mass with a call to care for the unemployed, the hungry, those forced to live in the shadows.
People filled the pews on Saturday, Jan. 14, at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception downtown, to join with Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, nearly a dozen priests and half a dozen deacons to celebrate the legacy of the civil rights icon.
Rev. King is well known for leading the fight to end racial segregation. In the late 1960s, he highlighted economic concerns, being a voice against the Vietnam War and urging efforts to combat poverty and care for the poor. And it was his call for economic justice and his efforts on behalf of the Poor People’s Campaign that were spotlighted at the 2012 celebration. In that spirit, the Black Catholic Ministry Office and the nonprofit St. Vincent de Paul Society started a fundraising collaboration to raise money and food for needy individuals and families.
Sunday, Jan. 15, Dr. King would have been 83.
“Yes, to celebration, yes to rejoicing, giving God thanks and praise, but more important to act on behalf of our sisters and brothers who are calling out to us to act,” said Father Jeffery Ott, the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church, the parish that shares the same neighborhood as King’s childhood home. The church is around the corner from the famous Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Rev. King served as pastor.
Father Ott, who is a Dominican priest, started his homily by singing a spiritual and leading a call and response:
“I am,” he said.
“Somebody,” said people in the pews.
Father Ott said a spirit of apathy and name-calling has taken over society in the face of chronic problems. But the slain civil rights leader would spur people to take on the hard problems, he said.
“He got us together, so we’d walk together. He got us together so we could stand as one,” Father Ott said.
As the Occupy Movement and concerns about income inequality enter into the political debate, the church also has something to say about social justice issues, he said. The Gospel story read at Mass about the Good Samaritan caring for the robbery victim involves class conflict, economics and breaking social boundaries.
Father Ott said people who think church leaders should only focus on theology are missing the focus of the story. God wants everyone to have enough to exist, he said. In fact, he said Rev. King’s critical writings about capitalism in the 1960s are echoed today by the Occupy Movement demonstrators.
“Take on the mantle of Dr. King because, church,” said Father Ott, ”we know somebody has to do it.”
With the fundraising collaboration, Charles Prejean, the leader of the Office for Black Catholic Ministry, said the effort matches Rev. King’s goals when he was gunned down in 1968 at the age of 39.
“Because of the urgency and desperation of the times, we felt compelled to do this,” he said.
Nearly 20 percent of Georgians live in poverty, according to recent government statistics.
The goal is to raise 10 tons of nonperishable food that will be distributed through St. Vincent de Paul’s family center and SVdP food pantries to feed the thousands of people in need, Prejean said.
Also, the second effort is called “Pennies CAN Fight Poverty” with a goal of raising 1 million pennies. The $10,000 will help the nonprofit serve its mission.
“The work that he wanted to do is still needed,” Prejean said of Dr. King.
Brian Freel, the director of Vincentian support for the organization, said a genius of Rev. King was to have a global perspective but to take local action. These fundraisers give people the chance to take on the big issues on the local level in the archdiocese, he said.
The effort ends on Easter Sunday, April 8. The organizers will be seeking support from parishes, schools, businesses and philanthropic organizations.
The Office for Black Catholic Ministry awarded its Father Bruce Wilkinson Award to Lawrence and Beatrice Soublet, parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Atlanta, for their leadership in ERACE, an anti-racism project, and in Atlantans Building Leadership for Employment, Simon’s Call HIV/AIDS Ministry and others.
Bea Soublet said her activism is a family legacy born in segregated New Orleans, starting with her grandfather’s fight to ensure that “colored teachers” got the same pay as white teachers.
“Make a career of humanity,” Bea said, quoting Rev. King.
“It’s a spirit of doing what is just and right. And not leaving it to chance or somebody else,” she said.
Lawrence said his faith motivates him.
“Over and over, I’ve been delivered. I cannot help but believe the Gospel. I can’t help but give back to those less fortunate. There’s nothing else I could imagine doing,” he said.