Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo By Michael Alexander
Gloria Vazquez, left, 2013 Father Bruce Wilkinson Founders Award recipient, stands with her husband Eleazar and her nine-year-old daughter Elizabeth. Vazquez and her family attend St. Oliver Plunkett Church, Snellville, where she serves as a catechist in the Adult Education Program for the Hispanic Community and an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist.


Youth Must Learn Painful Past To Carry Torch

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published January 31, 2013

ATLANTA—The vision of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. today challenges people to “carry every sister and brother who is disconnected in this world,” said Msgr. Henry Gracz.

“What pockets cry out for justice?” he asked.

Dr. Infeyani Anikpe, left, of St. Paul of the Cross Church, Atlanta, blows the horn during the Call to Worship. Looking on is Uche Chioke of St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Smyrna. (Photos By Michael Alexander)

Dr. Infeyani Anikpe, left, of St. Paul of the Cross Church, Atlanta, blows the horn during the Call to Worship. Looking on is Uche Chioke of St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Smyrna. Photo By Michael Alexander

People are numbed by addictions to “a world of stuff,” by the continuing effects of violence, racism and sexism, so it requires people of faith to carry them to a better and new life, said the longtime Atlanta priest and pastor of the Shrine of Immaculate Conception.

“Doesn’t God call us to carry our sister and brother as they did in today’s Gospel? That is the walk of faith,” said Msgr. Gracz, speaking at the annual Mass on Saturday, Jan. 19, to celebrate the life of King, who grew up about a mile from the downtown Atlanta parish.

The faithful filled the wooden pews of the historic church as the diversity of the archdiocese was showcased. In plumed hats and swords, members of the Knights of Peter Claver and Knights of Columbus served as honor guards. Readers recited the prayers of the faithful in 11 languages. The James P. Lyke Memorial Chorus led the congregation in song. Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory was the main celebrant, assisted by a dozen priests and deacons.

The theme of the annual weekend set aside to honor King was “We’ve Come This Far by Faith.” In addition to the Mass, a Youth Celebration was held on Sunday, Jan. 20, at St. Peter Claver Regional School in Decatur.

In a special brief ceremony, the Office for Black Catholic Ministry recognized the accomplishments of clergy and sisters who have served in the Atlanta Archdiocese for 30 years or more.

Charles Prejean, the director of the office, said these women and men have shaped people’s faith.

“You are there with us to take care of our spiritual and social needs,” he said. The work of the clergy and religious can go unrecognized, he said.

“You roll up your sleeves, put on your boots and get in the trenches to fight for social justice,” he said, before asking each of nearly 20 sisters and priests to stand and be recognized with applause.

Msgr. Henry Gracz, pastor of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Atlanta, delivers his homily during the Jan. 19 Mass in honor of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Photo By Michael Alexander

The 2013 Father Bruce Wilkinson Founders Award was given to Gloria Vazquez, a member of St. Oliver Plunkett Church in Snellville. A native of Mexico, Vazquez moved to Loganville in 2005 and started a parish prayer group. That was only the beginning of her time of service to members of the Hispanic community, from driving people to the store on errands and inviting them to Mass to making sure they got to doctor’s appointments. Earlier, at the Mission of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Lilburn, she started a charismatic prayer group and served on the board of directors of the Hispanic Catholic Charismatic Renewal of Atlanta.

Vazquez, in receiving the award, told the audience how people she meets are hurting and need to know they are loved by God. The same message applies to everyone who feels abandoned, she said.

“They are not alone. They have someone who loves them very much, no matter how many sins they have committed. Jesus is love,” she said.

Flanked by members of the Knights of Columbus and the Knights of Peter Claver, the clergy exit the church during the recessional hymn “We Shall Overcome.”

Msgr. Gracz has ministered in the archdiocese for the past 47 years, seeing the struggles of the black community in the civil rights movement. During those heated times, he’d drive young black boys and girls to camp, at times trailed by folks threatening the group.

A native of Buffalo, N.Y., he was encouraged to move to Atlanta by speakers at his seminary. He is a leader in the ecumenical and interfaith community.

Flanked by members of the Knights of Columbus and the Knights of Peter Claver, the clergy exit the church during the recessional hymn “We Shall Overcome.” Photo By Michael Alexander

Indeed, he shared a lesson about memory he’d learned from the Jewish community. During his homily, Msgr. Gracz said the black community must remember the painful past, about the segregation signs during Jim Crow days that said “colored,” and how black families were terrorized by people shooting up their homes, and pass that history on to future generations.

“If these stories are not alive and real in their memories, then our youth and this generation will forget how far we have come by faith and never know the cost of freedom and never develop the burning passion to work for freedom in the now, in the present,” he said.

Much like members of the Jewish community travel to visit the death camps in Eastern Europe to recall the Holocaust, those concerned for racial justice should make a pilgrimage to the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta, to Birmingham, Ala., and other flashpoints of the battle for civil rights, Msgr. Gracz said.

“These sites are as sacred to this gathering as the journey to Mecca is for the Islamic community. Taste and see and remember so never will we forget the cost of freedom,” he said.

He quoted poet Maya Angelou when she said: “Point out that courage gives us the persistence and the insistence to go further with our faith.”

Msgr. Gracz said that the dream and the vision of Martin Luther King does not come easy, even so many years after his death.

“No dream will come true unless we make it true, wanting it, building it, making it real. Faith is the dream that says ‘we will overcome evil with good.’”

Give Food

Two efforts to help the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Georgia are again underway. The 10-Ton Food Drive aims to stock food pantry shelves. The second effort, called Pennies CAN Fight Poverty, has a goal to raise $5,000.

In 2012, a similar effort collected some 11 tons of food and raised more than $3,000.

The campaign is a partnership among St. Vincent de Paul, the archdiocesan Office for Black Catholic Ministry and the Office of Formation and Discipleship. The effort concludes on Easter Sunday, March 31.

Contact the Office for Black Catholic Ministry at (404) 920-7532 or email to get involved.