By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published January 23, 2014
ATLANTA—A leader in the Kenyan Catholic community was celebrated at the annual Archdiocese of Atlanta Mass for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. observance.
Victoria Mburu, 41, received the Father Bruce Wilkinson Founders Award for bringing the East African immigrants together for support, friendship and worship.
“I was definitely honored. I couldn’t do it by myself. I had many people. It is actually more like a challenge. I need to do more,” said the home health care aide.
The slain civil rights leader’s life’s work to promote justice and reconciliation was the centerpiece of the annual Mass. Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory led the prayers, assisted by a dozen priests and deacons. The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which is only a couple of miles away from King’s birth home, hosted the Mass, organized by the Office for Black Catholic Ministry. The voices of the 2014 MLK Jr. Eucharistic Celebration Children’s Choir provided the music. The multicultural celebration included prayers said in six languages.
Just over 50 years ago, the 16th Street Baptist Church was a staging point for civil rights marches in segregated Birmingham, Ala. In September 1963, a bomb was set off at the house of worship. Four black girls attending Sunday school were killed.
The Atlanta service on Saturday, Jan. 18, remembered those girls and other “martyrs of the civil rights era.”
To honor the memory of the dead, four dancers with candles in hand glided from the back of the church to the front where a table held a black and white portrait of the four girls, all between 11 and 14 years old.
Archbishop Gregory in his homily to the crowded church said the murders based on random hatred were a defining moment in the civil rights movement, even as other activists also were killed.
“There is something transfixing about the violent death of a child. Our hearts still ache at the memory of the vicious deaths of the little ones from Newtown, Conn., and in far too many places in our nation from the recent past. The death of children anywhere stuns us all,” he said.
The deaths of the four girls forced Congress to enact the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he said.
“In that sense their murder was a sacrificial offering that advanced justice for all of us,” he said.
The goal of the civil rights movement was to “establish a society of justice” and one where people “would be judged by the only criteria that truly matters, the state of heart and soul of a person and not by mere appearance,” he said.
King challenged everyone to be people of character because “character is the very gatehouse of the virtues that we must pursue,” he said. Archbishop Gregory said the world praised Nelson Mandela’s strength of character, which “turned injustice into concord,” ending apartheid in South Africa.
“We must recommit ourselves to living lives of harmony, integrity, compassion and charity so that our own character might inspire another generation of Americans no matter what their age or background,” Archbishop Gregory said.
Nigel Scott, his wife, Carmen, and two young boys worship at Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Decatur. It was their first time attending the annual Mass. He said the Mass is a reminder that the community needs to do “better as a society” to live up to King’s message.
Jesus Ayala came with his daughter, Adreana, who read the second Scripture passage. They are members of Corpus Christi Church, in Stone Mountain. Adreana read St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians in Spanish. He said the Spanish community should learn more about King and participate in the beautiful Mass.
Mburu held back tears as she accepted the Father Bruce Wilkinson Founders Award.
She moved to the United States in 1998, first to Ohio, then Georgia where she ran a restaurant for several years.
She grew up in a Catholic family, in a community north of Nairobi. Two siblings live in the United States while three others remain in Kenya. She worshipped for years at St. Joseph Church, in Marietta, active in many ministries. But she later joined St. Francis of Assisi Church, in Cartersville, where Msgr. Dan Stack had welcomed the community to celebrate a Kenyan Mass every third Sunday of the month. It began in 2012 and draws around 50 people. Everyone is invited to the celebration.
“We are grateful to have found a church home at St. Francis. There is room for us there. Our Kenyan Mass keeps growing. Word gets around,” she said.
“I thank God for our faith because it has no boundaries, and we have the best privilege that no matter where we may be in the world we can join in the celebration of the Mass, even when you don’t know the language or culture,” she said.