By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published January 25, 2018 | En Español
ATLANTA—Scores of believers gathered Saturday, Jan. 20, at the Shrine of Immaculate Conception to celebrate the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
With spirituals and prayers recited in 10 languages, the congregation reflected on the life of the Atlanta native, commemorating the 50 years since he was fatally shot in Memphis, Tennessee.
The annual worship service showcased cultural expressions of faith, with the blowing of a horn calling the gathering to prayer. Women from the country of Cameroon delivered the book of the Gospels in a joyful dance to a waiting Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.
Eight priests joined Archbishop Gregory to concelebrate the Mass, assisted by several deacons.
Sipho Mwam, a member of St. Paul of the Cross Church, Atlanta, attended with her three children for her first Mass for King. She recently moved from Kansas, where she didn’t recall a similar celebration among Catholics.
It was exciting to experience this celebration for a man of peace, said Mwam. In her native Zambia she learned about King as a man who stood for what he believed but in a peaceful way. King was role model for many in Africa and in her own country as it became independent, she said.
David Pothier, a longtime parishioner of Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Decatur, said the Mass is a good way for people to experience how other Catholics worship and live the faith. He attended also to honor his late friend, Mayfern Barron, recognized for her service.
Comparing today to 1968, Archbishop Gregory in his homily talked about 50 years ago as “a very harsh year” with the assassinations of King and Robert F. Kennedy, riots in American cities and the thousands dead and wounded from the Vietnam War.
“Our political scene today is as problematic as it was in 1968. Our elected officials continue to display little ability to work together for the common good. Women have been openly revealing just how often they have been abused and compromised in the workplace for many, many years,” said the archbishop. “Clearly, 2018 is a complicated year, and it’s only just beginning.”
In strong words, Archbishop Gregory reaffirmed the church’s support for immigrants. “Xenophobia—racism’s clone—masquerades today as a patriotic response to the presence of immigrants and refugees who are in our midst as they have been in our midst from the foundation of our nation.”
He told the crowd to pray for so-called “dreamers,” the young adults brought to this country by undocumented immigrant parents as children. “Pray for the dreamers in our midst. These young men and women are afraid. And none of God’s children should live in fear,” he said.
Today, people cannot be discouraged with “a hostile climate of offensive rhetoric, punitive public policies and increasing acts of violence,” said the archbishop. In the midst of this, sin works to convince people “that hatred is the final sentence imposed upon all of us,” he said.
Discouragement is not God’s way, he reminded them.
“The beatitudes are Christ’s guarantee that God’s plan can and will ultimately turn this world on its head. The beatitudes present an icon of hope that must sustain us all until Christ is all in all. For surely, he will overcome, not in just words of song, but in due course with a lasting victory of justice,” said Archbishop Gregory. “1968 was a brutal and violent year. May God preserve us in 2018 with a better year more filled with hope, justice and peace.”
Later the congregation applauded the recipients of the annual awards given following Mass.
Marcus Walker, of Transfiguration Church, Marietta, received the Msgr. Edward B. Branch Young Adult Award for his work at his home parish. He has served in many roles, from religious education teacher to young adult leader. He was described by parish leaders as a young man with a “servant heart, with servant hands.”
In accepting the award, Walker asked parish members to support young adult ministries, with encouragement and resources to serve Catholics from their 20s to mid-30s.
The Charles O. Prejean Sr. Unity Award was given to two women who both died in 2017. Family members of recipients Beverly Maxwell and Mayfern Barron accepted the awards. The two were mainstays at Sts. Peter and Paul Church.
Sidney Barron accepted the award on his mother’s behalf.
“She taught us not to be Catholic only on Sundays, but to be Catholic every day,” he said.
And widower Fred Maxwell said his wife’s service in parish ministry “touched everybody’s heart. She loved everybody.”