By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published January 25, 2018
ATLANTA—Some two dozen 20- and 30-something Catholics shared a meal and honored the memory of the civil rights icon, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with an act of service.
The Sunday, Jan. 14, gathering at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Atlanta, was the first event in a weeklong celebration of the civil rights leader, whose birthday is observed by many as a day of service. The parish, known as the Mother Church of black Catholics in Atlanta, sits in the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park.
Attending the event was teacher Trish Dykes, 28. She said King’s message is as necessary today as it was when he was assassinated 50 years ago.
The Pledge of Allegiance recited by her students calls for unity with “one nation” and “liberty and justice for all,” which the country wrestles with, said Dykes, who teaches at St. Joseph School, Marietta.
The country continues to pursue that goal, she said. Unity among different communities is the goal we are still trying to achieve today, Dykes added.
A 2017 survey by Gallup found some 42 percent of Americans worry “a great deal” about race relations. That is a record high in 17 years in asking people the question whether they personally worry about race relations.
Dykes said talking about King and the issues of race can be challenging, but one should not lose hope.
“The way to keep hope is to keep faith. Having faith in God and a change will come,” said Dykes, who worships at St. Ann Church, Marietta.
Of King’s legacy, Msgr. Edward Branch said “enough about the rhetoric, it’s time to get down to business.”
The challenge now is people need to “jump out of their comfort zones.”
“People are not talking to each other. They are assuming X, Y and Z,” said Msgr. Branch, who retired after ministry as the Catholic chaplain at the Atlanta University Center.
“People will have to decide to be uncomfortable for a minute to learn someone else’s culture, how they see the world,” he said. Msgr. Branch suggested reading a book or seeing a movie that involves characters from another culture.
A parishioner of Transfiguration Church, Marietta, Marcus Walker, 27, talked about King as the “most influential Christian figure” in the country.
He said people often overlook how King was motivated to act by the Christian message. “You miss so much of him and what he was about, if you don’t acknowledge the role of his faith,” he said.
Walker, a graduate student at Georgia Tech, said two generations after the civil right era, the country and King’s native city continue to need to hear his message and move toward it.
“Atlanta is a great city, but there is a lot of separation. I grew up here and love Atlanta, but you can see where the divide is,” he said.
Walker received The Msgr. Edward B. Branch Young Adult Award at the Jan. 20 Mass held in Dr. King’s honor at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
King’s life was dedicated to spotlighting the dignity of others, Walker said. More people need to see the dignity of people different than themselves and act to respect them, Walker said.
“You fight for equality because you see the dignity in others,” he said.
Young adults participating in the service project at the afternoon event put together hygiene bags to be distributed to shelters and food pantries for women and men in need. More than 225 of these bags were assembled.
It was the first part of three days of celebration. Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory celebrated the Mass Jan. 20. And on Sunday, Jan. 21, students attending Catholic schools participated in a special youth assembly at St. Peter Claver Regional School, Decatur. The archdiocesan Office of Intercultural and Ethnic Diversity organized the events.