By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published January 21, 2019
ATLANTA–The Atlanta Catholic community remembered the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a joyful Mass at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Jan. 19, displaying the diversity of believers.
The gospel music of the St. Anthony of Padua Church Choir. The lilting sounds of praise from the women of the Cameroonian community as they danced up the aisle to deliver the book of the Gospels to Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory. The prayers of the faithful in nine languages.
The civil rights icon, born less than two miles from the Shrine in Atlanta, was lauded by Father Rey Pineda, the homilist.
“Like Dr. King, we can’t rest when there is work to be done,” said Father Pineda, chaplain at St. Pius X High School, Atlanta.
Archbishop Gregory was joined by a dozen priests and eight deacons at the Mass. It was one of three events organized by the archdiocesan Office of Intercultural and Ethnic Diversity to mark the Atlanta native son’s life, including a gathering of young adults to package hygiene kits for women and men living on the streets and an event for school students at St. Peter Claver Regional School, Decatur.
Members of the Knights of Peter Claver with plumed hats and swords provided an honor guard. The theme of the celebrations was from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”
In his homily, Father Pineda said King’s stature as a leader grew from his desire to see God’s message lived.
He said King knew that each person has a “dignity that cannot be stripped away.” The Baptist preacher lived to “open the eyes and soften the heart” of the nation, Father Pineda said.
“What is most powerful about Dr. King’s witness is how throughout his life he sought to bring Christ’s greatest prayer to fruition when he prayed ‘May they be one Father, as you and I are one.’”
Father Pineda was a toddler when his parents came to the United States from Mexico. His parents came here due to a medical emergency. He was raised in the Atlanta area.
Known as a “dreamer,” the priest is a recipient of the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), protecting him from deportation. He was ordained a priest in 2014.
King’s message was attractive because it was grounded in authenticity and people’s reality. The priest called Dr. King one of the “greatest examples of being a herald of Christian hope.”
Despite the poor treatment from civil society, King reminded people on the margins that God is love and “God’s promise had not passed by, but it remained.”
“He preached change because he knew it was good for our soul. He knew we were made for more,” said Father Pineda. Regardless of the hardships King endured and the adversity faced by the country today, the priest said challenges can never be an excuse to ignore Christ’s demands to care for the marginalized, women and men who are hungry, homeless, or “a stranger, a child at the border.”
Like the civil rights leader, we cannot rest while work remains, said Father Pineda.
“We can do this, God is with us,” he said.
Sharon Stenzel, who worships at the Shrine, attended the service for the first time. The Mass was full of joy, especially the women delivering the book of the Gospel in a singing procession, she said. It was heartfelt to see the reverence for the Gospel, said Stenzel.
“We are elevating (it) but we are including the community,” she remarked.
Dan O’Conner sat in the wooden pews. He attends Holy Spirit Church, Atlanta. The worship was a moving reflection of the church and all its members, he said.
O’Conner said a highlight was the reminder that Dr. King isn’t just honored by words or time off from work, but when people are committed to serving others.