By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published January 19, 2023
ATLANTA—With the civil rights movement anthem “We Shall Overcome,” the Archdiocese of Atlanta celebrated its annual Mass honoring native son, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The holiday weekend was dedicated to honoring the civil rights icon, including a youth program at St. John the Evangelist School. As a tribute to Dr. King’s work, students of Catholic schools gathered Sunday, Jan. 15 under the theme: “Joyful in Hope, Patient in Affliction, Faithful in Prayer.”
The calls to action by the youngsters were written in essays and created on posters displayed at the Hapeville school assembly. A jury of staff and others at the archdiocesan pastoral center selected the student winners.
On Saturday, Jan. 14, a large crowd attended the Mass at the Passionist-run St. Paul of the Cross parish. Atlanta’s west side was home to a growing Black population when the church was founded in 1957.
Dotting the pews were women representing the Knights of St. Peter Claver Ladies Auxiliary with yellow striped kente cloth wraps draped over their shoulders.
Calling King a “great servant of the Gospel,” Atlanta Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., said the days of reflection surrounding King’s birthday “commemorate the work, the word and the witness” he left to the world.
Archbishop Hartmayer celebrated the Mass, along with a handful of priests and assisted by several deacons.
In his homily, the archbishop said King’s concerns were long—from freedom and equality to forgiveness and change. In a 2021 message to Bernice King, CEO of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center For Nonviolent Social Change, Pope Francis told her those issues raised by the civil rights leader remain timely. Archbishop Hartmayer said King’s concerns must be shared still by those who call themselves Christians.
Believers must “boldly challenge the status quo,” as King did, said the archbishop. And like King, the “only weapon we have to change hearts is the strength of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said.
Serving God and one another other “is the essence of Christianity. Christianity cannot be stagnant. It cannot stand still. It is a verb, it must move, it must act, it must reflect, it must witness, it must suffer, it must evangelize,” Archbishop Hartmayer said. “We cannot be passive. We cannot just sit back and watch. Where would we be if that’s all Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did was stand back and watch? No. He did not. He did not. He walked, quietly. He prayed.”
The call of today
The faithful recalled the man, who would have been 94 this month if he had not been shot by an assassin in Memphis in 1968. He died at 39. The racial problems that King turned his attention to still exist. Attending Mass and gathering to pray are ways to both inspire and promote reconciliation.
Lector Mat Mathews spoke after the archdiocesan Mass about the connection between King and his family’s native India. Mathews, who worships at Our Lady of Assumption Church, is a candidate to the permanent diaconate.
King learned from Mahatma Gandhi the purpose and meaning of peaceful nonviolence, so there’s a feeling of affection and strong link between the two leaders, he said. Using kindness to confront the evils of their day was the life’s work for the two men, he said. “It’s still our cause and call today,” he said.
He shared the afternoon with his daughter Laila, who attends Our Lady of Assumption School. Mathews said he likes his daughter to attend the King Day celebration to see the believers of different races and ethnicities who make up the Catholic faith praying together.
Cynthia Simien attends Our Lady of Hope Church, Lithonia, and is a member of the St. Peter Claver Ladies Auxiliary at Blessed Sacrament Church, Atlanta.
For her, the Mass is a positive way to kick off the still new year.
It reminds people “to be spiritually fed and be encouraging for the remainder of the year,” she said. There’s the hopeful message here that “we are all one and God’s children,” she said.
Simien said there’s a need to be hopeful and to work continually for improvements.
“Once we remember that we will be a better world,” she said.