Singing hymns of praise to God, parishioners and clergy from Brooklyn and Queens gave thanks for the vision, words and works of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the 30th anniversary of the federal holiday honoring his birth.
A service of prayer and praise, sponsored annually by the diocesan Vicariate of Black Catholic Concerns in honor of the slain civil rights leader, was conducted at Our Lady of Victory Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant, last Monday, Jan. 18. Retired Auxiliary Bishop Guy Sansaricq presided.
Attendees rose to their feet as the Kingdom Builders choir from Most Precious Blood parish, Bath Beach, performed the opening hymn, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” also known as the Black National Anthem.
Father Alonzo Cox, vicariate coordinator, offered prayers; vicariate members read a reflection on Dr. King as a churchman, elder and ancestor; and youth from Our Lady of Charity Church, Brownsville, performed an African dance of welcome.
It was an afternoon of remembrance for Brooklynite Olivia Cousins, who was part of the civil rights movement in the late 1960s.
As a college student on spring break, she went to Brownsville, Tenn., to help with voter registration and integration at a movie theater. The Ku Klux Klan left her and her team alone during their time there, she said. But when they left, Klansmen burned the property of the farmer who gave her and her coworkers room and board.
Cousins, a parishioner at Our Lady of Victory, admired Dr. King and heeded his words of instruction and admonition. “His words and actions remain with me today,” she said.
More than just paying homage to an American hero, the service was meant to inspire an intergenerational crowd to work for justice, equal rights and peace in the world.
The guest speaker, transitional Deacon A. Gerard Jordan, O.Praem., of Daylesford Abbey, Pa., urged the faithful to embrace a “movement” toward restoration with God, a praiseful life and following The Way – that is, Jesus.
“God wants us to seek His righteousness and do justice. This is what God invites us to do,” the deacon said, referring to the reading from Amos 5:14-24 that was proclaimed during the prayer service.
Among the present-day social justice issues he touched upon was the admission of immigrants and refugees into the U.S.
More Understanding, Tolerant
“Our borders are being blessed by people from other countries – Syria, Egypt, Africa. We can be more welcoming as a Church than we were in the past; we can be more understanding and tolerant.
“That’s the gift we can give our children if we follow Dr. King’s example,” Deacon Johnson said.
A candlelight service – in which the flame from the paschal candle was passed person-by-person to each member of the congregation – was a visual reminder that Christians are called to spread the Light of Christ to the world.
“If we look at the life of Martin Luther King Jr. and we look at the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church, we see what we’re called to do,” said Denise Caldwell-Taylor from St. Augustine Church, Park Slope.
“As the people of God, we’re called to stay in the Word and always move forward. And that sometimes means taking on causes that are not popular or speaking out against things that are not just.”
Caldwell-Taylor said she was glad Deacon Johnson didn’t shy away from discussing the issue of caring for refugees and immigrants.
“This is a nation of immigrants, whether you came here freely or on a slave ship. This is also a country founded on religious tolerance. If we look at how we’re treating ‘the other,’ it’s not Christian, in no way, shape or form.”
And so, Cousins added, “The struggle continues. It’s important to not only stand up, but to speak and act. We can all do something in our own way.”