It was chilly on the holiday marking the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but inside St. Teresa of Avila Church in South Ozone Park, the spirit was warm, and the rhetoric was hot.
This was a noon prayer service, sponsored by the Vicariate for Black Catholic Concerns, to commemorate Dr. King’s birthday, which this year also happened to be the date of the second inauguration of President Barack Obama, the country’s only black chief executive.
The service was filled with prayers, music by the Troupe Eclat choir from St. Jerome’s, East Flatbush, and readings from Scripture and the writings of Dr. King, followed by personal reflections.
Ethel M. Andoh-Menson served as the emcee for the event, which began with an opening prayer by Father Richard Conlon, pastor of the host church.
The Letter of Dr. King written from a Birmingham jail was read aloud in segments. During the breaks, there were personal reflections by local black Catholics. Retired Auxiliary Bishop Guy Sansaricq, a native of Haiti, was the first reader.
In her response, Tessa King Shepherd of St. Jerome’s, said, “Dr. King was hot and I challenge you my brothers and sisters to dare to be hot. Take a stand – a non-violent stand – a stand that disturbs our oppressors – one that troubles the Congress into appropriate action to protect life, marriage and family.”
The keynote speaker, Father Bryan Patterson, pastor of Sacred Heart parish, Cambria Heights, got personal.
“A dream dreamed is not necessarily a dream achieved,” explained Father Patterson as he dared everyone in the congregation to take responsibility for fulfilling Dr. King’s dream.
“What is your personal commitment to fulfilling Dr. King’s dream for our own families?”
He said that because there is equal opportunity does not necessarily mean there is equal achievement.
He challenged those in attendance to take responsibility for seeing that their kids are raised well, that they stay in school and that families stay together.
“We must be able to take care of our own responsibilities and to pay our own bills,” said Father Patterson.
To do less, he said, would be to fail to follow through on the accomplishments and achievements of Dr. King’s legacy.
He credited Dr. King’s non-violent tension to injustice as the key to turning around social injustice in America.
“He was only 39 years old when he was killed,’” he pointed out. “But doctors who performed the autopsy said he had the heart of a 60-year-old because of what he endured. He was intending to assure civil rights for all people.”
Referring to the courage of Dr. King and the other civil rights workers of the 1960s, Father Patterson said, “It’s not enough to dream the dream. You must also fulfill it. There’s no point in having ceremonies like this if we are going to watch our communities go down the drain.’”
He asked the congregation to ask itself “What is God calling each one of us to do?” and “How can you be the best version of yourself?”
Bishop Sansaricq summed up the day in closing remarks.
“I hope that this gathering will help us grow on the discovery of the person of Jesus Christ,” he said. “If there is still injustice, it’s because we are not doing the work of Jesus.”