Mass honors the legacy of Martin Luther King
By Kanobia Blackmon
When reflecting on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and his contributions to social justice, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry of Chicago reminds us succinctly that “much more needs to be done so that every man, woman, and child in America can live free of skepticism, bias and rejection.”
Bishop Perry was the principal celebrant and homilist at the annual Commemoration of the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 15 at St. Mary Cathedral in Austin. He was joined by Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Garcia of Austin, Missionaries of St. Paul Father Basil Aguzie, pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Austin, Paulist Father Bruce Nieli from St. Austin Parish and other diocesan clergy.
The music at the Mass reflected the important role African-American spirituals and Gospel music played in the Civil Rights movement. The Holy Cross Gospel Choir led the congregation in singing hymns such as “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “I Am On the Battlefield.” DeKarlos Blackmon, the diocesan director of Life, Charity and Justice, led the choir in “I Sing Because I’m Happy,” a rendition of “His Eye On the Sparrow.” He said this song was chosen because, during the Civil Rights movement, it was a hymn of comfort in a time of grief and struggle.
“The song is relevant in 2017 because the Scripture (Mt 6:26) on which the words are based presents an overwhelming sense of being under the loving care of Christ, who is a ‘constant friend,’ which is needed in our communities today,” Blackmon said.
Bishop Perry reflected on social justice and the legacy of King. He even wondered if there had not been a King, how civil rights and human rights would have been delayed. While many people throughout the nation may view the reality of having had a black president as an indicator that the nation has overcome the stigma of racism, Bishop Perry reminded attendees that “the residuals of the social justice struggle still need to change.” Justice is still our aim. He referred to the killings of young black men, the lack of hope and despair turned on one another, drugs in neighborhoods, schools of inferior quality and prisons filled with black and Hispanic men. All are indications that there is still work to do, he said.
Bishop Perry said that as a strong leader, King used his faith to preach his message and give people a reason to hope all while putting the church on the front lines.
“We continue to need from the church prophets and agents of reconciliation, individuals and groups, laity and clergy who make it their responsibility to bring people together despite stubborn differences, false perceptions and persistent stereotypes that would guarantee walls of separation,” Bishop Perry said.
Bishop Perry explained that the church’s voice hasn’t been thoroughly heard on the topic of race relations. “Social justice has indeed been the most difficult subject to get across from the pulpits,” he said. From a Catholic perspective, Bishop Perry said “social justice refers to that which is due every person by reason of being human.” Every person deserves respect and to be treated with dignity. He said the church’s role is to help form consciences and “to stimulate greater insight into the authentic requirements of relating to one another indiscriminately.”
He challenged the faithful to continue King’s legacy of fighting for equality for all people. He did so with the Civil Rights movement, but also by making sure he had a place at the table with government leaders.
“Make sure you bestow freedom upon others so that no person, white, brown or black or Asian or whatever will ever have to suffer as our parents and grandparents and great grandparents suffered under segregation and discrimination laws and hatred and its practices in this country,” Bishop Perry said.
For more information about the diocesan Office of Black Catholics, visit www.austindiocese.org or contact the director, Johnnie Dorsey at (512) 949-2449.