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Remembering the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Image: Martin Luther King Jr.

 "Today we honor the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who encouraged Americans to stand up for equality, justice, and peace – the message of the Gospel. He showed us that it is possible to fight for what we believe in, in a non-violent way.
 
We reflect on the progress made and the work still left undone. The sin of racism which permeated our country during Dr. King’s time still exists today. I echo the words of my brother bishops, ‘Our challenge is to bring Dr. King's message into the present moment in a way that inspires lasting change’.
 
Let us take time today and throughout this year, which marks the 50th anniversary of his passing, to take time before God for internal reflection, inspire change in our communities, and to love our neighbors as Jesus commanded.
 
I encourage you to complete an act of kindness for a stranger or to say an extra prayer for peace in our world as we commemorate the life of Dr. King."
 
-Statement from Bishop Walkowiak commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day on Monday, January 15.
Bishop Walkowiak encourages all to read the full statement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) which may be found here.

The Family: The School of Love

While racism is often tragically passed down through families, the family also offers the best antidote to
all forms of fear and prejudice because it is in the family where we can encounter unconditional love,
which echoes God’s love for us.
How can we rely more on God’s love and teach our children to love everyone? Consider these examples:
  • Pray together daily: Pray for the needs of others in your neighborhood, community, and beyond. Help your children to see the needs of people who are different from them. Help your family to see the face of Christ in every person.
  • Practice the art of conversation (dialogue) daily: Eat dinner together as a family—without mobile devices—and find other ways to spend time together. Have real conversations, at an age-appropriate level, about challenges or events that are in the news.
  • Practice hospitality and love of neighbor: Get to know your neighbors’ names and needs, show concern for them, pray for them, and assist them when possible. No family is perfect, but every family can grow in love. (from the USCCB document Responding to the Sin of Racism)

Love of Neighbor

When asked which was the first of all the commandments, Jesus replied the first is this: “‘You shall love
the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’
And the second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mk 12: 28-31). The sin of racism is the opposite of love. We are all called, therefore, to oppose racism in our communities.
 
Loving neighbors who are different from us through kind and generous actions can be as simple as
forming friendships, supporting minority-owned businesses, or participating in community activities with
those of other faiths or other races. Loving God obligates us to love our neighbors as well. (from the USCCB document Responding to the Sin of Racism)

Racism is a Pro-Life issue

When racism permeates our thoughts, it shows forth in our words and actions, revealing prejudices that prevent us from viewing each individual we encounter as a child of God created equally.
 
The Catholic Church is very clear: racism and every form of discrimination based on “sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design” (Catechism, par. 1935 and Gaudium et Spes, no. 29).
 
We are called to work to protect the dignity of all members of one human family by confronting racism in
all its forms and by welcoming and celebrating the diversity of the many faces of the children of God in
our communities. Building unity in diversity is an essential part of our mission of discipleship.  (from the USCCB document Responding to the Sin of Racism)

What are we called to do?
Consider the following for reflection and to generate dialogue:

• The answer is Christ, and Christ calls for our conversion. His first words in the Gospel are, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 4:17).
• The recent events, and indeed the events unfolding over the last few years, days and hours all point to the need that we, as a nation, as a people, have for conversion.
• Conversion requires prayerful self-reflection. As a nation, we need to self-reflect on what aspects of our communal and civil structures actually divide and separate us. How are they covertly racist? As a Church, we need to self-reflect on how we have been unwelcoming to the stranger, the person of a different race, or the immigrant. We need to self-reflect on how we have not challenged the sin of racism enough. More so, we must listen to persons of a different race and listen to the immigrant. And when we think we have listened, we must listen again. We must hear the story and begin to share the journey more deeply. Let us come together in the love of Christ to better know one another as sisters and brothers.
• And in order for our nation and our church to be healed of the sin of racism, each one of us needs to reflect and be healed. We may not think of ourselves as racist, or being prejudiced, or intolerant but is that entirely the case? Intolerance and bias can hide in our attitudes and arrogances. Where are the places in our own heart that might harbor hostility, concealed discrimination and prejudice?
• Conversion requires courageous and ongoing self-reflection, it requires each of us to examine our conscience humbly before Christ.
• We must be contemplative enough to allow the Lord to work in the depth of our heart on these issues. 
What is the Holy Spirit calling you to do, together with your family, neighborhood, parish, school, or other faith community? What will be your first step?  

Take Action

Read Brothers and Sisters to Us - the U.S. Bishops' pastoral letter on racism, 1979 and the
25th anniversary update to the letter, 2004
 
On the diocesan website:
Racism and our response as Catholics
Read Bishop Walkowiak's letter speaking out against racism
Read The Effects of Racism: A talk by Rev. Joe Jones at the Prayer for Peace and Racial Justice Interfaith Gathering Sept. 2016 at the Cathedral of Saint Andrew.