Martin Luther King Day is observed every year on the third Monday of January. This year it falls on this Monday, January 17. Dr. King became minister of the Dexter Ave. Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama in 1954 and was the most prominent leader in the American civil rights movement until his assassination in 1968. We are thankful for the path that he forged, together with countless others, for bringing about racial equality and ending racial segregation in the United States.
From what we have witnessed in recent years, it is obvious that we are experiencing deep divisions and polarizations on this issue and on other social justice matters. We need to ask the same questions that Dr. King asked: How will we struggle against the injustices in our society? What means will we use? Inspired by his Christian convictions and his admiration for Gandhi’s nonviolent activism that led to India’s freedom in 1947, Dr. King opted for civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience. He wanted to overcome hate with the wisdom of the Gospel of Jesus who taught loving our enemies. He kept reminding his audiences to seek reconciliation and not to fall easy prey to the temptation to violent reprisals. In 1958, Rev. King wrote: “Along the way of life, someone must have the sense enough and the morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethics of love to the center of our lives.”
As Catholics, we have been doing a lot of self-examination in becoming aware of racism that denies respect, equality and human dignity to people of color both in the church and in the society. In November 2018 the Catholic bishops of the United States released a Pastoral Letter Against Racism called, Open Wide Our Hearts. Our Bishops acknowledged the truth: “Racism still profoundly affects our culture, and it has no place in the Christian heart. This evil causes great harm to its victims, and it corrupts the souls of those who harbor racist or prejudicial thoughts. The persistence of the evil of racism is why we are writing this letter now.”
Yes, the letter is a powerful initiative but more needs to be done, and soon, to bring that awareness to us Catholics on the national, diocesan and parish levels. I’m very happy that our parish of St. Matthias has taken some significant steps to address racism and other social justice issues by having events and retreats as well as launching the Social Justice Initiative by our Pastoral Council and the Racial Justice Initiative by our St. Martin De Porres Society.
I invite us all to read the Bishops’ letter ‘Open Wide Our Hearts’ as well as get new resources from usccb.org/racism. May the legacy of Dr. King remind us that God’s plan for us is to live in peace with all, by loving and respecting everyone without any discrimination.
Your brother in Christ,
Fr. Abraham Orapankal