By Sister Ruth Bolarte, I.H.M.

On Jan. 5, we celebrated the feast day of St. John Neumann, a saint close to Philadelphia as our fourth bishop. In order to follow God’s call to the priesthood, John Neumann left his homeland, Bohemia, and travelled across the ocean to this new land.

Once ordained, he spent most of his time going from village to village ministering to God’s people in his new homeland. His love and concern for all led him to organize a diocesan Catholic school system and to learn the languages of his people. He was able to hear confessions in at least six different languages.

It is said that when Irish immigration started, he learned Gaelic so well that one Irish woman remarked, “Isn’t it grand that we have an Irish bishop!” Like the Good Shepherd, John Neumann laid down his life for the sheep, providing for their needs and leading them to salvation (Pope Paul VI).

This month we also celebrate in the United States the life of Martin Luther King Jr. – one of the most widely revered figures in recent American history. Like John Neumann, Dr. King lived a life of self-sacrificial service rooted in Christian faith, prayer and perseverance. He was instrumental in the ending of legal segregation in the United States and the empowerment of the African-American community. Martin Luther King believed that spiritual principles guided by love can triumph over politics driven by hate and fear.

Bishop Neumann and Martin Luther King were infused with a passion that fueled their visions and their religious commitments through sacrificial leadership. Both men made Christ present in this world through their actions.

As followers of Christ, we are motivated to serve our brothers and sisters who are persecuted, oppressed and who live on the margins of society, not simply by good will or a commitment to justice. We minister to the most vulnerable because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, sought out the poor and those on the outskirts. In imitation of Christ, who went out of His way to find the lost and the sinners, we learn a language, we forgive, we travel, we challenge the structures of oppression, we pray.

In this new year of 2010, the Gospel challenges us to get involved through our actions, as well as our prayers, to be a voice for justice for our brothers and sisters who are undocumented, who are victims of human trafficking, who are cold and homeless, who are discriminated against, who are denied of the gift of life; silence is not an option!

Only then will we be welcoming the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus.

Sister Ruth Bolarte, I.H.M., is the director of the Catholic Institute for Evangelization in Philadelphia.