By Arlene Edmonds
Special to The CS&T

NORRISTOWN – Brotherhood among Christians was the message that resonated most with those who attended the annual archdiocesan liturgy in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Cardinal Justin Rigali was the celebrant and homilist for the ecumenical prayer service held at St. Patrick Church in Norristown Jan. 17.

Laura Edsell brought along several of her grandchildren to the liturgy, including granddaughters Ayana, 10, and Aliyah, 8 months, and grandson Daryl, 6. She said that was important to celebrate the life of King at church. “It was so beautiful to have Cardinal Rigali here talking about bringing all types of people together and it was important for our young people to see our unity,” she said.

While Joanne Rhinehart thought the event was awesome because of the presence of many new faces at the church, Bernice Ruffin said the Cardinal’s message was on target.

“We need to see each other, those from other churches, more often. This is exactly what we all need. Our church has all kinds of people, and others need to see that this is part of being Christian and being Catholic. I think this is just a wonderful way to honor King. Everything was great,” Ruffin said.

Wallace Weaver, a member of the St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Glenside and a senior at Bishop McDevitt High School in Wyncote, agreed. He read the prayers of the faithful during the liturgy.

“I think the Cardinal gave a special message,” said Weaver. “He said we can’t truly call ourselves God’s children if we don’t see each other as brothers and sisters. I think that is part of King’s message, that we have to end racism. We have to not only show tolerance, but see each other as brothers and sisters as well.”

“This event really honored King,” said Father Stephen Thorne, director of the archdiocesan Office for Black Catholics. “This was a celebration that included English and Spanish readings. There was a combined gospel choir made up of those from Philadelphia choirs, largely African-Americans, who sang with the choirs from this area, which are predominantly white. Yet they created great music and worked well together.”

Father Thorne was referring to the chorus that combined the voices of the St. Patrick choir, under the direction of Ginny Chiodo, with voices from predominantly African- American parishes in Philadelphia, under the direction of Tanya Dorsey. The result was well-received and included the singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and the civil rights movement’s anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”

“This was just a wonderful experience,” said Chiodo, who has been conducting St. Patrick’s choir for 13 years. “We learned new music, and it was just inspiring. I think the combined spanerse group brought a new spirit. This was the first time we had ever done something like this.”

Catherine Abernathy, a longtime St. Patrick parishioner, was pleased with the ecumenical nature of the liturgy as well. She said that she hopes this is the beginning of programs to bring urban and suburban as well as predominantly African-American and Caucasian parishes together for worship experiences.

“I loved the music because it was energizing,” Abernathy said. “I feel that when you have inspiring music it brings you closer to the Lord. … I think that by doing this more regularly it will bring more young people to church and just bring more people into the Church.”

Also on hand for the liturgy at St. Patrick’s was Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. Nutter said ecumenical events are a positive way to continue the legacy of King. He added that he has always admired the work that King has done in being a champion for social justice.

“This event is the type that Dr. King would have supported – bringing Americans together, and that is why I am especially glad that Cardinal Rigali and Father Thorne took the time to have this. Although I arrived at the (tail end) of it I can see it was a great service,” Nutter said.

Arlene Edmonds is a freelance writer and St. Raymond of Penafort parishioner. She may be reached at