The Dr. Martin Luther King holiday on Monday, Jan. 21 was billed as a day on, not a day off in the African American community. The preceding day, Sunday, was definitely a day on, not a day off at St. Therese of the Child Jesus Church in the Mount Airy section of the city.
The church was jammed and overflowing for the 30th annual Archdiocesan Interfaith Commemorative Prayer Service in honor of Dr. King.
Solid preaching and great music are hallmarks of African American liturgies whether Protestant or Catholic, and that was certainly the case on this occasion. In this case Rabbi Tshura August, chaplain of the Jewish Hospice Network, Rev. Steven Lawrence of White Rock Baptist Church and Archbishop Charles Chaput based their reflections on Isaiah 62, 1 Corinthians 12 and John 2. Not coincidentally these were also the readings at most Christian churches on that particular Sunday and all three speakers effectively applied the texts to the life of Dr. King as well as to the challenges of today.
Rabbi August, who chanted from the text, spoke of how the freedom of the Israelites from the Babylonian Captivity parallels the freedom from a different captivity Dr. King fought for.
“Isaiah gave that vision to all people in the 6th century (B.C.). His voice rings true today as it did thousands of years ago, and that is what Dr. Martin Luther King did, he gave us a vision of ourselves … like Isaiah he would not be silent, he would not be still.”
The Corinthian text touches on the many different gifts Christians brought to the Church and Rev. King stressed the differences various groups bring to our land, Rev. Lawrence explained. “We have not yet figured out how to live together and be different,” he said.
Archbishop Chaput’s reflection recalled the compassion of Mary at the Wedding Feast of Cana and her concern that the hosts should not be embarrassed, and because of this, Jesus performed his first public miracle.
“Dr. Martin Luther King made something happen that had never happened before,” he said. “In those days in our country it would be hard to imagine that there would be a commitment on the part of the government in a formal way to end discrimination and racism.”
Dr. King, the Archbishop said, was “obedient to the voice of Christ calling him to work for non-violent change in our country. The ordinary pattern of American life changed in an extraordinary way.”
Those of us who follow in the footsteps of Dr. King must “leave everything up to Jesus and do everything Jesus tells us to,” Archbishop Chaput said.
Throughout the readings of the service there were spirit-filled interludes by the excellent choir, and Msgr. David Benz, pastor of St. Therese, also reflected on the life of Dr. King.
After the playing of a recording from Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Msgr. Benz noted the recording was fading, and added, “we must live the words of Dr. King, we must remember.”
Geri Dennis of St. Raymond Parish is among those who do remember Dr. King. For her, his message is, “there is a future if only we believe, we trust and we hope,” she said.
Miriam Allen, also of St. Raymond, said Dr. King “gives me the strength and courage to go on, and if there are any battles to be fought, his is the way to do it.”
The annual archdiocesan celebration in honor of Dr. King is spearheaded by the archdiocesan Office for Black Catholics, and Bill Bradley, who is director of the office, noted “each year when his birthday rolls around it invigorates people back to service.”
“We have to make sure it is not just a memory of the older people,” he added. “We have to engage the young people, and I’m happy to see so many young people here today.”
One of those younger people was Joewania Hall, a student at Drexel Neumann Virtual Academy in Chester, who said Dr. King “makes me want to change the world like he did.”
After the service all gathered in the parish hall for further celebration and fellowship.
In a time to build, CatholicPhilly.com connects people and communities
As society emerges from the loss and separation of the pandemic, CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you join in our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community.
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103