Mass to honor civil rights leader King
By Julie Filby
File photo by James Baca/DCR
To honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., all are invited to the Denver Archdiocese’s first Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice to be held near Denver’s City Park at 8 a.m. Jan. 21.
“Dr. Martin Luther King knew that true human dignity came from God, not the state, society or government,” Archbishop Samuel Aquila, main celebrant for the Mass, told the Denver Catholic Register. “He knew it was the responsibility of government to protect the God-given rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Born Jan. 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Ga., King was a Baptist minister who led the civil rights movement in the United States, beginning in the 1950s. Between 1957 and 1968, he traveled millions of miles and gave thousands of speeches, including his famous “l Have a Dream” speech delivered in 1963 during the March on Washington, D.C.
Through his activism, he played a pivotal role in ending the legal segregation of African-Americans in the South and other areas of the country, as well as the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
While advancing civil rights and racial equality through nonviolent civil disobedience, he was also known for bringing his faith into the public square.
“Dr. King’s speeches are peppered with Scripture references and theological reflections,” Archbishop Aquila said. “His faith supported his work for civil rights. His words resonated with many people of diverse creeds and faith.”
The fact that his critique of society and government on civil rights issues was grounded in his faith serves as a reminder to every Christian today, the archbishop continued.
“We are called to live faith in the public square,” he said. “Atheists and the ACLU would never tolerate King today because his deep faith in Christ was his motivation for the dignity of the human person and the conversion of society.
“King was never politically correct in his approach. He spoke the truth on the dignity of the human person regardless of their race.”
Arrested at least 20 times, assaulted several times, and subjected to constant death threats for his activism, King was assassinated April 4, 1968, at the age of 39, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tenn.
Organizers of the Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice—Mary Leisring, director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry, and Deacon Charles Parker, director of the Office of Liturgy—echoed the archbishop’s sentiments emphasizing the influence faith had on King’s work and ministry.
“Martin Luther King promoted human rights and the dignity of every human person,” said Leisring. “Just as Catholic social teaching does.”
All Catholics should be concerned about preserving peace and justice, and working to emulate Christ just as King did, said Deacon Parker.
“Certainly Martin Luther King Jr. was a disciple of Jesus Christ,” he said. “And in his trying to follow Jesus, in his life, he gave us a model to emulate as well.“
This liturgy is significant in that it’s not just for the black community—though we hope black Catholics of the archdiocese show up in great numbers,” Deacon Parker continued. “It’s to celebrate the memory of Martin Luther King and his discipleship of Jesus Christ.”
Organizers plan to make the Mass an annual event.
Archbishop Aquila will be joined by area priests for the liturgy, including Father Simon Kalonga, parish administrator of Cure d’Ars Church in Denver, and Deacon Clarence McDavid, also from Cure d’Ars. Fourth degree Knights of Peter Claver, in full regalia, will participate.
The Mass will be held at St. Ignatius Loyola Church, 2301 York St. in Denver, across the street from City Park, where the annual Martin Luther King Marade (march and parade), organized by the City and County of Denver, will begin.
Leisring suggested honoring King’s enduring message and ministry through Mass and participation in the march and parade.
“It’s a great way to begin your day: in prayer,” she said. “Then go across the street and carry that prayerful experience to the ‘marade.’”
Denver’s traditional march and parade, in its 28th consecutive year, is billed as the largest Martin Luther King Jr. rally in the United States, drawing thousands. The march begins at City Park and travels 3 miles down East Colfax Avenue to Civic Center.
For more information, contact the Office of Black Catholic Ministry at 303-715-3165 or Black.Ministry@archden.org.