Diocese celebrates diversity, MLK’s legacy at holiday weekend Mass
“As people across the United States remember and honor the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., his struggle for justice, and the dangers it entailed, it provides us with a reminder that the work of the church has always required courage.”
Those were the opening remarks by Mary Craig, a parishioner at St. Martin de Porres Parish in Buffalo, which hosted the Diocese of Buffalo’s annual Mass in Remembrance of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the morning of Sunday, Jan. 15.
Craig, who spoke prior to the start of Mass, offered a reflection of the late civil rights activist. She recalled the September 1963 bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. She also recalled some of less violent, but equally not-so-subtle pushback King and his associates received for their civil rights efforts.
These moments included an occasion when Dr. King had been jailed in Birmingham, charged with failing to procure a parade permit in advance of a planned protest against segregation. Craig told the story of a letter King received while in jail, from a group of clergy who urged him to use moderation. These, Craig said, included a Catholic bishop.
“The letter stated, ‘We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely,’” Craig told the congregation.
She also spoke of King’s response, reciting a letter he wrote in reply to critics, stating, “such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral. It can be used either destructively or constructively.”
“He said, ‘More and more I feel that people who have ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of goodwill,” Craig continued. “‘We will have to repent in this generation, not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people. But for the appalling silence of the good people.’”
Attendance at the Mass was at capacity, with parishioners and guests witnessing spirited prayer and hymns throughout the Mass. In addition to the St. Martin de Porres choir, the Heart of Jesus Choir offered up praise through song.
Bishop Michael W. Fisher, who presided over the Mass, could be seen joining the congregation in singing and clapping along to many of the musical selections.
“My brothers and sisters, today in the Gospel, St. John the Baptist points to Jesus, ‘There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Follow him,’” Bishop Fisher said at the beginning of Mass. “Jesus, who came into our world to show us the face of the Father, to show us the presence of God among us. Isn’t that what Dr. Martin Luther King did in his ministry as a modern-day prophet, to help show in to inspire us to see God in one another?”
The homily was delivered by special guest Father Avery Daniel, parochial vicar of St. Joseph Parish in Athens, Georgia, and St. Catherine Labouré Parish in Jefferson, Georgia.
“The fact of Christ is inescapable. That’s why we have Him here,” he said. “We see this crucifix suspended above us for all time, inescapable. This altar, which is the center of this Church, the symbol to us, of the value, which each and every one of us has before God, the here and now of that cross, of that crucifix, where Christ Himself offers himself for us day after day after day, not to be moved. Inescapable.”
As he continued, Father Daniel referenced the Carmelite spiritual masters and their teaching that the sacred humanity of Jesus is full of grace and power, and bestowed upon all by God.
“Which means what? If Christ who has ignited us, who has brought us into Himself – each and every one of us, now and forever – is now at the right hand of God and Heaven, where are we destined to be? With God. That is our reality. And it is this same life of God, this all-inspiring power, this reality that moved within Dr. King,” Father Daniel said. “That moved him to say, ‘Come Spirit, I’m ready.’ And it led him to say it in all of his talents, in his use of the written and spoken word, in his inspiring leadership, in his effective actions, all these things which he organized. The protests, the court cases, the marches. In his committing and concretizing the thought and spirit of that moment into writing, to stand forever for the human dignity of Black people, first, and also by way of that for each and every human person, whatsoever.”
Both Father Daniel and Craig, in their respective remarks, noted the tragedy of the May 14, 2022, mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket, and the racial hate which motivated the gunman who carried it out. Ten lives were lost on that fateful day, only a few blocks from where this celebration was occurring.
Just before the conclusion of Mass, the diocese celebrated young Black lives by announcing the winners of academic scholarships. Tredennis Drayton and Jean Marie Musumbu were awarded the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Scholarship to pursue Catholic education in high school.
Nicole Ndayishimiye and Emmanuel Agbo-Ito were awarded the Albert Lenhard Family Scholarship, which offers aid for the pursuit of further education beyond high school, at either the graduate or post-graduate level.
The Remembrance Mass was sponsored by the Diocese of Buffalo’s Office of Cultural Diversity and Social Justice, and by its African American Commission.