By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published January 20, 2011
The annual Mass that brings together Catholics of all walks of life to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. focused this year on the gift of joy that Christ’s followers have to strengthen them and to share with others.
The theme for the Eucharistic celebration was “Your Kindness Should Be Known to All,” a passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
Charles Prejean, director of the Office for Black Catholic Ministry, said the passage captures an important lesson as Catholics and others of good will renew their dedication to social justice.
“Our theme this year . . . is chosen to reflect the joy of Christ’s presence in our lives and our commitment to share this great gift,” Prejean wrote in a letter to the people of the archdiocese published in the Mass program.
“The power of this belief helps to sustain the state of grace that enables us to meet the great challenges of the times, in ways that bring about human benefit rather than human harm,” he said.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory served as the principal celebrant of the liturgy at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Saturday, Jan. 15. Hundreds of people attended, including priests, laity and members of the Knights of Columbus and the Knights of Peter Claver, as the snow and ice began to melt and make roads passable.
Deacon Alfred Mitchell, who was ordained in 1987, served as the homilist and inspired the assembly to respond to the words of Dr. King with action and not to be afraid to show hospitality to everyone they meet.
“We shall rejoice not because everything is going well for us . . . but simply because (St.) Paul says that the Lord is near,” Deacon Mitchell said about the day’s readings. The congregation was gathered to celebrate the life of another apostle, he added.
Deacon Mitchell, a native of South Carolina who has served in the archdiocese for more than 20 years, belongs to several national storytelling groups and his talent for sharing a story was not lost in the homily.
He drew parallels between the biblical author and the civil rights leader, saying they both traveled widely to spread the message of the Gospel to everyone who would hear them.
“They both made the ultimate sacrifice for their beliefs,” Deacon Mitchell added.
He also emphasized the way hospitality to everyone is an imperative for those who follow Christ.
“Discipleship and hospitality go hand in hand,” he said.
“We can never be sure under what guise God will come to us,” so therefore, “we must display the same kindness to all,” he said.
“My friends, rejoice, and let your kindness be known to all,” he concluded.
The Archbishop James P. Lyke Memorial Mass Choir, which gave rousing renditions of hymns and spirituals, also highlighted the celebration, encouraging those present to join in songs of worship and praise.
At the end of the Mass, Glenda Jones, chairperson of the planning committee, presented the Father Bruce Wilkinson Award to Leslie Choo, a parishioner of St. Theresa Church in Douglasville, for his work in the ministry of evangelization.
Building on the messages of the day, Choo accepted the honor with gratitude.
“We have a responsibility . . . to use all our gifts, talents, resources and knowledge” to serve the kingdom of God, he said.
“It is our responsibility to give back” and “when we open our hearts and let God in, that’s when we are able to give generously,” he said.
Each attendee was given a thorough program at the Mass, including updates from the Office of Black Catholic Ministry and messages from leaders, including Archbishop Gregory and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
“The City of Atlanta applauds you for outstanding leadership, exemplary community service and a continued commitment to furthering the legacy of Dr. King. The meaningful work that you do, every single day, distinguishes you as fine examples of worthy servants in our community,” Reed wrote.
“You have built a foundation of faithful service,” he added. “Continue to be an inspiration to all and thank you for making a difference in our spiritual community.”
Archbishop Gregory said in his message that “Dr. King’s example is important for today’s world, where too often we see governments and individuals offer as solutions for the problems we face, a stinginess caused by fear, and an indiscriminate defensiveness that too often erupts in violent responses.“
“Let us pray to be generous and gentle, expansive in our giving, and steadfast in the calm that comes from strong faith,” he added.
“This is the best way we can honor Dr. King’s memory and act as channels for the Christian faith which he loved, and preached so well, and for which he ultimately gave the greatest gift of all: his life.”
The Mass was one part of the 27th annual MLK weekend celebration sponsored by the archdiocesan Office of Black Catholic Ministry. The office also sponsored a youth celebration at St. Peter Claver Regional School, Decatur, on Sunday, Jan. 16. A young adult celebration planned for Jan. 14 had to be canceled due to the weather.
The 2011 national observance was the 25th anniversary of the King holiday, first celebrated in January 1986.