NEW YORK — On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington wants Americans to recognize the determination, perseverance and contributions of African Americans throughout United States history in spite of the obstacles they faced.
“African American heroes and heroines have an important lesson to offer all Americans because they exhibit a determination and a moral integrity that enriches our nation and perfects the human spirit,” said Gregory.
“These men and women, scientists, artists, sports persons, scholars, and adventurers were invited to pursue greatness in the face of tremendous obstacles. They bore the blunt of rejection because of their race and heritage, yet they did not succumb to the pressures of a hostile society.”
Gregory made the remarks during his homily Saturday at the Archdiocese of Washington’s annual Mass honoring the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which was held at St. Teresa of Avila Church in Washington D.C.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is observed on the third Monday in January every year to honor the life and legacy of the late civil rights activist. It was signed into law as a federal holiday by President Ronald Reagan in 1983.
It comes at a time this year when people across the country continue to fight for racial justice after the death of George Floyd – an unarmed black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer in May – led to nationwide protests over the summer.
Gregory made history last November when Pope Francis made him the first African American Cardinal, which he called “an affirmation of Black Catholics in the United States, the heritage of faith and fidelity that we represent.”
In his homily Saturday, Gregory also talked about the way King and other civil rights activists “realized their potential in the face of overwhelming odds.”
“They pursued greatness when many people thought that they were not worthy of human respect or dignity. That is the way to greatness in any society among all people,” Gregory continued. “There is no easy recipe. There is only courage and hope. May each of us find enough of these virtues to become the people that the Lord invites us to become the Church and for our world. Dr. King lived the Beatitudes because he knew that was the recipe to greatness.”
Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops honored King in a statement Friday, January 15 – King’s birthday – by calling for unity at a time of division in the country.
Gomez referred to the events of January 6, when hundreds of President Donald Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building in protest of the 2020 election. The riots resulted in the deaths of four civilians and a police officer.
“In the spirit of Rev. King, we must meet the forces of hate and ignorance with the power of love. We must learn again the wisdom of the Gospel and love our enemies and bless those who oppose us. In this moment, Rev. King would counsel everyone in public life to seek reconciliation and reject the easy temptation to reprisals and recrimination,” Gomez said.
“We do not love those who oppose us because they are loveable, or even likeable, Rev. King once said. We love them because God loves them. And by our love, we seek their conversion and friendship, not their humiliation. This is our Christian duty in this moment – to be healers and peacemakers, to overcome evil and lies, not by more of the same, but with words of truth and works of love.”
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