VATICAN CITY — The work of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to promote the “integral human development” of all peoples is a work that must continue today in the world and in the Catholic Church, Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, Illinois, told participants at a Vatican conference.
Braxton moderated a panel discussion April 4 at the conference marking the 50th anniversary of Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical on development, Populorum Progressio.
Closing the afternoon panel, the bishop reminded participants that it was the 49th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. King, “who was only 39 years old when he was cruelly slain in the midst of trying to bring about a more integral human development for all people in the United States, especially people of color.
“The racial divide in the United States and, sadly, in the Catholic Church in the United States is not something of the past. It is very much something of the present,” the bishop said.
Braxton told conference participants that, as one of only six active African-American diocesan bishops in the United States and the only one present at the Vatican conference, he wanted to “call attention to the significance of this day,” the anniversary of Rev. King’s slaying in 1968.
The bishop described Rev. King as “the conscience of the United States, the nonviolent prophet challenging the sin and the heresy of racism and apartheid-like segregation and prejudice in the United States.”
Many people in Europe, he said, seem to think the election of Barack Obama to two terms as U.S. president signaled “an end to the racial divide in the United States. However, the racial divide has not been bridged fully; we do not live in a post-racial society in the United States or in the Catholic Church.”
Integral human development and progress in ensuring all people enjoy the benefits of well-being are still needed for members of minority communities in the United States, just as in most countries around the globe, he said.
“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream of the full, integral human development of all people, especially, in the United States for people of color,” the bishop said. “He died with that dream deferred.”
All Catholics everywhere, he said, need to follow “these simple imperatives: listen, learn, think, pray and act.”
“Christ needs us all,” Braxton said. “He needs our eyes to continue to see. He needs our ears to continue to hear. He needs our mouths to continue to speak. He needs our hands to continue to work. He needs our feet to continue to walk. He needs our bodies to continue to serve. And he needs our hearts to continue to love.”