UPPER MARLBORO, Md. — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is best honored when people “recall to mind and heart that the issues Dr. King placed before our nation have not been adequately accomplished,” and strive to continue his work, Washington Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory said during a Jan. 15 Mass honoring the legacy of the late civil rights leader.
“Dr. King’s national holiday will provide a welcome respite from work for most Americans,” Cardinal Gregory said at the Mass, “but it cannot, and it must never, be used to provide any diminishing in our determination to bring about the fulfillment of that dream that he held out before America, a dream unfortunately still deferred for far too many Americans from every region, of every race or who speak a different language.”
Cardinal Gregory was the principal celebrant and homilist of the Mass at St. Joseph Church in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Washington Auxiliary Bishop Roy E. Campbell Jr., St. Joseph’s pastor, concelebrated the Mass which was sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office of Cultural Diversity.
The Mass and celebration, which began with a praise and worship service featuring the St. Joseph Gospel Choir, are held annually near Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the federal holiday observed on the third Monday of January. This year, the holiday was observed on Monday, Jan. 16.
The cardinal told those at the Mass that “despite the God-given progress for which we must also today offer prayers of thanksgiving,” society must address “the unfinished agenda (of Dr. King) that still confronts our society each and every day.”
“We are still a nation with too many strangers. Our lives — when they do not intersect in open hostility — still seem to pass as parallel lines often at great distance from each other,” he said. “We are still discovering, and frequently with great surprise, that we are a diverse people, and that diversity, far from being a threat, can be and ought to be received as a blessing. “
Prayers were offered that “the dream for truth and justice of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. inspires all people to work for equality among all members of our society.”
On Aug. 28, 1963, Dr. King was among the leaders who organized a March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march included a rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that was opened with an invocation by Archbishop Patrick O’Boyle, then the Catholic archbishop of Washington. It was at that rally that Dr. King delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech.
In that speech, Dr. King spoke of his dream where “my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream that one day … little Black boys and Black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”
Cardinal Gregory said that while Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a federal holiday, “most dioceses have established the honored practice of such a prayer event” as the one hosted by the Archdiocese of Washington. He said the event not only celebrates Dr. King, but anticipates February’s Black History Month.