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King’s ‘vision of harmony, equality for all’ remains timely

Pope Francis and several U.S. bishops commemorated Martin Luther King, Jr. in messages Jan. 18

In the spirit of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., “we must meet the forces of hate and ignorance with the power of love,” the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement for the Jan. 18 federal observance of the slain civil rights leader’s birthday.

“This year as we commemorate the legacy of this great American, we remember especially Rev. King’s belief in nonviolence and the power of love,” Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez said.

Rev. King, who was assassinated in 1968 at age 39, would have turned 92 Jan. 15. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is observed on the third Monday of January each year.

With “social injustice, division and conflict” threatening the common good, people need to rediscover and recommit to the vision of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to work nonviolently for harmony and equality for all, Pope Francis said.

“Each one of us is called to be an artisan of peace by uniting and not dividing, by extinguishing hatred and not holding on to it, by opening paths of dialogue,” the pope, quoting his encyclical on global fraternity, said in his message to the Jan. 18 “Beloved Community Summit.”

The summit was an online event marking the King holiday and promoting his vision of a community where differences are resolved through dialogue and where people work together to perfect equality and to end injustice.

The pope’s letter was sent to the Rev. Bernice King, daughter of the slain civil rights leader and CEO of the King Center in Atlanta.

Her father wrote frequently about the urgency of forming the “beloved community.” He insisted that nonviolent protest was not the goal, but simply the necessary means of building a just and equal society and where reconciliation and redemption can thrive.

“In today’s world, which increasingly faces the challenges of social injustice, division and conflict that hinder the realization of the common good, Dr. King’s vision of harmony and equality for all people, attained through nonviolent and peaceful means, remains ever timely,” the pope wrote.

What is essential, he said, is to see each other as neighbors “in the truth of our share dignity as children of Almighty God.”

“Only by striving daily to put this vision into practice can we work together to create a community built upon justice and fraternal love,” Pope Francis wrote, praying for “divine blessings of wisdom and peace” upon all the summit participants.

“For much of the past year, America has been reckoning with the legacy of slavery and the persistence of racial injustice in our country. Sadly, it is still true that the ‘color of our skin’ often matters more in our society than the ‘content of our character,’” wrote Archbishop Gomez, quoting the words of Rev. King from 50 years ago.

“As we confront our deep divisions, we face the same choices that Rev. King and the civil rights movement faced. For us, too, the question is how will we struggle against the injustices in our society, what means will we use?” the archbishop asked in his statement, released late Jan. 15.

The Rev. Martin Luther King “relied upon faith and prayer” to combat the racism and prejudice he and other U.S. Blacks suffered, said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington.

“Our world has dramatically changed” from the last King holiday, said Bernice King, Rev. King’s youngest child, during a Jan. 11 forum, “The Urgency of Creating the Beloved Community.”

King took note of the coronavirus pandemic, which exposed “the fault lines” of racial inequity.

“We were also forced to come face to face with our nation’s racist reality” and “the depth of the hate and disdain for Black lives,” she said, citing the “violent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor” and so many others,” followed by “protests the likes of which the world has not seen before.”

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