BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The example of Martin Luther King Jr., calls Americans today to renew their commitment to justice and charity, reflected the head of the Knights of Peter Claver ahead of the annual federal holiday recognizing the civil-rights leader.
“We must illustrate and express ever more evidently the familial bond we share in faith. Just as people often remember King as a drum major for justice, we must view ourselves as drum majors for justice in this contemporary age,” said F. DeKarlos Blackmon, supreme knight of the historically black Catholic fraternal organization.
“After all, there can be no true justice, no true harmony, no true righteousness and no true integrity without love. Our pursuit of authentic justice must be rooted in love.”
In a Jan. 17 statement just ahead of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Blackmon — who chairs the school board of the Birmingham Diocese — exhorted Catholics to reflect not only on King's life and work, “but also on the challenge each of us has as baptized members of Christ's faithful.
“The word of God and King’s deep convictions led him to challenge these United States to live out its creed that all men are created equal. If we cannot look upon one another as brothers and sisters, we dare not call our God ‘Father.’”
Blackmon called on Catholics to consider that faith is “not as much about us as individuals as it is about us as a loving family” and that unity is one of the marks of the Church, saying we are “bound by Christ” and urged by St. Paul “to live in a manner worthy of the call [we] have received.”
“King understood this; King preached this; and King lived this. The beatific call in his life led him from humble beginnings to the ‘mountaintop.’”
Blackmon also remembered the Catholics who worked against segregation in this country, noting Joseph Rummel, archbishop of New Orleans from 1935 to 1964; Joseph Durick, who was auxiliary bishop of Mobile-Birmingham, Ala., when he was among the addressees of King’s "Letter From Birmingham Jail"; and the Edmundite and Josephite Fathers, who ministered to the poor in the region.
“Durick, who was transformed by King’s plea, became an outspoken activist and advocate for civil rights and equal justice for everyone. … Durick, like King and so many others, helped people to rise above their personal interests to bring about positive change for the greater community.”
Blackmon called on Catholics “to become ever inspired by the teachings of Christ,” saying that it is by “living authentically the Gospel values” that “we can more effectively challenge our country to live out its conviction that, indeed, ‘All men are created equal.’
“We must recommit ourselves to being true peacemakers. We must commit to establish our homes as the first and best schools of reconciliation, compassion, mercy and love.”
He said that, “contrary to popular opinion, we have not made it over. When we see our Catholic schools among the urban poor [schools] closing across the country, I am reminded that we have not made it over. There is still a need for these schools, and local communities must find inventive ways to keep many of these schools open. We must see these institutions as means to evangelize and model successfully the Gospel values.
“The anthem of King and the civil-rights movement is still our objective, our aim, our target and our end: to overcome some day. By the grace of almighty God, by the arduous work of our hands, by the standing up to be witnesses to the saving power of God, we will overcome.”
He cited prejudice, racism and intolerance as things to be overcome, as well as the idea that poor, suffering urban schools should be closed and their students sent to suburban schools.
Blackmon also addressed issues of immigration and anti-Hispanic prejudices.
“I see so very often how we — especially black people — must be ever mindful of the implications of discrimination and prejudices toward Hispanics. We, the faithful who claim to follow Christ, must be ever mindful of our role in welcoming ‘the stranger.’ We must fight always for the dignity of every human person — from conception to natural death.”
“If we call ourselves believers and followers of Christ, we must stand up for what is right and just, and we must be willing to lose our lives for the sake of the Gospel,” he exhorted, adding that Catholics must be willing to publicly do the right and difficult thing, rather than the “easy moral wrong.”
Blackmon said, “May we live the Gospel values fully and completely, and may we stand up for that which we profess to believe. Let us be willing to lose our lives for the sake of the Gospel. May the all-powerful Lord grant us his grace and keep us in his peace.”