US bishops urge Americans to follow Martin Luther King's prophetic witness
By Lisa Zengarini
The United States is celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which since 1983 has been observed on the third Monday of January to commemorate the Civil Rights leader’s life and legacy.
In a statement for the observance, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, has called on all people of goodwill to follow his prophetic witness of nonviolence and fraternity.
He said the prominent activist should be remebered not only for the justice he pursued, but for “how he pursued it.”
“Rev. King was driven by the biblical vision of righteousness and truth, a vision that he understood to be reflected in our nation’s founding documents,” the Archbishop wrote in his statement released on 15 January.
“He believed in what he called the ‘American creed,’ the belief expressed by our founders that all men and women are created equal and endowed by God with a sacred dignity and undeniable rights to life, liberty and equality,” he added.
America facing many challenges today
Dr. King was assassinated on 4 April 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, presumably by lone gunman James Earl Ray.
Archbishop Gomez noted that more 54 years after his death, “America faces many challenges”, including the ongoing pandemic, issues of economic inequality and racial discrimination, violence in communities, and the struggle to welcome immigrants and refugees.
He further remarked that in recent years, the nation "has also become more polarized and our divisions angrier.”
Drawing from Rev. King’s wisdom
In looking to the future, the president of the US bishops therefore urged Americans to “continue to draw from Rev. King’s wisdom, especially his commitment to the beatitudes of Jesus, and the principles of nonviolence and love for our enemies.”
Fraternity and nonviolence
He also recalled the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which the Baptist minister and Nobel Laureate wrote on 16 April 1963, while he was detained for holding a nonviolent demonstration in the city over the treatment of Black Americans.
In the letter, “Rev. King reminds us that we are brothers and sisters, part of a beautiful web of relationships of mutual care, each of us depending on others as others depend on us,” Archbishop Gomez said. “Let us go forward in that same spirit of fraternity and solidarity, and let us carry on his work for equality and justice,” he concluded.
Joe Biden's tribute to Rev. King
On 11 January, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris paid tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., touring Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church — where he served as pastor until his death — and laying a wreath at the crypt where Rev. King and his wife, Coretta, are buried.
Dr. Bernice King and Martin Luther King III — two of his children — were present at the ceremony.