Following Martin Luther King’s example, we should be ‘drum majors’ for Jesus, says Fr. Jerome LeDoux

By Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

Correspondent

North Texas Catholic

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Theodora Adeniyi-Rowland and James Barlow, both from St. Jospeh Parish, bring a basket before the altar during the offertory procession. (Photo by Joan Kurkowski-Gillen/NTC)

Hannah Garcia didn’t fully understand Martin Luther King’s role in the Civil Rights movement before entering an essay contest honoring his legacy.

“Writing the essay gave me the opportunity to learn more about Dr. King and the Civil Rights era,” said the St. Joseph School eighth-grader who won an overall excellence award for her effort. “I wrote about the moral difference between right and wrong and how fear can affect our choices.”

Winners of the first Martin Luther King essay contest, sponsored by the diocesan MLK committee, were announced at the 27th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Mass held Jan. 19 in St. Joseph Church in Arlington. Monsignor Stephen J. Berg, Diocesan Administrator, celebrated the liturgy. Our Mother of Mercy pastor Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, preached the homily in lieu of scheduled speaker Father George Clements who was unable to be present because of a scheduling conflict.

Held annually to coincide with the federal holiday honoring the Civil Rights leader’s birthday, the MLK Memorial Mass brings together people from across the diocese to pray for an end to discrimination, injustice, and violence.

“If Brother Martin were standing here now, this is what he would tell you,” Fr. LeDoux suggested in his homily. “Wherever you are, be a drum major for Jesus Christ. Be all that you can be, whether that’s in school, the choir, at work, or in the marketplace.”

Standing before a diverse crowd of worshipers at the Saturday vigil Mass, the 83-year-old Louisiana native said African-Americans have more freedom today than they did when Martin Luther King sparked the Civil Rights movement with the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. But freedom comes with responsibility, “and that begins in the home.”

“In 1860, during slavery, a black child had a better chance of growing up with both parents in the home than today,” he pointed out. “As recent as 1960, 86 percent of African-American households were still nuclear.”

That figure has slipped to 33 percent in 2013, Fr. LeDoux said, adding, “something is dreadfully wrong with our world.”

The speaker told his audience they will find the strength to change society by turning to Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost the same way Martin Luther King did when faced with adversity.

“And when Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are finished with us, we’ll all be pointing in the same direction,” he promised. “And we will all love one another.”

Rousing hymns and soulful spirituals, performed by the combined choirs of Our Mother of Mercy and St. Joseph churches, added to the liturgical celebration. Our Mother of Mercy is the only predominantly African-American parish in the diocese. In a nod to their African heritage, several St. Joseph parishioners, wearing colorful Nigerian gele head ties and iro skirts, stepped rhythmically down the center aisle of the church carrying baskets of fruit during the presentation of gifts.

The Knights of St. Peter Claver Council 89 and its Ladies Auxiliary from Our Mother of Mercy Church, members of the largest and oldest predominantly African-American lay Catholic organization, participated in the Mass processional.

Before the final blessing, MLK committee members Michael Barks and Madeline Morrison presented each winner of the newly established MLK diocesan essay contest with a certificate, medal, and $50 gift certificate.

“We wanted youngsters to look up information on Martin Luther King and encouraged our Catholic schools to participate,” Barks told the North Texas Catholic explaining why the MLK committee decided to launch an essay competition. “Our intention is to impress on students that the values Martin Luther King stood for are universal.”

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Sixty-four entries were received. Organizers took advantage of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the historic 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his famous “I have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before hundreds of thousands of marchers, to invite students to reflect on these two events and offer their opinions on how they shaped America.

In addition to overall winner Hannah Garcia who also received top honors in the eighth grade division, awards were presented to seventh-grader Matthew Ross, St. Joseph School; sixth-grader Morgan Schuster, St. Joseph School; fifth-grader Alexandra Alvarado, Our Lady of Victory School; and fourth-grader Jason Borchers, St. John the Apostle School.

For Warren and Beth Price, attending the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Mass with children Zaira, 9 and Xavier, 13, was a first time experience. The St. Vincent de Paul parishioners learned about the annual event in their church bulletin.

“We thought it would be a wonderful way to mark the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s birthday,” said Beth Price. “As Catholics, it’s nice to come together and incorporate his legacy into a religious service. I hope my children grow up knowing what he stood for and what his mission was all about.”

Monsignor Stephen J. Berg, Diocesan Administrator, celebrated the 27th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Mass held Jan. 19 in St. Joseph Church in Arlington. Our Mother of Mercy pastor Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, preached the homily.

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