Like John the Baptist, Martin Luther King points us to Jesus, says guest priest at annual MLK Mass

By Michele Baker

Correspondent

Photos by Donna Ryckaert

February 6, 2014

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Guest homilist Father Kenneth Hamilton, SVD, tied Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech with the Baptism of Our Lord, the liturgical celebration in the Church celebrated Jan. 11, the evening of the diocese’s annual Martin Luther King Memorial Mass.

The cavernous church of St. Vincent De Paul Parish in Arlington resounded with ancient drumming, solemn spirituals, and the joyous strains of Gospel music as people from around the diocese gathered for the 28th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Mass Jan. 11. From the entrance procession to the final sending forth, voices and hands were raised in celebration, praise, and thanksgiving to God for this great American leader and favored son within the African-American community.

Then Diocesan Administrator Monsignor Stephen Berg celebrated this special liturgy, which fell on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, with special guest homilist, Father Kenneth Hamilton, SVD. Weaving music, narrative, and images into a glorious tapestry using his great gift for oratory, Fr. Hamilton connected the baptism of Jesus to Dr. King’s famous “Dream” and the call of the lay faithful in a homily entitled “Songs, Pictures, Letters, and Dreams.”

“I can see Martin standing like John the Baptist. Standing on the shores of the Jordan River, pointing: pointing not to himself but to something, Someone greater than he,” Fr. Hamilton said. “How much greater? So much so that he can point to Him and say, ‘Behold the Lamb of God! I am not worthy to untie the straps of his sandals.’ How much greater? So much greater than he could imagine so that now we can truly say that Martin’s dream wasn’t nuthin’ less than the dream of Jesus, that same Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

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Edward Wittz from Knights of St. Peter Claver Council 89 at Our Mother of Mercy Parish in East Fort Worth escorts the Martin Luther King essay winners.

Fr. Hamilton, who was ordained in 1982, is a Divine Word Missionary (SVD) priest. This community of more than 7,000 priests and brothers worldwide,  lives out Christ’s command to preach the Gospel to all nations with ministries in about 70 countries.  Among their members are Father Jerome LeDoux, pastor of Our Mother of Mercy Parish in East Fort Worth, the diocese’s only historically African-American congregation. Over the past 30 plus-years Fr. Hamilton’s response to this call has found expression in his leading revivals, workshops, and retreats throughout the country.

For him, missionary work begins at home, and he’s devoted much of his ministry to addressing the unique needs of African-American Catholics. To further inform this effort, he completed a doctoral degree in history of religions and cultures with an emphasis on AIDS and Africa. In 1992, with the help of Frs. Charles and Chester Smith, he co-founded the Bowman-Francis Ministry Team. Named in part for Sister Thea Bowman, known to many as the “Mother of Black Catholicism,” The Bowman-Francis Team provides what Fr. Hamilton describes as “. . . cutting edge ministry to Black Catholics.”

“The ministries are not ‘cutting edge’ insofar that many of them are new,” he explained in an e-mail. “They are cutting edge, we believe, in that we try to reflect in them a consciousness about what it means to be Black and Catholic.”

What it means to be Black and Catholic, naturally, varies from person to person. However, Fr. Hamilton identifies certain aspects of a uniquely Black Catholic spirituality that include themes of slavery and freedom, identity and alienation, and a plethora of social justice issues ingrained in the history of African-Americans. The Bowman-Francis Team, without excluding traditional pastoral care at the parish level, addresses these things to more effectively minister to the Black Catholic community.

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Members of Our Mother of Mercy School’s Captain Claude Platte Cadet Corps presented the colors at the Mass. The corps was named after the late Claude Platte, a World War II veteran and former Tuskegee Airman who was also a lifelong parishioner of Our Mother of Mercy.

“I would add to this definition… the issue of simple survival,” he said. “The fact that I love my people and want them to survive.”

And so, at the Eucharistic table, among youth and elders of every race, in the presence of the colors presented by the Our Mother of Mercy School Captain Claude Platte Cadet Corps and a kaleidoscope of African clothes, and in the midst of a joyous offertory procession brimming on the verge of dance, the local branch of the universal Church gathered to once again celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who received a dream of justice from the Author of justice.

“If the Master dreamed it and Dr. King dreamed it, so we can dream it!” Fr. Hamilton said at the end of his homily, exhorting everyone present to “Keep the dream alive!”

MLK-'14-Fr.-Kenneth-Hamilton-BUTTON.jpgThe cavernous church of St. Vincent De Paul Parish in Arlington resounded with ancient drumming, solemn spirituals, and the joyous strains of Gospel music as people from around the diocese gathered for the 28th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Mass Jan. 11. From the entrance procession to the final sending forth, voices and hands were raised in celebration, praise, and thanksgiving to God for this great American leader and favored son within the African-American community.

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