Pueblo Bishop Stephen Berg returns to spur holiness, conversion at annual MLK Mass
Loving people of all races and prayers for a genuine conversion of the heart, one soul at a time, was prominent in the message shared Jan. 12 at St. Michael Parish in Bedford during the 33rd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Mass.
Amid a sanctuary adorned with vivid decor, the choir swayed and clapped to the music — some songs soulful, some jazzy — as the saxophone, trumpet, and drums accompanied the piano during the celebration, which was a beautiful blend of African heritage and Catholic tradition.
One highlight of the evening was a special performance by the Saint Bakhita Choir of St. Joseph Parish in Arlington, as they sang the offertory song in Kikongo, a language from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in central Africa.
Bishop Michael Olson, as he introduced guest homilist Stephen Berg, Bishop of the Diocese of Pueblo, Colo., said the evening is a both a celebration and a time to remember what God has called us to do.
“We come together as God’s people, conscious and aware that there are many times when we fail to love God and to love our neighbor,” Bishop Olson said.
After a Gospel reading from Luke about Jesus’ Baptism, Bishop Berg began the homily with a reminder of this prominent point in earth’s history.
“Tonight, we celebrate the Baptism of Christ. We hear the good news in the voice from heaven which announces to the world that God has entered the march,” Bishop Berg said. “Jesus publicly begins His mission of a gentle invasion, God’s next step in the plan to claim what He has created and which He loves: Us. His only weapon in the invasion will be love. Nonviolence. Laying down His life.”
Bishop Berg said as Christians celebrate their faith and remember the words of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, prayers should continue for those who do not understand or own the ingrained sin, “the roots of the sin of racism.”
“The passion and joy with which he delivered this speech can only be remembered now with a certain sadness that we, our country, have not lived up to that dream,” Bishop Berg said.
The homilist said in light of the recent and recurring events of violent racist hatred, there is not only sadness and anger for those whom the dream has not come true but also an interior lacking in people who do not understand or are unaware they are being racist, “of not seeing the variety and diversity and wonder with which God has endowed each of us, as His children. Children with potential, with a future, with a contribution to make to life.”
Bishop Berg said what we need now is a genuine conversion of heart, a conversion that will bring change and reform to our institutions and society.
“Especially if we don’t see the need for honest dialogue and collaboration with others of differing views, ethnicities, nationalities, and race as a most important part of our own conversion. And most especially if we do not see that justice is in fact another word for holiness,” Bishop Berg said. “To be just is simply to be holy. Not always the easy way, but truly, that what we are made for.”
Bishop Berg also spoke about free will, which is a gift from God given to all people no matter what ethnicity or race.
“Freedom to choose between good and evil. Freedom to love Him and each other. But the gift is not always accepted or shared. To some it is denied or limited by others, according to their difference, their color, their origins,” Bishop Berg said. “To some it is an entitlement to ignore or dismiss the plight of others. Even to secretly, personally justify the violence of racism which we are seeing today.”
Bishop Olson said the sin of racism both in social form and individual form offends God and undermines His truth.
“It is the goal of the devil to separate us and disperse us,” Bishop Olson said. “It is the vocation of Christ that we love in the communion with God and each other.
The annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Mass dates back to 1986 when Father Carmen Mele, OP, who at the time served as the director of the diocesan peace and justice ministry, wanted to honor the civil rights leader and reach out to African-American Catholics. Since then, a committee has organized the annual Mass which rotates among churches in the diocese.
Bishop Berg was ordained a priest in 1999 for the Diocese of Fort Worth, where he served at various parishes, including St. Michael, St. John the Apostle, and St. Peter the Apostle. He served as administrator for the diocese from Dec. 2012 until Feb. 2014, when he was ordained and installed as the bishop of the Diocese of Pueblo.