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Honor Martin Luther King Jr. by promoting peace, Bishop Burbidge says

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An image of Martin Luther King Jr. sat near the ambo at St. Joseph Church in Alexandria Jan. 15. If the civil rights icon were there, he would have found more than 270 people of all races and colors gathered to recognize and celebrate his dream. He would have heard the gospel choir raise their voices about peace, and heard Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge tell the congregation how King’s message lives on.

“Now, in this moment of history, we are the ones that the Lord sends out into the world, a world we know that continues to suffer the consequences of all the injustice of inequality and of racism,” said Bishop Burbidge. “But we don’t despair, we’re believers. Every time we come to celebrate the Mass, we celebrate the truth that through His own suffering, cross and resurrection, Jesus has transformed darkness into light.”

"See it as an opportunity to serve the most vulnerable, to reach out to those rejected, to defend the rights of those who are oppressed and abused, and to promote peace in our communities," said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge

Mathell Lee grew up in the civil rights era and marched for integration. She thought it was fitting the bishop came to reflect on what King worked for and moving the country together.

“I’m glad that they’re continuing to focus on his dream and everything we fought so hard for in the 1960s,” she said. Lee believes King’s message would be the same today.

“We still have the same problems, which have improved, but there is still a long way to go,” she said. “We don’t want to lose the progress we made. We need to continue to build on it and not go back in time.”

In a statement released prior to the Mass, Bishop Burbidge said, “As the bishop of Arlington, I am mindful of how our ethnically diverse diocese of over 600,000 Catholics includes a vibrant Black Catholic community, which continues to enrich us all. Our Christian faith calls us to protect, preserve and champion human dignity without equivocation.”

He also stated that the holiday in remembrance of King should be more than a day off.

“See it as an opportunity to serve the most vulnerable, to reach out to those rejected, to defend the rights of those who are oppressed and abused, and to promote peace in our communities,” he said.

Lee spent her day taking food to the needy in Arlington with the sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, the oldest sorority established in America by black women.

Bishop Burbidge said whatever way we choose to spend our time and resources “we can be assured that God will use our efforts to show to others His great love for them and remind them of His abiding presence.”

Josephite Father Donald Fest, pastor of the predominantly African-American parish, said it was more important than ever to celebrate a Mass in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“This celebration has a message for everybody to observe peace,” he said. “There have been a lot of attacks on people and we need to listen to the message of Dr. King.”

Father Fest cited fallout from the divisive election campaign, recent violence against police, blacks and Latinos, and the issue of immigration as reasons to listen closely to King.

Brenda Johnson, a parishioner of St. Mary Church in Alexandria, said it is important for all churches to recognize King because he was a force for change in the country. She believes President Barack Obama, the first black president, is a direct result.

“We cannot lose sight of what we’ve already accomplished,” she said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017