The annual concert and liturgy celebrating the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was held on Jan. 17 at Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Church. CS PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN
The annual concert and liturgy celebrating the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was held on Jan. 17 at Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Church. CS PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN
Celebrating the Archdiocese of Washington’s annual Mass marking the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Cardinal Wuerl said that as Dr. King demonstrated in the famous civil rights marches that he led, “we have to walk together” in working for justice in today’s world.

In his homily at the Jan. 17 Mass at Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Church in Washington, Cardinal Wuerl said two lines from Scripture read at the Mass – “Here I am Lord,” as spoken by Samuel, and “Your justice Lord, I have proclaimed” from Psalm 40 – “echoed in the heart of the man remembered at this Mass in his now famous, iconic speech.”

The cardinal repeated Dr. King’s words, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” to a chorus of “Amens” from the congregation and related it to current events, both foreign and domestic. He reminded those in attendance that absence of tension is not the true presence of justice, saying, “If we are going to root out injustice, it will require strong, determined, persistent action.” The cardinal then reflected on the Gospel, which presented the story of St. John the Baptist, a man who like Samuel proclaimed God’s justice. 

Cardinal Wuerl said that today’s people of faith, like Samuel and St. John the Baptist, are called to be prophetic and counter cultural in working for peace and justice, seeing all people as “part of the same human family.” 

Noting Dr. King’s ongoing legacy, the cardinal said, “Fifty years after the march from Selma to Montgomery, …where do we find ourselves? We can say we’ve made great strides. We’ve done great work, but is the dream fully realized? No. We have not yet arrived. We still have a long way to go, and we’re all making that walk together.  If there’s one thing we’ve learned, we have to make the walk together.”

The cardinal closed his homily by asking everyone present to be actively engaged in the work for justice. “You can make a difference,” he said, adding that “hearts can be changed…We can never give up.” 

The Archdiocese of Washington’s Mass Gospel Choir, under the direction of Kenneth Louis, began the archdiocese’s annual celebration with a concert that alternated between choir pieces, soloists and dramatic readings from Dr. King’s writings. The program culminated with the entire congregation singing arm in arm, “We Shall Overcome.” 

The concelebrants at the Mass that followed included Josephite Father William Norvel; Msgr. Charles Pope, the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Parish; and numerous other priests of the archdiocese, and the deacons assisting at the Mass included Deacon Al Douglas Turner, the executive director of the archdiocese’s Office of Black Catholics.

For Father Norvel, the Mass at Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Church marked a homecoming.  He currently serves as the first African-American superior general of the Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, but he once served as the parish’s pastor. The pride of this parish in welcoming him and the cardinal, was evident, as several parishioners reached out to shake both the cardinal’s and the former pastor’s hands during the opening procession.

At the end of the Mass, the winners of the essay contest co-sponsored by the archdiocese’s Office of Black Catholics and the Catholic Schools Office were recognized and honored. Thea Lucas introduced them, saying “You don’t have to worry about the Church or the youth.  We’re in good hands.”

Cardinal Wuerl and Deacon Turner presented the winners with plaques. The essays were based on the theme of this year’s celebration, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The essay contest winners included:

First Place – Will Harless, Little Flower School in Great Mills; Second Place– Lucas Scheider, St. Bernadette School in Silver Spring; Third Place – Olivia Orr, St. Raphael School in Rockville; and Fourth Place – Kidan Tesfamichael, St. Augustine School in Washington.

The winners of the annual essay contest also received scholarship prizes from both the Knights of Columbus and the Knights of Peter Claver for their schools.  The Mass was followed by a reception, where people had the chance to meet the young writers and ask them about their winning essays. The first place winner, Will Harless stood with his family and quietly answered questions.  He told how he’d overheard his sister reading aloud from her assigned book, Dr. King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” around the same time he learned of the essay contest from his teacher, and that inspired him to begin working on his essay.