, 21 January, 2020 / 2:28 AM
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a time to reflect on King’s vision and his example for everyone as a Christian leader who engaged in effective social action, said a leader with a historically African-American Catholic fraternity.
“The dream that Dr. King so eloquently professed in his ‘I Have a Dream Speech’ was about the bettering of humanity,” Percy J. Marchand, an associate director of the Knights of Peter Claver, told CNA Jan. 17.
“As imperfect sons and daughters of the perfect Creator, we must each consistently do our best to live out the principles upon which Dr. King expounded.”
“As so many have unfortunately moved away from a sense and longing for unity, compassion, and a shared vision, income gaps have widened, drug abuse has increased, crime rates have risen, educational excellence has diminished, and contempt and hatred has replaced respect and love,” he said.
The Knights of Peter Claver was founded in Mobile, Ala., in 1909 and is now headquartered in New Orleans. The order is named for St. Peter Claver, the Jesuit missionary priest who ministered to African slaves in Colombia.
Its membership is historically African-American but is open to all practicing Catholics without regard to race or ethnicity. Many of its members played a role in the U.S. civil rights movement of the mid-20th century.
The organization has a presence in about 39 states and in South America. Its six divisions include a Ladies Auxiliary, two junior divisions for boys and girls, Fourth Degree Knights, and their companion group Ladies of Grace.
Marchand reflected on the impact of King, the African-American Baptist minister who was the most visible leader of the civil rights movement.
“An extremely intelligent and well-educated man, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. represents the pillars of Christian values, virtues, and life,” he told CNA. “He stands as an example for all, particularly for African-Americans. He addressed the specific needs of African-Americans by encouraging unity, faith, respect, and organization. The results of his methodology were needed changes to society and to the world.”
For Marchand, King’s example and his “strategic and effective techniques” continue to be important “as we look for ways to address the issues still plaguing the African-American community.”
He reflected on the progress made by King and other African-Americans, but also continued difficulties.
“As economic, social, and educational gains are made, we must be certain to cling to the values that have kept our people strong and vibrant despite external and systemic forces doing their best to cause bedlam in our community,” said Marchand. “If we completely lose this perspective, we will only see the ills of society continue to repeat themselves.”
“When the government and society denied African-Americans the rights, freedoms, resources and even the classification of being a whole human, it was easier to identify common goals and objectives,” he said. “Being denied the rights to vote, work and be paid fairly, drink from any water fountain, sit at the front of the bus, and so many other basics of humanity rallied the African-American community to unify and stand for justice.”
“Today, the battle has changed,” Marchand continued. “Racism and bias are often clandestine. Political correctness blurs and distorts true hatred and despite. Small concessions have distracted from many African-Americans being able to optimally live and fulfill the lives God desires for them.”
The Knights of Peter Claver National Office has asked its subordinate jurisdictions to organize an MLK Day of Service to include activities such as hosting community forums, participating in a march, rally or parade, or volunteering at soup kitchens, tutoring youth, visiting the sick and shut-ins, or engaging in prison ministry.
“Our members continue to serve their communities as judges, teachers, lawyers, doctors, medical professionals, religious, laborers, and other professions,” said Marchand. “As members of the Knights of Peter Claver, their occupations and interactions within society are rooted in our mission of ‘Spreading Faith, Hope, and Love, through Friendship, Unity, and Christian Charity.’ This is our new civil rights movement: leading our communities closer to the Dream through our social justice Initiatives and spiritual leadership.”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa