A Reflection from Fr. Brendan Curran, O.P.
Promoter of Social Justice / North American Co-Promoter for Justice, Peace and Care of Creation
On April 4, 2018, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Bishop of Memphis, Martin Holley, invited representatives of the Diocese of Memphis and the Dominican Family assembled at the National Shrine of St. Martin de Porres for a mass in honor of St Martin de Porres and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a march to the National Civil Rights Museum. Members of the Dominicans were well-represented with nearly thirty members of the Dominican friars, sisters, and laity joining our march. Among our Dominicans were provincials from Canada and each of the provinces of the United States, Christopher Eggleton, Socius of the Order for the US Provinces, and numerous presidents of our schools of Theology, including Fr. Sean Martin, President of Aquinas Institute of Theology. We had the honor of hearing Fr. Paul Wadkins, O.P. of the Province of St. Martin de Porres, share in his moving homily to remind us that we must honor the struggle of both St. Martin de Porres and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as men of faith who fought for respect and dignity in their own times.
The march began at 2:45 p.m. outside of St. Peter’s Church and proceeded 1.2 miles down the main street to the corner of Main and Talbot outside the National Civil Rights Museum.
A few of us had the opportunity to visit the National Civil Rights Museum where we could see the burnt out bus of freedom riders who died at the hands of racists. We could stand with Rosa Parks in the struggle for a dignified seat on city buses. We could also stand in front of Martin Luther King, Jr.s Room 306 and look out the window at the balcony spot where he died.
At the Civil Rights Museum, we heard inspiring speeches from the Reverend William Barber II of Goldsboro, North Carolina, and member of the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People call for us to not simply “remember the blood but that there is power in the blood… until every vote is protected and every person is respected.”
The Reverend James Lawson, one of the mentors for Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s, called for us to remember that “we live in a violent society” reminding us that “all deserve a chance at truth and freedom to achieve the beloved community that Martin preached about.” He reminded us that “if we tap into that bit of the universe that God gifted to you, then you can become a citizen of the universe that God gifted to us.” He reminded us that in order to honor Martin Luther King, Jr, his non-violent struggles must become the non-violent struggles in us today.
Just before the bell toll of 6:01 pm, the very time of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,, Fr. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Church in Chicago preached to the crowd, “you can’t water it down. Don’t make the mistake that America wants us to think. Don’t relegate his life to some historic event. If we do, then we become co-conspirators to his assassination. We must preach the sermon that he never got to preach.”
The words and events I will take and reflect deeply. I am inspired by that place that once was a place of violence in a crowd from all over the world and our Dominican Family. Each of us must take this worldwide anniversary and use it to evaluate our preaching, our actions and our ministries. What a fitting but challenging message to each of us as we begin the first years of a new century of the Dominican Order.
In the words of the the sermon of reverend Dr. King, Jr., “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”