“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means at which we arrive at that goal.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. encouraged others to “stand in solidarity with the poor, the marginalized, and those suffering the devastation of racism” (Snyder 1). His work inspires our efforts at Franciscan Mission Service of working alongside the poor, building community across cultures, and helping those suffering from oppression. This week we honor his commitment to promoting civil rights and actively working for peace.

On Monday, January 17, 2011, FMS staff attended the celebration for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and Catholic Charities Award Ceremony at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Church in Washington, D.C. Before we even walked into the church, we could hear the beautiful voices of the St. Al’s choir, offering a prelude hymn before the mass began.

St. Aloysius Church held the “Keep the Dream Alive” mass and awards ceremony on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The parish, which celebrated its 150th Anniversary, continues its efforts in social justice and service towards the homeless.

St. Aloysius parish in Washington, D.C., founded in 1859, is a longtime supporter and partner of Franciscan Mission Service. Not only has the church a part of D.C. history, it has also been a significant part of FMS history: many of our missioners attend mass at St. Al’s during their formation period and have volunteered at the parish’s McKenna Center, which services the homeless and most in need on a daily basis. It seemed only fitting to attend a mass in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at St. Al’s, a parish known for its commitment to social justice and community outreach.

During the mass, Rev. Patrick Smith gave a thought-provoking homily during which he discussed how Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy confronts him. It challenges him. He noted that too often his “I have a dream” message becomes reduced to “a sentimental wish”, when in fact Dr. King’s message was both a vision inspired by God and “a call to action.”

Fr. Patrick likened Dr. King’s achievements and work to that of another prominent figure in the struggle for social justice and equality – Pope John Paul II. According to Fr. Patrick, John Paul II, whose beatification will take place on May 1st, 2011, had the same drive as Martin Luther King, in his efforts to stand up for human development and dignity. Fr. Patrick focused on John Paul II’s in his promotion of human development through the promotion of life and an end to war. In his encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, Pope John Paul II stated:

“If development is the new name for peace, war and preparation for war are the major enemy of the healthy development of peoples. If we take the common good of all humanity as our norm, instead of individual greed, peace would be possible.”

Like Martin Luther King Jr., Pope John Paul II worked against the culture of death, promoting peace and an end to violence. Here is a picture of Pope John Paul II with Fr. Joe Nangle, OFM, former executive director at FMS.

The mass was also an opportunity for Catholic Charities to honor those who had also made strides in efforts of social justice: Joshua DuBois, Marguerite Harmon, Maria Odom, and Jean Hale. Their faith-based efforts included advocating for the poor and hungry, those with disabilities, and those seeking asylum. These individuals have made peace their means as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Pope John Paul II did.

John Paul II. Encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis. Catholic Social Teaching: Office for Social Justice. 1987. January 20, 2011. http://www.osjspm.org/

Snyder, Rev. Larry. Keep the Dream Alive: Mass and Awards. Washington, D.C. Catholic Charities USA. 17 Jan. 2011: Program.