On Jan. 17, one day before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Diocese of Buffalo honored the birthday of the late civil rights leader with a Mass at St. Martin de Porres Church in Buffalo. Bishop Martin D. Holley, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., was celebrant and homilist at this Mass, sponsored by the African-American Commission and the diocese's Office of Cultural Diversity.
The diocese announced that Mikaila Frazier, Mikeisha Frazier and Adalia Romero-Horta are this year's recipients of the Martin Luther King Jr. scholarships, which are given annually to students from the city of Buffalo who are planning to go to an area Catholic high school. A reception and theme baskets followed, with all the proceeds from the raffles benefitting the MLK Scholarship Fund.
"Your bishop, Richard J. Malone, wanted me to remind you how much he really loves you and wished he could be here with you. He took the smart route. I came here to the snow; he went far to the south," Bishop Holley joked. At the time of this Mass, Bishop Malone was attending the New York Province Bishops' Retreat at Our Lady of Florida Spiritual Center, held Jan. 17-21 in North Palm Beach, Fla.
Bishop Holley and Bishop Malone have served closely and have formed a friendship over the years, and Bishop Holley also thanked Father Ronald Sajdak, pastor of St. Martin de Porres, for allowing him to attend a Mass to celebrate a "significant day" celebrating Martin Luther King Jr., a man whom Bishop Holley said was "so far-reaching in terms of peace, love and to bring God's message of mercy."
He was born on Jan. 15, 1929; the country has celebrated his life on the third January of every year since 1986. According to Bishop Holley, King struggled to follow the way of Christ by sacrificing his own life after preaching the truth and promoting the virtues of faith, hope and love, as well as God's mercy, justice and peace by promoting equal rights, respect and dignity for African-Americans via non-violent means.
"Today, I'm reminded that it's often said that there are at least three types of people in our society: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who ask, 'What happened?'" Bishop Holley said. "Martin Luther King Jr., he made things happen, because he tried to do whatever the Lord told him to do, as Mary told the disciples to do whatever He tells you in that Gospel reading today."
When Jesus died on the cross, He began a new covenant to include all of God's people, the bishop said, and every time Catholics come to celebrate Mass, the wine is turned into Jesus' blood as part of this new covenant. This was much as Jesus turned water into wine in the Biblical account of his first miracle at the wedding feast at Cana. Today, modern heroes tell us that we can live a holy life as Mary did. Just as Jesus was challenged during His life, King was challenged to do what was right in his own time.
"During Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life, it was a time in our nation's history when black Americans in most parts of this land could not vote," Bishop Holley said. "They did not have access to quality education. They could not run for office. They could not serve on juries. They could not use the same public bathrooms or drinking fountains as whites. Black Americans were not addressed by a dignified title at the time, but because of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s willingness to undergo his own personal passion as we all either do or will do one day ourselves, he strove to the best of his human ability."
Since there is still violence in today's world, Bishop Holley quoted King's last "Christmas Sermon on Peace," given at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
"'Now, let me suggest first that if we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. No individual can live alone; no nation can live alone, and as long as we try, the more we are going to have war in this world. The judgment of God is upon us, and we must either learn to live together as brothers or we are all going to perish together as fools,'" the bishop quoted.
King also said, "In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile. In Christ, there is neither male nor female. In Christ, there is neither communist nor capitalist. In Christ, somehow, there is neither bound nor free. We are all one in Christ Jesus. And when we truly believe in the sacredness of human personality, we won't exploit people, we won't trample over people with the iron feet of oppression, we won't kill anybody."
King concluded his sermon with a last echo of his 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C., proclaiming, "I still have a dream this morning that one day every Negro in this country, every colored person in the world, will be judged on the basis of the content of his character rather than the color of his skin, and every man will respect the dignity and worth of human personality."
Bishop Holley was born in Pensacola, Fla., in 1954, and attended Catholic elementary schools in his youth before he was ordained in the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee in 1987. He served at a number of parishes in Florida before being ordained a bishop in 2004. Bishop Holley has been a member of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus since 1983 and is part of the Washington Interfaith Network.