Catholics and people of all faiths on April 4, 2018, are observing the 50th anniversary of the death of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. He was shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee by James Earl Ray, a fugitive from the Missouri State Penitentiary.
King was known for his dedication to non-violent protest and his soaring oratory. Pope Francis recently met with Bernice Albertine King, youngest daughter of the late civil-rights crusader.
She presented the Holy Father with the sixth volume of the series entitled “The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr: Advocate of the Social Gospel, September 1948-1963”, Vatican News reported. She was in Italy to receive an award from the Gandhi Centre located in Pisa.
King was just five years old when her father was assassinated in 1968. She has been a life-long advocate of civil rights and non-violence. She heads The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (“The King Center”) in Atlanta.
In an interview with Vatican News, Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič, Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, pointed to similarities between King and Pope Francis. He said the two men share a focus on the importance of non-violence and the need for global solidarity.
“Every human development can be achieved only through non-violence. Violence represents new problems and new divisions,” the archbishop said. “…we all belong to one human family and we have to overcome every division, especially those based on racial or social differences.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) will join in solidarity on April 4, with the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in remembering the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., by tolling the Shrine’s bells 39 times to honor the number of years Dr. King lived on earth. At that time, the USCCB and the Shrine will join with numerous other churches and schools across the nation tolling bells in homage to Dr. King’s legacy and his many contributions including the principle of non-violent resistance.
“This anniversary gives us an important moment to draw inspiration from the way in which Dr. King remained undeterred in his principle of non-violent resistance, even in the face of years of ridicule, threats and violence for the cause of justice,” the USCCB said in a March 28, 2018, statement. “Dr. King came to Memphis to support underpaid and exploited African-American sanitation workers, and arrived on a plane that was under a bomb threat. He felt God had called him to solidarity with his brothers and sisters in need. In his final speech on the night before he died, Dr. King openly referenced the many threats against him and made clear that he would love a long life. But more important to him, he said, was his desire to simply do the will of God.”
The Full USCCB Statement
WASHINGTON—The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Administrative Committee has issued the following statement today marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Administrative Committee serves as the Board of Trustees for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The committee’s full statement follows:
“‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (Jn 15:13). April 4th marks 50 years since the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. On this day, as we reflect on his life and work, we need to ask ourselves if we are doing all we can to build the culture of love, respect, and peace to which the Gospel calls us. What are we being asked to do for the sake of our brother or sister who still suffers under the weight of racism? Where could God use our efforts to help change the hearts of those who harbor racist thoughts or engage in racist actions?
This anniversary gives us an important moment to draw inspiration from the way in which Dr. King remained undeterred in his principle of non-violent resistance, even in the face of years of ridicule, threats, and violence for the cause of justice. Dr. King came to Memphis to support underpaid and exploited African-American sanitation workers, and arrived on a plane that was under a bomb threat. He felt God had called him to solidarity with his brothers and sisters in need. In his final speech on the night before he died, Dr. King openly referenced the many threats against him and made clear that he would love a long life. But more important to him, he said, was his desire to simply do the will of God.
Our faith urges us to be courageous, to risk something of ourselves, in defending the dignity of our neighbor who is made in the image of God. Pope Francis reminds us often that we must never sit on the sidelines in the face of great evil or extreme need, even when danger surrounds us. St. Paul proclaims that: ‘We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body’ (2 Cor. 47-10). We can best honor Dr. Martin Luther King and preserve his legacy by boldly asking God—today and always—to deepen our own commitment to follow His will wherever it leads in the cause of promoting justice.”