The observance this past Monday of Martin Luther King Jr. Day should remind us not only of the great strides that have been made in championing racial equality in our nation, but also of how much more remains to be done. The church has a distinctive voice to join with the chorus of those who continue to remind a divided culture that human rights and human equality cannot be understood apart from God. It was not uncommon for Catholic priests and religious to be found at Dr. King’s rallies, some even walking with him arm-in-arm at marches for civil rights.
Sister Mary Antona Ebo, who passed away in November at the age of 93, marched with Dr. King in Selma, Alabama, in 1965. When asked to speak at the rally, the Franciscan Sister of Mary said: “I’m here because I’m a Negro, a nun, a Catholic, and because I want to bear witness.” Sister Mary’s Catholic faith urged her to contribute her voice to a movement which still deserves our attention and support.
Just months after Sister Mary participated in the Selma rally with Dr. King, Pope Paul VI would promulgate the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World of the Second Vatican Council, “Gaudium et spes.” That document stated forcefully: “with respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion, is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God’s intent (no. 29).” As divisions continue to develop along racial and ethnic lines, we have an obligation as believers to do what we can to remind the world that both our origin and our destiny as one human family are found only in God.