Archbishop: 50th anniversary of MLK’s assassination a time to renew commitment to love

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron speaks about racism during a Gospel Mass for Peace at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament on Jan. 28. (Dan Meloy | Michigan Catholic file photo)
DETROIT — Reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron called on Catholics in the Archdiocese of Detroit to commit anew to the principles of love and nonviolence in combating the evils of racism in today’s society.

The archbishop followed upon a statement released March 28 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops asking whether today’s Catholics are “doing all we can to build the culture of love, respect and peace to which the Gospel calls us.”

“As my brother bishops of the United States offer a statement on the fiftieth anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, I believe that this provides us here in the Archdiocese of Detroit an opportunity for our own time of reflection,” Archbishop Vigneron wrote in a March 28 letter to parishioners.

“In 1963 in Detroit, Dr. King presented a challenge which still rings true today: ‘Nonviolence not only calls on its adherents to avoid physical violence, but it calls upon them to avoid internal violence of spirit. It calls on them to engage in that something called love.’

“Racism is violence,” the archbishop continued. “It breeds private and public actions intended to diminish, deny, or – at its extreme – destroy one ethnic group’s dignity and its God-given right to be equals in the human family. In the Archdiocese of Detroit, we must never forget the generations of institutionalized racism and neglect that have happened here. God calls us to persevere in working to overcome that shameful past by the power of His grace.”

Archbishop Vigneron acknowledged that violence has too often plagued southeast Michigan and other communities — a “terrible, unacceptable toll” for the intolerance and hatred in society.

“Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, frames the issue this way: ‘Intolerance must be confronted in all its forms: Wherever any minority is persecuted and marginalized because of its religious convictions or ethnic identity, the wellbeing of society as a whole is endangered and each one of us must feel affected,’” Archbishop Vigneron said.

“We honor the legacy of Dr. King when we cast aside all forms of violence. We must do this as we continue forward as a band of joyful, missionary disciples of Jesus.”

King was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968. The civil rights leader had come to Memphis to advocate on behalf of underpaid and exploited sanitation workers, despite threats to his life for doing so.

"He felt God had called him to solidarity with his brothers and sisters in need," the U.S. bishops' statement read. "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."