Two national commemorative events have coincided during the month of January for the past four decades: the national activities that mark the observance of the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision, and the annual tributes in honor of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

While these observances are distinct in origin, they are linked in very many ways as they call our nation to our glaring need to recommit ourselves to the unfinished quest for the recognition of the worth of all human life. The destruction of the infants who have been aborted since 1973 is a moral wound on the soul of our nation. The legacy of Dr. King as the preeminent 20th century spokesperson for Civil Rights summons us to continue to strive for the fulfillment not only of his dream but of the heritage of freedom that is a birthright of all the individuals of this great nation.

People may often overlook the linkage between these two January observances, but they are both moments when we are all invited prayerfully to consider the issue of the sacredness of the dignity of human life. Our Church continues to remind us of the self-worth of each person at every moment of life – from the beginning within the womb to our final breath at the moment of natural death. Our pro-life witness begins with the nascent existence of the child at conception but also must include individuals at every stage of human life.

It is encouraging to see how many young people will gather here in our nation’s capital and in places throughout our country to offer witness to their commitment to the dignity of all life. Other folks will gather in churches and public venues across the USA to honor the legacy of freedom that Dr. King struggled to proclaim throughout his 39 years of life. They too challenge us to respect all people who are fashioned in the image of God Himself irrespective of their race, culture, religion, or national origins. The backgrounds of these two movements are different, but their end is the same – to recognize and defend each human person as a creation and reflection of God Himself.

Choir members sing during the archdiocese’s 2017 Mass at St. Thomas More Church in Washington, D.C., honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This year's Mass will be held at 4 p.m. Jan. 18 at Our Lady Queen of Peace Church in Washington. (CS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann)

One might imagine that these two different observances are far too distinct to be interconnected, but the glue that binds them together is their joint focus on human dignity. Each of them proceeds with their own time-honored traditions, but I pray that those who share in one or the other of these events and remembrances will grasp the affinity of one for the other. I would not want to reduce them into a single event. Our nation clearly needs multiple opportunities to acknowledge the spiritual and ethical doctrine of universal human dignity. 

So whether we march with those who witness to the sacredness of all human life or sway to the rhythmic religious songs that belong to the African-American spiritual heritage, we must see the importance and the value of all human life – a vision that is too often forgotten or dismissed by far too many people in our world today.