Presiding at the Archdiocese of Washington’s annual Mass honoring the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Washington Auxiliary Bishop Roy E. Campbell Jr. recalled a time from his own life when he faced conflict.

In his homily at the Jan. 19 Mass at St. Luke Catholic Church in Washington that was sponsored by the archdiocesan Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach, Bishop Campbell recalled how, when he was in ninth grade, the boy who sat behind him in algebra class incessantly kicked his chair. 

The bishop said that at one point he got up and turned around, and the other student got in his face and challenged him, asking him what he was going to do about it. 

“So I punched him in the stomach as hard as I could, so hard he fell back in his chair, and that was the last time he kicked my chair,” the bishop confessed, adding, “now I know I'm not up here trying to promote violence.” 

Bishop Campbell noted how Dr. King, the slain American civil rights activist, “waged a nonviolent war against this nation...for constantly kicking aside his and all black people’s human dignity from slavery, to Jim Crow laws in the South, to the discrimination we see everywhere today.” 

The bishop said, “This nation stood in Dr. King’s face and asked him what that boy asked me” – what are you going to do about it?

The vigil Mass’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah, said Bishop Campbell, provided the answer to that question: “For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,” (Isaiah 62:1). 

“That is what Dr. King believed he had to do  – not to be silent,” Bishop Campbell said. “He believed His (God’s) word must lead him to act. He was not silent for the sake of God’s people.”  

Through Dr. King’s “dream of justice for all,” he was a true disciple of Jesus by calling all people to live the message of the Gospel in word and action, the bishop said.

“Let us hear the words of our Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ in the words we hear from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and let these words move us to action in non-violent, confrontational ways to continue his mission, rooted in the mission of Christ, to bring justice for all,” he said. 

Sandra Coles-Bell, the program director for the archdiocesan Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach, said at the Mass all must strive to serve God by promoting the Catholic social teachings that uphold the dignity of all lives. 

“It is our collective responsibility to move forward, to stay proud, and to continue to teach who we are and whose we are,” Coles-Bell said. 

The Mass included praise and worship featuring the Archdiocese of Washington Mass Gospel Choir, and a number of attendees noted the timeliness and beauty that the choir’s performance contributed to the celebration. 

“I was particularly touched by the ‘Heal Our Land’ [song], because it certainly is needed,” said Patricia Butler, a parishioner at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Washington. “At a time like this, prayer is needed.” 

Butler noted how, though she hopes the event will inspire others to live out Dr. King’s dream, he was simply living out Christ’s message. 

“What Martin Luther King was proclaiming was what Jesus called us to,” Butler said. “Why don’t we just go about doing what He’s called us to do: love Him, and love our neighbor as ourselves?” 

“We definitely need Dr. King’s message of hope and peace and togetherness,” said Cyprian Jenifer, a parishioner at Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington. 

Bishop Campbell noted the specialness of this event because, besides the commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on January 21, on January 15, Dr. King would have celebrated his 90th birthday. At the end of the Mass, as Coles-Bell called on those gathered to go out and serve, she offered up some words to Rev. Dr. King. 

“The only thing I can say to him is, ‘happy 90th birthday,’” she said.