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WASHINGTON—The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter From Birmingham Jail" deserves a response that "asks forgiveness for past sins," offers thanks for "clear gains" over the last 50 years and resolves to do more, said the vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) at an event in Birmingham, Alabama, April 14, honoring the 50th anniversary of King's letter.
"While violence surrounded Dr. King's life, he proclaimed in word and deed the direction of his Savior, Jesus Christ – namely, that injustice must not be ignored, but neither can violence be addressed and eliminated by greater acts of violence," said Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, who represented USCCB at the April 14-15 symposium sponsored by Christian Churches Together (CCT). Archbishop Kurtz's remarks followed keynote addresses by Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners and U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.
On April 15, dozens of Christian leaders signed an official response to King's letter and presented it to Rev. Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr. They also participated in an ecumenical prayer walk through historic Kelly Ingram Park, a central location for demonstrations during the Civil Rights Movement. Rev. King called on those gathered to "make sure their words move their shoes." Dorothy Cotton, education coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), emphasized the need to resume the struggle for justice in today's multicultural context.
Bishop Denis Madden, auxiliary bishop of Baltimore and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Bishop Shelton Fabre, auxiliary bishop of New Orleans and chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee on African Affairs, and other staff members represented USCCB at the event.
"Of course, sorrow for the past and gratitude for the present will be empty words unless matched by a clear resolve to continue the work at hand. Fifty years ago, Rev. King Jr. was cautioned not to do anything unwise or untimely. Indeed, his actions and our actions this day not only reflect wisdom, both natural and supernatural, but also action whose time has long since come," Archbishop Kurtz said. Archbishop Kurtz also cited the U.S. bishops' 1979 pastoral letter on racism.
The full text of Archbishop Kurtz's remarks and additional information on the event is available online: www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/ecumenical-and-interreligious/50th-anniversary-response-to-letter-from-birmingham-jail.cfm
Keywords: Civil Rights, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Bernice King, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, USCCB vice president, U.S. bishops, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, racism, Letter From Birmingham Jail, 50th anniversary, Christian Churches Together, CCT, Bishop Denis Madden, Bishop Shelton Fabre, Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Activities, nonviolence, injustice
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