About 20 minutes before the start of the 30th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Mass Jan. 9 in Little Rock, a young man leaned over in the pew and flagged down one of the many passers-by seeing to last minute details.
“Excuse me, I’m a visitor here,” he said, his eyes puzzled. “Is there something special going on tonight?”
By the looks on their faces when they entered, many regular Saturday night parishioners of the Cathedral of St. Andrew wondered the same thing. The Mass, sponsored by the Diocesan Council for Black Catholics, showcases the diversity of the Church in Arkansas while paying tribute to the memory of King and that diversity was on ready display through the service.
Liturgical dancers from St. Bartholomew Church in Little Rock preceded the procession. Following the offertory, African music brought a joyous procession of Little Rock’s Igbo community, centered at St. Augustine Church in North Little Rock, bearing water, wine and as is tradition, armloads of fruit and other food and gifts to place before the altar. The sanctuary swelled with joyous music from the choir of St. Peter Church in Pine Bluff accompanied by drums and electric keyboard.
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor presented Sister de Porres Polk, OSB, of Jonesboro with the annual Daniel Rudd Memorial Award, also sponsored by the Council for Black Catholics. The award recognizes black Catholics who have exhibited love for the faith and leadership in the Church and community.
Sister de Porres, a 50-year Benedictine and subprioress of Holy Angels Convent in Jonesboro, has been the only U.S.-born black woman religious in the state for much of her religious life. A licensed practical nurse, she spent many years caring for infants at St. Bernard Medical Center in Jonesboro and represented the Diocesan Council for Black Catholics.
Bishop Taylor concelebrated Mass with Father Warren Harvey, diocesan assistant minister to priests; Father Thomas Keller, retired; Father Jack Vu, rector of the Cathedral of St. Andrew, and Father Francis Damoah, SVD, pastor of St. Bartholomew and St. Augustine churches.
During the homily, his first delivered in English, Deacon Marcelino Luna challenged the congregation to not only reflect on the life and work of King, but to continue his work in their parishes and communities.
“Dr. Martin Luther King had a dream for all people to be treated equally, and he fought for that dream. He knew what was unjust and he wanted to do something about it … what about you and me?” he said. “We can comfort God’s people; we can have the courage to stand up for what is right for all nations and all people whether they are African-Americans or Hispanics or any other nationality.”
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