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Archbishop Wenski reflects on legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

'He was a great man because he served'

Today, those who argue that religion has no place in the public square forget that the civil rights movement was in its inspiration and its membership a religious movement – Dr. King was a Baptist preacher and those who marched with him marched as men and women of faith. Like the Old Testament prophets, he refused to remain silent in the face of evil. As Dr. King said, “the greatest tragedy is not the strident clamor of the bad people but the appalling silence of the good people.”

But he understood that returning evil for evil would not make the world better. “An eye for an eye” ethic would leave everybody blind. As a man of faith, he wasn’t about imposing his “religious” beliefs on others but, through non-violence, he was about making a proposal – a proposal spelled out in his memorable “I have a Dream” speech. This proposal, founded in Scripture but also accessible to reason, ultimately touched the conscience of a nation and helped to bring an end to “Jim Crow.” 

For the 18 years I worked as a parish priest in Little Haiti, I lived on a street named Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (N.E. 62nd Street). About 20 blocks west was Liberty City’s Metrorail Station – and there emblazoned on a wall is a quote from Dr. King which should still guide us today: “Any man can be great because every man can serve.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made America better: He was a great man because he served. 

If America’s “promissory note” of liberty and justice for all is to be fully redeemed each one of us must aspire to greatness by committing ourselves to service.

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