Annual liturgy also marks 50th anniversary of ‘Dream’ speech
After years of hosting guest bishops and professors from across the country, the homilist headed to this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Mass will be a familiar voice.
Vincentian Father Jeff Harvey, who once served as pastor at Phoenix’s St. Vincent de Paul Parish and occasionally celebrated the monthly diocesan Unity Mass, will return to the Valley this month. He will serve alongside Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares during the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Mass Jan. 21 at St. Mary’s Basilica and offer insights into the legacy of the slain civil rights leader.
Christina Doss, who serves on the Office of Black Catholic Ministry’s board of directors, knows Fr. Harvey as a great homilist and is excited to have him back. Fr. Harvey and other Vincentian priests left the Phoenix Diocese in a few years ago due to a priest shortage within the Vincentians. Fr. Harvey currently serves as professor of homiletics and director of human formation at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, among other roles.
Doss looks forward to the homily each year at the MLK Mass. She estimated she has been going for at least 15 years.
“There’s so many wonderful things that you can take away with you,” she said.
For her part, Doss knows that the days of segregation didn’t just mean race or language. Religion, including being Catholic was and is a cause of discrimination too.
“The Catholic Church has always been a big proponent of education [for all] and Martin Luther King started out with a march on equality,” Doss said.
The landmark Civil Rights Act, which passed due in part to the March on Washington, further ended segregation. Doss recalled King Jr. also speaking out on the importance of aiding the poor and feeding the hungry. Discrimination is still there in various forms, she said, but the problem of the hungry hasn’t really changed.
“As a body of Christ, it’s still something we need to work on,” Doss said.
Nova Nelson couldn’t agree more. She directs the Archdiocese of Washington’s gospel choir at the local MLK Mass and directs the gospel ensemble and children’s choir at St. Martin of Tours Parish in Washington.
In a 2011 interview with the Catholic Standard, Washington’s archdiocesan newspaper, Nelson said that Rev. King’s call still resonates today, for all people to work together, to help those who are hungry and homeless, those without jobs, and those who lack access to health care.
Nelson said Rev. King, as a man of God, drew strength from his faith, and those who seek to continue the civil rights leader’s work today can follow his example.
“For me, what’s so inspiring (is that) no matter how much he was hated or rejected, he kept going because he believed in God, and believed God would make a way, and he wasn’t afraid,” she said.
“He had to keep pushing for what God wanted him to do,” Nelson added. “Sometimes, we get doors closed in our faces. We have to keep pushing, knowing God is walking with us every step of the way.”
This marks the 50th anniversary of King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The prelude to Phoenix’s MLK Mass at St. Mary’s Basilica, at 231 N. 3rd St., will include a reenactment of that 17-minute speech. Music by the 10-member Freedom Singers will also be part of the prelude.
The prelude starts at 2:30 p.m. which Doss said gives people time to enjoy MLK events through the City of Phoenix first. A city-organized MLK March starts at 9 a.m. followed by a festival at 10 a.m.
This marks the 20th year that the state of Arizona has recognized MLK Day as a paid holiday, but the 25th year for the diocese.
Martin Luther King Jr. Mass
2:30 pm. prelude, 3 p.m. liturgy Jan. 21
St. Mary’s Basilica, 231 N. Third Street, Phoenix
Reception to follow