Faithful, ‘infected with God’s DNA,’ called to embrace diverse ‘movement of love’

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Unity Mass

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St. Pius X Church, 809 S. Seventh Ave., Phoenix

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Knights and Ladies of St. Peter Claver

The oldest and largest organization for African-American lay Catholics.

ARIZONA COUNCIL AND COURT

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To experience the effect Martin Luther King, Jr., left on America 50 years ago was to glance at the Behnke family during the Mass in his honor.

A kaleidoscope of colors filled a pew at St. Mary’s Basilica, Jan. 15, as the family of 11 celebrated the Atlanta pastor and civil rights leader who preached acceptance and love and led peaceful demonstrations during a tumultuous period in U.S. history.

“To us, color means nothing. It does not define us,” said Tonya Behnke who, along with her husband Steve, adopted seven of their children from as far away as Africa.

“We teach our children what matters is the person they are on the inside. These children are all ours and we love them.”

Several hundred others joined the family to enjoy the musical prelude by Joyce M. Bailey prior to the early evening Mass presided by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted.

Rousing in his delivery of love, hope and a call to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy was guest homilist Fr. Royal (Roy) A. Lee, a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee serving in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, who said Christians need to block the “junk food” of the world “to look like God and act like God.”

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and Dcn. Lorenzo McKnight from St. Augustine Parish receive the gifts from Joseph and Mrs. Monique Kimbuende, during the MLK Mass Jan. 15 at St. Mary’s Basilica. The Kimbuendes, parishioners at St. Gregory, have been members of the diocesan Black Catholic Ministry for more than two decades. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)

Recalling stories passed on by his grandparents from the cotton fields of Mississippi, Fr. Lee learned his family later moved to seek a better life away from discrimination and injustice.

He said it was inspired by the act of a person of color who “God used to shake the foundation … Rosa Parks.”

“Rosa Parks and Rev. Martin Luther King knew Jesus — they not only read scripture, they lived it,” he said. “God interrupted his life for a movement, a movement of love. God knew Rev. Martin Luther King embraced Jesus on the cross … and King heard the call and he was listening.”

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted (left) and Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares (right) pose with members of the Knights and Ladies of St. Peter Claver Council and Court 369 at the end of the MLK Mass Jan. 15 at St. Mary’s Basilica. The Knights of Peter Claver is the largest and oldest African-American lay Catholic organization. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)

The 2018 Massgoers were called to action — where through their baptism they were “infected with God’s DNA” — to listen, embrace salvation through Jesus crucified and continue the “movement of love.”

Ten-year-old Cade Barkley came to the Mass with his family so he could “serve and worship God.”

He said he listened intently during the homily, summing it up by saying, “With his voice, Martin Luther King made everyone confident in themselves. It makes me feel like everyone should love each other, and if something is wrong, step up.”