Vincentian Father Jeffrey Harvey served as the guest homilist at this year's Martin Luther King Jr. Mass Jan. 21 at St. Mary's Basilica. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Vincentian Father Jeffrey Harvey served as the guest homilist at this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Mass Jan. 21 at St. Mary’s Basilica. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Three key things signaled that an afternoon liturgy Jan. 21 at St. Mary’s Basilica was a special one: its art, its sound and the people gathered in prayer.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted celebrated the Jan. 21 Martin Luther King Jr. Mass at St. Mary's Basilica.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted celebrated the Jan. 21 Martin Luther King Jr. Mass at St. Mary’s Basilica.

A large framed photo of Martin Luther King Jr. taken the day of the 1963 March on Washington greeted more than 200 guests. The Mass in his honor also included a prelude in which his very words were not just heard, but passionately re-told.

Darren Handy, a parishioner at St. Timothy in Mesa, climbed the ambo and recited the “I Have a Dream Speech” as if he were delivering it himself for the first time. Sounds equally as passionate came from the diocesan Freedom Singers choir and from Vincentian Father Jeffery Harvey, who spent six years in the diocese and returned as the liturgy’s guest homilist.

“We live in a society where the highest aim is my ego,” Fr. Harvey said. While he promised brevity, Fr. Harvey piqued interest with Nursery Rhymes, references to television, the latest gadgets and the Civil Rights movement.

Drawing upon King’s words, Fr. Harvey reminded the diverse crowd that as Christians, they are in this world, but not of it. Their highest aim is to do God’s will, not please themselves.

“Without God, life is a meaningless drama with the decisive scenes missing. But with God, we are able to rise form the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope. With God, we are able to rise from the midnight of desperation to the daybreak of joy,” Fr. Harvey said.

His homily drew several chants of “Amen” from the crowd and many standing in applause by the end. It also echoed a conversation at times and in closing words, transformed into song that ushered in a “sweet, sweet sound in Your ear.”

Fr. Harvey, who now teaches homiletics to seminarians in New Orleans, also called the congregation to re-engage the gift of faith and put it into action.

That’s a call that brought Mary Hauerback to her time during a Cursillo retreat. The St. Paul parishioner attended the MLK Mass with fellow Cursillista Brenda Hope, a parishioner at St. Jerome.

Hauer said both Fr. Harvey and retreat leaders spoke about the call to remember their baptism, study the faith and act on it. She has attended the MLK Mass before because she grew up and attended high school in Mississippi. There, she was the minority, with a student body that was 75 percent Black.

Her friend, Hope, said “This Mass is always a great source of faith, and hope. In this world, we definitely need it.”

Local youth from throughout the diocese served as lectors and altar servers. Their involvement helps them remember the past and focus on the future, said Kit Marshall, director of the diocesan Office of Black Catholic Ministry.

“For young people to see a person like Darren Handy speak, to hear Fr. Jeff Harvey speak, that will inspire them to be proud of their history,” Marshall said.

He said while a lot of the laws have been knocked down, there are still some groups that seemingly want to reduce the voting rights of African-Americans, especially in Florida. He still sees some civil rights challenges for Hispanics too.

The ladies auxiliary for the Knights of Peter Claver hosted a reception after the Mass.

Editor’s Note:

  • The monthly Unity Mass hosted by the diocesan Office of Black Catholic Ministry is at 1 p.m. the third Sunday of the month at St. Pius X Church, 809 S. 7th Ave. in Phoenix
  • The monthly African Mass, which celebrates the different African dialects within the common Catholic faith, is at 11 a.m. the fourth Sunday of the month at St James Parish in Glendale.