Visitors take photographs of the Lorraine Motel, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in 1968 in Memphis, Tenn., in this 2015 file photo. Now part of the National Civil Rights Museum, the motel stands nearly the same as it did the day the civil rights leader was assassinated, April 4, 1968. (Tannen Maury/CNS, via EPA)

By Junno Arocho Esteves
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a dignified life for all men and women regardless of color or creed continues to live on in the teachings of one his most influential admirers, Pope Francis, a Vatican representative said.

Speaking to Vatican News April 3, the eve of the 50th anniversary of Rev. King’s assassination, Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, Vatican observer to U.N. agencies in Geneva, said both the slain civil rights leader and the head of the Catholic Church have “brought universal attention to a new vision of the world.”

“Of course, Martin Luther King did it in the defense of human rights of the African-American people. The pope, instead, brings a new vision of the Church,” Archbishop Jurkovic said.

Rev. King’s legacy of nonviolent resistance to the injustices suffered by African-Americans in the United States, he said, began a “new era” that ushered in “a general development of society and democracy” in the world.

Archbishop Jurkovic said that same Christian-inspired message, echoed by many influential leaders today like Pope Francis, has two important guiding principles that are pertinent in today’s tumultuous political climate.

The first principle “is nonviolence, a principle that has become somewhat problematic today in the face of the many violent actions that surround us. Then there is the principle of universal fraternity: to consider all people as beneficiaries of the same brotherhood,” Archbishop Jurkovic said.

A visitor sits in a replica of a jail cell next to a portrait of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., in 2015 at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn. On April 3, the eve of the 50th anniversary of Rev. King’s assassination, a Vatican official said both the slain civil rights leader and Pope Francis have “brought universal attention to a new vision of the world.” (Tannen Maury/CNS, via EPA)

Those principles, he added, not only must remain relevant for those working at a bureaucratic level crafting policy in the United Nations but must be defended by influential leaders in society today.

“Pope Francis does it — he does it in a splendid way — and everyone recognizes the role he has gained in such a short time,” the archbishop said. “The pope believes that the only future worthy of the human person is one that includes everyone.”

Archbishop Jurkovic said that all people must pursue and defend this vision which brought about change through the life and death of Rev. King.

“We can all be happy, but this only comes if all are included, from the last one to the most privileged and vice versa,” he said.

The Holy Father has long been an admirer of Rev. King, referring to him as a model of virtue for Americans today when addressing a joint session of Congress during his apostolic visit to the United States Sept. 24, 2015.

“A nation can be considered great when it … fosters a culture which enables people to ‘dream’ of full rights for all their brothers and sisters as Martin Luther King sought to do,” the pope said.