Alec Bansal and Jacob Krotonsky, both seniors at Brophy College Preparatory — a Jesuit Catholic high school in Phoenix — recalled meeting Sean, a homeless man who had holes in his shoes. Rather than offer him cash, the pair opted to go to the nearby Dick’s Sporting Goods to buy him a new pair of socks and shoes.
This encounter with somebody on the margins led Bansal and Krotonsky to establish Soles 2 Souls, a Brophy club and non-profit organization dedicated to providing shoes for the homeless populations.
“This encounter was truly pivotal in our approach and understanding of homelessness, especially in our hometown community,” Krotonsky said in a video submitted to be considered at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Mass and Awards Breakfast for Justice and Racial Healing. The organization won first prize at the breakfast.
Bishop John P. Dolan celebrated the annual memorial Mass at the historic Brophy Chapel Jan. 13, the Saturday before the holiday named for the famed Civil Rights icon. In previous years, the Mass has been celebrated on the same day as the national holiday or coinciding with the Sunday liturgy.
In his homily, Fr. Andrew McNair, pastor of St. Josephine Bakhita Mission Parish near downtown Phoenix — the diocese’s personal parish serving the Black and African American Catholic community — and director of the diocesan Office of Black Catholic Ministry, preached on Jesus’ exhortation to “turn the other cheek” from the Sermon on the Mount.
“He reminds us that there’s something we haven’t learned very well yet. When someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other one. We’re not too good at that one,” he preached. “When someone — as the world and our culture would teach us —pushes us, we push back in kind or, better yet, we try to destroy the other.”
It was these words of Jesus that helped Rev. King formulate his Principle of Nonviolence, Fr. McNair said.
“Nonviolence does not mean doing nothing. It doesn’t mean to be indifferent; it does not mean to be passive but it is to actively engage our world and to make a difference that we may live in a more just society and that we may be a more just and loving people,” he said.
The pastor outlined practical steps to live out the Gospel message to “love your enemy” based on Rev. King’s teachings. First, he said, we need to gather information about the problems of injustice around us. Secondly, we should educate ourselves and those around us.
“It is our duty — your duty — to help those around you to better understand the problems in our society,” said Fr. McNair. “Why are there so many shootings? Why are there so many acts of random violence? We need to educate ourselves, understand the problems.”
Next, we must remain committed, he said. In order to build what Rev. King referred to as the “Beloved Community,” we need to recognize that “we are our brother’s keeper.”
“We say it so often in so many ways to God, ‘Is that my problem? What does that have to do with me?’” said Fr. McNair. “The Lord God reminds us, it has everything to do with you because you are a human being made in the image and likeness of the Almighty, and all men and women are sacred and made in His image.”
Lastly, we need to be able to dialogue peacefully and take peaceful action, he said, noting that shouting over each other is not dialogue. He suggested action can take the form of peaceful demonstrations, letter-writing, civil disobedience, among others.
“What we cannot do is kill the other, hurt the other physically, mentally, emotionally because that’s not who we are as disciples of Jesus Christ,” he said. “This is the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King that we pass on to every generation, the message of the Gospel, which is the message of peace and love and justice.”
Mary Skinner, who serves as the grand lady for the Knights of Peter Claver Ladies Auxiliary Court 369 – a part of the only African American Catholic lay fraternal organization – said the Mass and celebration inspired her to continue praying for true justice and for society to leave behind the “me” mentality.
“We need to do better as a society to see how we can help each other and not hinder and hurt each other,” said Skinner, who was recently installed as a member of the Diocese of Phoenix’s 22-member Pastoral Council. “I want to be able to say in another year we don’t have that divisiveness as prevalent as it is, if we can go back to where we still care and show care and not say, ‘Me, myself and I.’”
After the liturgy, the multi-parish congregation moved to the main campus for a breakfast and awards ceremony where Dr. Anthony Garibay, assistant superintendent of the diocese’s Catholic Schools Office served as master of ceremonies.
“There’s so many Catholic influences in the life of Dr. King. When you look at his writings [and] his philosophy, when you look at what he’s articulated publicly and privately, you see the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola, you see elements of Franciscan spirituality and virtues. You see a lot of Catholic Social Teaching that are made manifest in what he says,” Garibay said. “That is what we have taught in our Church historically is this call to action so that we are serving the underserved, and that we are making sure that there’s a preferential option for the poor in our Church.”
Catholic school students from throughout the diocese represented their schools at the Mass and breakfast wearing their school uniforms. High-schoolers had been invited to submit projects that carried out Rev. King’s mission and legacy. In addition to Bansal and Krotonsky’s first-place submission, Xavier College Preparatory Catholic High School’s National Honor Society placed second with a canned food drive, and Brophy’s DEAL Club placed third with a book drive for underserved communities.
“It really was an honor to be here and to learn about the projects that everyone else did and how they were also able to help the community and share his belief and his message,” said Liliana Solorio, a junior at Xavier and member of the school’s NHS.
The two seniors from Soles 2 Souls hope to continue their mission after they graduate high school, not only at Brophy but at whatever colleges they move on to.
“From this project, we were able to learn a ton about Martin Luther King and about his message,” Krotonsky said. “We really realized that Soles 2 Souls and what we’ve been doing aligns perfectly with his mission and really aligns directly with his teachings and of a lot about social justice and trying to advocate for the marginalized.”
This is the second year Catholic schools have been directly involved with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Mass and Celebration. Their participation provides hope for the future, said Garibay.
“It’s a source of inspiration, and it’s a source of pride to be part of a system that is really helping to develop agents of change and young people who refuse to just let things exist and be the way that they have been,” he said. “They’re calling on leadership, they’re calling on institutions and they’re calling on systems to a level of accountability that I’m not sure we’ve seen before.”