The inhospitable winter weather didn’t deter more than 100 people from turning out for the 29th annual Memorial Prayer Service in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at All Saints Catholic Church on Saturday, Jan. 18.

The hour-long prayer service was a call to action for Catholics on the issues of racism and social justice, with a heavy emphasis on the legacy of Dr. King as a man of faith, of peace and of unity.

Michael Adams was the keynote speaker at the annual prayer service in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Saturday, Jan. 18, at All Saints Catholic Church. (Photo by Tim Townsend)

“As a nation, our communities are stronger … when we embrace and honor our differences,” said Dr. Antoinette Mensah, the director of the Archdiocesan Office for World Mission/Society for the Propagation of Faith, in her introductory remarks. “It is not about being conservative or liberal, moderate or even independent. It is about justice, compassion, respect, understanding and, perhaps most importantly, the willingness to work toward a greater understanding.”

Dr. King is remembered as the most influential leader of the American civil rights movement. His birthday was Jan. 15, and subsequently the federal holiday memorializing his legacy is celebrated on the third Monday of January each year.

Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki was present and presided over the prayer service alongside Auxiliary Bishop Jeffrey R. Haines and Fr. James Arthur, pastor of All Saints and St. Martin de Porres parishes. The service was accompanied by music performed by a combined choir of members from St. Martin de Porres, All Saints, Lumen Christi and St. Francis of Assisi parishes.

In his address, Archbishop Listecki presented a view of Dr. King as a man defined by the Gospel, attributing the minister and activist’s unprecedented influence and authority to the fact he “knew intrinsically that he was formed and fashioned in the likeness and image of God.”

“Dr. King, being first and foremost a man of faith, spoke on behalf not only of all humanity but on behalf of the Gospel of God’s Son, Jesus Christ,” said Archbishop Listecki.

The service’s keynote address was given by Michael Adams, director of employee development at Milwaukee JobsWork and an All Saints parishioner who was awarded the archbishop’s Vatican II Award in 2018. In his remarks, Adams reflected on the 1956 speech of Dr. King that inspired the theme of this year’s memorial service — “Facing the challenge of a new age.”

“As I studied Dr. King’s address, in particular his opening statement, which was ‘We are privileged to live in one of the most momentous periods in human history … it is an age in which a new world order is being born,’ I couldn’t help but reflect on how Dr. King’s words … are still applicable to today,” said Adams.

Though at the time of his speech on Dec. 3, 1956, Dr. King was coming off the successful Montgomery bus boycotts, he was nevertheless sensitive to the fact not everyone in the civil rights movement was positive about the future.

“Dr. King reminded us of the necessary pains that accompany the birth of anything new,” said Adams. “There can be no birth and growth without growing pains. So the tensions we witness in our world today are indicative of the fact that a new world order is being born, an old order is passing away.”

It can be a daunting experience, acknowledged Adams, to face such challenges and to stand at the forefront of a new age. “At some point in our life experiences, our own faith has not been in check, and this could have us asking, does God hear our call?”

Acknowledging the scourges of poverty, violence and racism that still face the African American community, “over 64 years later we are still asking God to deliver us,” he said.

But the Israelites themselves asked a similar question, he reminded the congregation. “But God had never left their side, nor has he left us … there has always been a plan for God’s grace and for deliverance for us all. God constantly reminds us, yes, there will be trials and tribulations and yes, there will be disappointment … but he promises through every hard decision and trial, even as we all will walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we shall overcome.”

An enduring reliance on God and commitment to the Christian virtues of love, mercy and forgiveness, is crucial, said Adams, who also beseeched the congregation to treat one another “with the utmost respect as we engage one another.”

“Ask God to help us see. Ask God to help us hear his holy voice. Ask God to let us be a witness to see his works. Ask God to give us the strength that only he can provide to face the challenge of a new age with faith and love,” he said.