Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre, the first Black archbishop of the Archdiocese of Louisville, presided at the 37th annual Community-Wide Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. event Jan. 14 at the Cathedral of the Assumption. It was his first King event as leader of the archdiocese.
Reflecting on the readings from the first Book of Samuel and the Book of John, the archbishop spoke on how God calls individuals to encounters that change them — just as he called the prophet Samuel.
Archbishop Fabre said all individuals — religious, clergy and laity, Black and white — are called by God. In attending the Dr. King event they were called to encounter a painful aspect of the country’s history, he said.
Some individuals don’t like to consider this history and question the purpose of reliving the past, he said, noting he’s heard people ask, “ ‘Why remember the unrest between races? Why drag this all up again?’ ”
In response, he told the congregation, it’s important to acknowledge that the King observance does in part focus on “historical tragedies, suffering and injustice.”
“In these encounters with our history, we come face to face with how inhumane people can be to one another. And how a vision of one’s own race as superior can visit suffering and even death upon others.”
This history is not recalled to simply wallow in misery, drag up the past or point fingers at anyone, he said.
“The suffering history of the struggle for civil rights is a worthy encounter of remembering so that in no way do we repeat that which was painful in our history and so that our current ongoing efforts do not lead to bad fruit or to poor policy,” said Archbishop Fabre.
In remembering the successes of the civil rights movement and those who led it, each individual must ask what they are called to do in the present, the archbishop said.
Along with the church, the archbishop said that each person has a role to play in assisting others to have a “conversion of heart.”
In the 2018 pastoral letter against racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” Archbishop Fabre noted that the U.S. bishops urged each person to acknowledge hatred and racism in their hearts, “eradicate” it and go on to help others do the same.
“While civil laws and policy-making are critical and important and necessary in our struggle to bring about healing and reconciliation, the real thing that will end racism is a conversion of hearts,” said Archbishop Fabre. “If we don’t convert hearts, we will only grow in our tolerance of one another.”