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Prayer service pays tribute to King’s mission and legacy

| Tuesday, January 20, 2015

“Let peace begin with me.”

Those were the words that echoed throughout the rotunda of the Main Building on Monday as Notre Dame honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through prayer.

Students, faculty and members of the South Bend community sat together under the Dome as they prayed and sang traditional hymns, including We Shall Overcome and Let There Be Peace on Earth.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day serves as an important reminder of a time not long ago when segregation and discrimination divided the United States, University President Fr. John Jenkins said, addressing the assembly.

“It’s so easy, and so common, for us to forget Martin Luther King’s struggle … but it is important to remember, and that is why today is for,” Jenkins said. “It’s important to remember the hardships that African Americans endured in a segregated nation.”

Although more than 50 years have passed since the civil rights movement took shape, violence and racial discrimination are still an unfortunate part of our society, Jenkins said.

“I can’t help but think of the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri, after the shooting of Michael Brown, or in France, the killing of those at the periodical Charlie Hebdo,” he said. “Both are complex situations. … But I can’t help thinking, sadly, that in these and other events, a certain cycle [of violence and oppression] is at work.”

Jenkins said King’s legacy – one of nonviolence and peaceful protest – should inform how we react to these injustices.

“The language of Martin Luther King was the language of the Gospel, the language of love,” he said.“… His method was that of nonviolent resistance, which seeks to bring change, not with force, but standing nonviolently against injustice in a way that calls attention to it and changes our hearts.”

Sophomore Tegan Chesney said she thought it was valuable to take time to honor King, especially since class was still in session.

“Since we have classes on Martin Luther King Day, I thought it was important to go to a service to commemorate him,” she said.

When thinking about Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and civil rights, it is important to look first to working to improve our communities, graduate student John DiTillo said.

“The petitions — I really appreciated the one that talked about the Notre Dame community and St. Joseph County, because I think it’s easy, when you’re talking about social justice, to think on a global scale,” DiTillo said. “We’re encouraged to do that a lot at Notre Dame. We’re not always encouraged to look at the spaces we inhabit and think critically about how we engage, and what we’re contributing to them.”

King primarily focused on community and national issues like these, but ultimately the civil rights movement became much bigger than the laws it changed, Jenkins said.

“The greatness of Martin Luther King exists not only in that he stood unflinchingly for justice, which he did,” he said. “Not only that he so powerfully denounced oppression, which he did. Or that he brought about change, which he did.

“The special greatness of Martin Luther King is that while doing all these things, he showed us a way out of the destructive cycle of oppression and divisions, violence, further oppression and divisions, more violence and deeper divisions … He marched, he sat in, he engaged in civil disobedience without violence, without hate. And thereby he changed not only law and customs — he changed hearts.

“So let us not forget, let us continue to remember. Let each of us let his message change our hearts.”

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