Archbishop William Lori. Credit: Patrick Novecosky/Legatus

In a new pastoral letter, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s "principles of nonviolence" are the keys to “address and resist injustice” in the Baltimore area.

“The wisdom of Dr. King’s teaching is both timely and important for our family of faith, the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and indeed for our whole society,” wrote Archbishop Lori in his February letter.

“We urgently need to retrieve, understand, embrace and put into practice his teaching and legacy,” he continued.

Archbishop Lori’s letter comes ahead of the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination. The civil rights leader was fatally shot April 4, 1968, on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tenn.

“Now is the time for all of us to reconnect with Dr. King and his teaching,” Archbishop Lori said, noting that “Dr. King’s wisdom is more necessary than ever in our violent and fragmented society.”

“Violence, racism and a host of social problems exist in different forms and degrees…no family, no neighborhood, no community is immune from violent crime, domestic violence, drug abuse, racism and many other social problems,” the archbishop said.

Archbishop Lori pointed to a surge of gun violence in Baltimore in 2017, a year in which the Baltimore Police reported that 301 people in the city were killed with guns.

He also noted that “the sin of racism” has “has tarnished the soul of our society.”

Lori said that “lack of education, unemployment, a dearth of decent and affordable housing; a proliferation of illegal weapons; drug abuse and gangs; the disintegration of the family; homelessness” are among conditions which “create despair and spawn violence in our neighborhoods.”

“In this stark environment, Dr. King’s principles of nonviolence are more necessary than ever: they are prophetic words of hope that can light the path forward,” the archbishop said.

According to the archbishop, the principles of nonviolence advanced by Dr. King are “meant to change us” by addressing every person’s heart with a call to conversion.

Lori explained King’s six principles of nonviolence, which were the foundation of his pastoral letter.

First, he said that nonviolence was a way of life for “courageous people,” who bear “witness to the truth by living it and seeks not to coerce others into conformity, but rather to persuade them in love.” The archbishop said the sacraments of baptism and confirmation are crucial for this kind of courage.

Secondly, nonviolence seeks to “win friendship and understanding.” This means, according to Lori, that every person’s common humanity “is the basis for friendship that crosses the lines of race, ethnicity, politics and culture.”

Nonviolence also seeks to “defeat injustice, not people.” The archbishop said this principle seeks to deter “those who would harm the innocent and defenseless,” while also persuading individuals against the evils of racism.

Nonviolence also teaches that “suffering can educate and transform.” This means that suffering is a means to purification, out of which a “pure and peaceful heart flows.” The letter pointed to the witness of the early Christian martyrs who showed love in the face of violence.

The fifth principle of nonviolence rules that individuals should choose “love instead of hate.” Lori encouraged a “radical form of love that refuses to engage in any form of violence.” He noted that selfless love always seeks the good of the other in every relationship, which, he said, can powerfully transform society.

Nonviolence also believes that “justice will ultimately triumph.” This means that hope rules every action, despite suffering and injustice, Lori said.

“These principles took shape as Dr. King held up the experience of his people to the light of the Gospel and the Christian Tradition. Thus, they constitute not an abstract philosophy, but an applied theology of liberation,” he said.

“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s principles of nonviolence call for a change of heart. However, they also call for action,” said Archbishop Lori.

The archbishop said the archdiocese would use King’s principles to actively challenge the local community through information, education, personal commitment, negotiations, direct action, and reconciliation.

To that end, the archdiocese has created a website to springboard discussions.

“I cannot do this alone. This is something we must do together,” urged the archbishop.

The letter’s plan of action includes four efforts: building the local network of services to more effectively serve the community; forming cooperative relationships among the parishes within the archdiocese; reaching out to people on the peripheries to personally walk with them; and promoting stronger efforts towards ecumenical and interfaith partnerships that will build lasting community.

Lori also encouraged Catholics to work for the re-evangelization of each parish community in the archdiocese.

“For so many reasons, we do well to heed the prophetic teaching of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and to put it into practice,” Archbishop Lori said.

“Guided by his principles, we will take a further step in being ‘a light brightly visible,’ a Church that brilliantly reflects the light of Christ.”