In the spirit of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., "we must meet the forces of hate and ignorance with the power of love," the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement for the Jan. 18 federal observance of the slain civil rights leader's birthday.
"This year as we commemorate the legacy of this great American, we remember especially Rev. King's belief in nonviolence and the power of love," Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez said.
Rev. King, who was assassinated in 1968 at age 39, would have turned 92 Jan. 15. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is observed on the third Monday of January each year.
"For much of the past year, America has been reckoning with the legacy of slavery and the persistence of racial injustice in our country. Sadly, it is still true that the 'color of our skin' often matters more in our society than the 'content of our character,'" the archbishop said, quoting the words of Rev. King from 50 years ago.
Violent protests over the summer and the violence that took place inside the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6 show " our country has become too angry, too bitter and too divided," Archbishop Gomez said.
"As we confront our deep divisions, we face the same choices that Rev. King and the civil rights movement faced. For us, too, the question is how will we struggle against the injustices in our society, what means will we use?" the archbishop asked in his statement, released late Jan. 15.
The challenge "for every one of us believes in the promise of America and seeks to renew the soul of this great nation," he said, can be found in words Rev. King wrote in 1958: "Along the way of life, someone must have the sense enough and the morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethics of love to the center of our lives."
"We must learn again the wisdom of the Gospel and love our enemies and bless those who oppose us," Archbishop Gomez said. "In this moment, Rev. King would counsel everyone in public life to seek reconciliation and reject the easy temptation to reprisals and recrimination."
He continued: "We do not love those who oppose us because they are lovable, or even likable, Rev. King once said. We love them because God loves them. And by our love, we seek their conversion and friendship, not their humiliation.
"This is our Christian duty in this moment -- to be healers and peacemakers, to overcome evil and lies, not by more of the same, but with words of truth and works of love."
Archbishop Gomez concluded by asking Mary, the Queen of Peace "to guide us in this moment of transition and uncertainty in our country. May she help us to keep believing in the power of love."
Other statements issued for the King holiday included one from the new bishop of Buffalo, New York -- Bishop Michael W. Fisher, who was installed Jan. 15.
On the day "when all lovers of peace" honor Rev. King's memory and legacy, the bishop said, "let us recommit ourselves to cherishing and promoting the dignity of every person; to defeating what Pope Francis defines as the 'sin of racism,' whether in mind or in action and however blatant or subtle; and to demonstrating in these days of conflict and tension the desire for dialogue, understanding and mutual respect."
Quoting Rev. King, Bishop Fisher added: "People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they do not know each other because they have not communicated with each other."
The bishop prayed the civil rights leader's memory will "inspire us always and in every place to discern the good in others and, by our actions, reveal the grace and goodness of God himself."
Alveda King, the niece of Rev. King, who is the founder of Alveda King Ministries, issued a statement reiterating her uncle's words about love -- he said he would "stick with love," because "hate is too great a burden to bear," she said, quoting her uncle.
She urged people to remember the King holiday should be a day of service. "We can all find something constructive to do in our communities, even if it's just shaking the hand of the neighbor who supported a different candidate. Anything we can do to increase the peace is more than worth our efforts," King said.
"When we learn to value the human personality, and understand that we are one blood and one human race, we can learn to live together as brothers and sisters and we won't perish as fools," she added.