DAYTONA BEACH │ Coordinator for the African American Ministry at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Daytona Beach, Eretta Morris was elated Sunday evening, Jan. 13 as the drum call began, announcing the commencement of the first ever Gospel Explosion at a local Catholic church. Marking the kick-off to a weeklong, citywide celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, the first of its kind event served to bridge communities through prayer, praise and song, commemorating “a man whose life epitomized the very essence of what it means to be a Christian,” said Morris.
Dr. King is known for the way in which he visibly correlated the Gospel message to a faith lived out in love of neighbor and respect for human dignity. “I believe that the basic core of Dr. King’s dream and guiding principles are central to the preaching of the Gospel, which is also the core of the Church’s existence,” stated Morris. “Look at the messages on love and equality told by the writers of the Gospel in the New Testament. Martin Luther King was a Baptist minister who believed and preached that all men are created in the likeness of Jesus Christ. His messages were born out of Scripture and he left us a legacy of faith challenging us to lead a Christian life.”
Morris, who helped launch the African American Ministry in April 2018, has been reaching out to both African Americans and Hispanics in the community with the Gospel message. “The primary mission of the African American Ministry is to grow in the love of Christ spiritually and culturally within the church,” explained Morris. “There is a richness to the Black experience that we must share with the entire people of God. These are gifts that are part of an African past.” Referring to 1 Cor. 2:9, she added, “For we have heard with black ears and we have seen with black eyes and we have understood with an African heart, what it means to be truly black and authentically Catholic… In all humility, we look to Our Lady of Lourdes that it might share our gifts, so that our joy as Christians may be complete.”
Morris noted the Gospel Explosion event also served as an opportunity to dispel myths about the Catholic faith and “impress upon our non-Catholic community, that Catholics here at Lourdes also know how to get our praise on… Coming together as a faith community in solidarity, strengthens our love and respect for one another.” She added, “It also serves to connect with the unchurched and newly arrived Black Catholics, as they search for a home church that validates the true meaning of their faith in the midst of racism, injustice and inequality.”
With the goal of cultivating and elevating an integrated African American presence within the church, the African American Ministry is reaching out to students at Bethune-Cookman University and has hosted a variety of activities that highlight and integrate ethnicity, culture and faith.
“We have to be the change we want to see in the world,” said pastor, Father Phil Egitto. “There is a lot of division in our country and racism is on the rise. I think that if we are not racist, we cannot sit still. We must combat that racism actively. By having this celebration at Our Lady of Lourdes, we are building relationships in the community. The only way to end racism is when people get to know each other. Every chance we have to increase that opportunity, the more we are fighting the racism that is all around us.”
More than 500 people attended the celebration. Our Lady of Lourdes Parish participated in all of the events commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, including a march and interfaith service. “It’s all about building relationships in the community,” said Father Egitto. “As church, that is what we need to be actively doing. The most segregated hour or day of the week is Sunday. We must do everything in our power to bring God’s people together.”
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic – January 22, 2019