The principles of non-violence advocated by Dr Martin Luther King are now "more necessary than ever", according to the Archbishop of Baltimore William E Lori.
In a pastoral letter issued to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr King on April 4, Archbishop Lori lists lack of education, unemployment, a dearth of decent and affordable housing, a proliferation of illegal weapons, drug abuse and more as among the conditions that "create despair and spawn violence".
In his letter, also published by The Tablet here, he writes: "We should not imagine that Dr King’s principles apply only to troubled urban neighbourhoods or solely to our African-American brothers and sisters. Violence, racism and a host of social problems exist in different forms and degrees throughout our suburban and rural areas as well."
Immigrants too often face discrimination and hatred and unjust deportation, he says.
"Think of how vitriolic and coarse public rhetoric has become in politics and the media, a coarseness that often spills over into private conversation. Instead of trying peacefully to reach the common ground of understanding, people far too often and far too quickly resort to abusive language. They may not kill their neighbours with bullets but they do 'kill' them with words and gestures of disrespect. The commandment, 'Thou shalt not kill', pertains to all forms of violence against others, including the violence of economic inequality."
Speaking to The Tablet, Archbishop Lori explained that his letter was motivated by his direct experience of living in a community where there has been racial tension and racial strife.
"It affects the faith community in a very profound way. The faith community is involved not only in addressing the tensions and the strife, but also in addressing the underlying injustices that give rise to it."
The best way to observe the anniversary of Dr King's assassination is to pay attention to his prophetic teaching, he continued.
"The Church is deeply involved in the life of the city and trying to provide education for young people who respond very well to the possibility of a Catholic education. We are very much involved in trying to provide job training, emergency services, health care, mental health services and an array of other services that try to go to the heart of the needs of the community.
"But I think at the end of the day, we continue to live with an underlying injustice that should shake the conscience of each one of us, including my own."
Speaking days after the latest school shooting tragedy, in Florida, he continued: "My view on gun control is that the ready availability of guns is a very bad thing for our society, in particular the ready availability of assault weapons. I understand that there is the legitimate desire to go hunting and things of that nature. I do not think we are talking about that. We are talking about the types of guns that have been used to perpetrate unprecedented violence on the streets of Baltimore.
"How could anyone not want those types of weapons to be taken off the streets? How could I not want people who suffer from mental issues not to be able to get their hands on these weapons, after the terrible things we have seen again and again and again in our schools?"
He said it was possible, on seeing under-served neighbourhoods, crumbling houses and young people out on the streets, and to throw up hands in despair because the problem seems too big.
But giving up cannot be a solution.
"Martin Luther King lived in a society that was saturated with racism, saturated with the culture of racism and separatism, saturated with economic inequality. He did not throw up his hands. He preached a message of non-violence that was aimed first and foremost aimed at the heart. Nothing can happen unless people’s minds and hearts are moved."
Pic: Archbishop of Baltimore William Lori.