I was born and raised in Athol, Massachusetts. Though I have not lived there for about 35 years, members of my family still live there and so I visit as often as I can.
Growing up there afforded me a good public school education and a strong sense of community. With its long history of tool-making factories, I also developed a strong work ethic. Reflecting on my school-age years, I know now that I had limited experiences with diverse people.
This is particularly true about race and religion. Most of the residents were Caucasian. Though they existed, the opportunities to have experiences and friendships with people of different ethnic backgrounds were limited. The same is true about religion.
There were other Christian denominations and a Jewish synagogue in town. However, I recall most residents being Roman Catholic. Though limited, I had more experiences and friendships with people of other denominations and religions than I did with people of different ethnic backgrounds. My life experience since then has included many experiences and friendships with a great diversity of people.
I reflect on my own personal experiences of ethnic and religious diversity during this time of year as we approach two annual celebrations: Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Both take place in the next week: Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 20 and the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on Jan. 18-25.
Each year, we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the third Monday of January. The Baptist preacher was best known for promoting civil rights through nonviolence and his “I Have a Dream” speech.
While much progress has been made in civil rights and race relations, more work remains to be done. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops acknowledged this in their 2018 pastoral letter against racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts.”
“But racism still profoundly affects our culture, and it has no place in the Christian heart.” No matter what name we give to the holiday on the third Monday of January, Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream gives reason for gratitude for progress made, inspiration for our work today, and hope for the future.
Though the work of Christian unity is an ongoing effort, for over 100 years, Christians have set aside Jan. 18-25 to focus on making Jesus’ Last Supper prayer, “that they may all be one,” (John 17:21) a reality.
The work of Christian unity goes hand in hand with developing good relationships with other world religions and all people of good will. The increase in the number of violent attacks on Orthodox Jewish people in Jersey City, New York City and other locations simply because of who they are or how they dress is alarming.
Attacks like these on any religious people is an attack on all religious people and religious freedom, and should be denounced.
Bishop Joseph Bambera of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued the following statement after the deadly attack Dec. 10 at the Jersey City kosher market: “The recent attack on a Kosher Market in Jersey City, alongside many other recent hateful and at times violent actions, have highlighted the importance of, once again, publicly condemning any and all forms of antisemitism whether in thought, word or action.”
During this week, as I face my own personal and collective history on racial and religious diversity, please join me in doing the same for yourself. I invite you also to join me in praying and working for an end to racial discrimination and religious intolerance.
The Rev. Scott Euvrard is pastor of Holy Family Parish in Amesbury and Star of the Sea Parish in Salisbury.