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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The federal holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is "an important time to recommit ourselves to the Gospel message he preached," said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Rev. King's message, Cardinal DiNardo said in a Jan. 10 statement, is that "the sin of racism can be defeated by active love and the light of faith." This year the holiday is Jan. 15.
"We pray in confidence that Jesus Christ will remind us all that he is the most powerful means to break the chains of hate that still bind too many hearts, a truth which lies at the center of Dr. King's legacy," he added.
The cardinal noted, "In recent years -- including last summer in Charlottesville (Virginia) -- we have glimpsed an appalling truth that lurks beneath the surface of our culture. Even with all the progress our country has made on the issue, racism remains a living reality."
Rev. King, in 1958, said: "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."
"Breaking the chain of hate," Cardinal DiNardo said, "requires both courage and commitment." He cited the example of Sister Mary Antona Ebo, a Franciscan Sister of Mary and the first African-American sister to march with Rev. King in Selma, Alabama. "She remained a bold and dedicated champion of civil rights throughout her lifetime, and her witness should inspire our own," he added.
Sister Ebo told others who gathered for the march on Selma: "I'm here because I'm a Negro, a nun, a Catholic, and because I want to bear witness." She died Nov. 11 at age 93.
The act making Rev. King's birthday a national holiday was signed into law in 1983 and took effect in 1986. All 50 states observed the holiday for the first time in 2000. The holiday is observed on the third Monday in January; this year's Jan. 15 observance would have been Rev. King's 89th birthday.
The holiday also has become a national day of service for citizens to volunteer in honor of the civil rights leader who was slain nearly 50 years ago.