diverse-mlk-service.jpgPeople of all races and ethnicities filled the pews of the  Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola, one of the largest Catholic churches in the Palm Beaches, for the 26th annual multi-cultural, interfaith service to mark King Holiday to mark the Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday.

While many other MLK celebrations have majority black participation, this “Peace and Justice Interfaith Prayer Service” in honor of King has consistently had just as many whites in attendance as African Americans at the Palm Beach Gardens church.

They included Judy and John Mueller, of Jupiter, along with their children and grandchildren, who have attended the service for 10 years. It’s a “teachable moment” for the younger ones in their family, the couple said.

“The spirit and tone of this service is beautiful every year,” said Judy Mueller, 72. “This is what Dr. King had in mind for the human race. We should be able to get together and all on one accord. We bring our grandchildren here each year because we want to instill in them the principles of Dr. King. The unity of the various ethnic groups represented here is what we should strive for in all of our lives.”

But amidst the Baptist choirs and Haitian choirs, and the spirited young dance group, there were reminders of the need to persist in the effort to improve race relations. This year’s keynote speaker, Minister Kyle Stewart, radio host and production director at B106.3 Radio in West Palm Beach, told the gathering that “we’ve come a long, way, baby!” but added, “there are still some hills to climb.”

Lorraine Lyles, director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry of the  diocese of Palm Beach, based in Palm Beach Gardens organized the service. “We had to honor this man. He stepped out on faith at a time when many of his fellow
ministers walked behind him, trying to dissuade him,” Lyles said. “But he said no, this has to be done.  He knew he was going to die. He put his life, his family’s life in danger to promote this cause and that’s what this program is all about,” she said.

“It’s nice to have the parades but we have to take time to sit down and honor him and that’s why we do this program. We started this program a year before the official celebration became law. And we’ve continued year after year. 26 years.”

The Most Rev. Gerald M. Barbarito, bishop of the diocese of Palm Beach for the past seven years, described the commemoration as a special affair. “It’s a wonderful event that brings about all faiths together on a significant day, as we celebrate the dream and legacy of Rev. Dr. King.”

Ralph Pittman Jr., choir director of Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church in West Palm Beach and director of Men of the Spirit Fellowship Choir, has organized the mass choirs for the service for about 15 years. Over the years, he has sought out choirs from various ethnic groups, including Hispanic and Haitian choirs. This year, many soul stirring choirs had the audience on their feet, including the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church Choir, the only one that has performed for all 26 years.

An array of girl dancers from around Palm Beach County, all part of the Orita Mentoring Program, performed a rousing praise dance number. The program is sponsored by the Office of Black Catholic Ministries of the diocese of Palm Beach.

Soloist Lynnette Lyles-Andrews rendered an a capella  version of Wind Beneath My Wings as a tribute to fallen American service members.

The 2011 Peace and Justice Award, given to a person, church or organization that reflects King’s work, was awarded to AT&T Pioneers – Florida Chapter 39, comprising a group of retired and active AT & T workers who have dedicated themselves to helping charitable efforts throughout the area.

Daphne Taylor may be reached at daphnetaylor_49@hotmail.com.