During lauds this morning, my community and I prayed the Common of Pastors to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom we remember in a special way today. Given the increased barrage of racist and White supremacist language and violence that has emanated from the Oval Office of late, it was especially fitting that we remembered Dr. King and his vision of racial justice and non-violent direct action.
Afterwards, one of my brothers in community, Fr. Benedict Taylor, OFM, showed us a photo of Dr. King with Waldemar “Wally” Roebuck, an African American Secular Franciscan who was then president of the Third Order Secular of the United States and Canada. In 1963, Dr. King was presented with the St. Francis Peace Medal in honor of his work with the Civil Rights Movement and for his commitment to peace and non-violence.
Ben, who sat in the front row during that ceremony, recalled that the Secular Franciscans had been instrumental in recognizing and lending support to Dr. King among Catholics, many of whom had viewed him as a “trouble maker” or a “Communist.” Over apple cinnamon pancakes (prepared by Fr. Ron), Ben shared little anecdotes about Dr. King and his relationship with the Secular Franciscans.
Below is a wonderful recollection of this important event in our Franciscan history. The original can be found here.
A Little Bit of History
This is a new addition to the TAU-USA National Publication. This particular article is excerpted from the Antonian magazine March 1994, a publication of Holy Name Province. You are invited to submit confirmable recollections, or quotes from publications, for possible inclusion in future editions.
“In 1963 the North American Federation of the Third Order presented the St. Francis Peace Medal to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (The presentation was made by) Waldemar (Wally) Roebuck, former president of Third Order Secular of U.S. and Canada, for his “truly Christian and Franciscan approach to the civil rights problem through his program of non-violence.” Said Dr. King to 700 people at the ceremony: “I do not have the words adequate to express my deep gratitude and my deep appreciation to the Third Order of St. Francis…this represents a new level of fellowship and concern, for this is the first time that I have had the good fortune, the pleasure and opportunity to receive an award from a Catholic group.”
Dr. King’s speech revealed qualities that prompted the Franciscans to honor him. In reality, he said, the medal honored thousands of dedicated individuals giving creative support and creative backing to a creative movement.
One myth, said Dr. King, is time can solve the problem. Time, he countered, is neutral. “It can be used constructively or destructively.” Another myth is that legislation can’t help. “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me.” Dr. King stressed the need for continuing non-violent direct action. “In presenting this award you have stressed our attempt to follow this method in our struggle.”
In the spirit of Jesus, non-violence makes it possible to struggle for moral ends through moral means, said Dr. King. “When we’ve been true to non-violence, we’ve been able to stand up before our most violent opponents and say we will match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. Do to us what you will and we will still love you.”…Before the victory is won, he said, others will have to face physical death “to free their children from permanent death of the spirit. Good Friday may occupy the throne for a day, but ultimately it must give way to the triumphant beat of the drums of Easter.”
Five years (after the presentation of the award) Dr. King, 39, was assassinated. When race riots broke out in Harlem, Waldemar Roebuck, now a Secular Franciscan for 40 years, hit the streets with a copy of the “peace prayer of St. Francis.” The longtime civil rights activist and recipient of the Pierre Toussaint Award from the Archdiocese of New York is now promoting Toussaint’s cause for sainthood.”
Waldemar Augustin Roebuck, SFO passed away in 1999, on All Saints Day.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. pray for us.