“I have no hands but yours,” read the plaque below the statue of Christ outside the church. No tengo mas manos que las tuyas. And it was literally true — Jesus’ outstretched arms ended at the sleeve.
Inside, images of Caucasian saints (Stanislaus, Ignatius, Charles Borromeo) looked down from the stained-glass windows on darker-skinned renderings of Christ, Mary, and the Holy Family in the church below. A portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. stood in an alcove. The nave was filled with chairs for the choir; the altar rose up in the midst of the congregation.
Before the formal beginning of Mass, a lector announced, “As is our custom, if any of you have prayers you would like to share with the community, please stand. Let’s begin by praying for the sick of our community...”
“I’d like to pray in thanksgiving,” said one woman. “The last time I was here, my son and I were about to go into surgery, for me to donate my kidney to him. A lot of people here prayed for us. Everything went really great — he’s doing wonderfully — so we thank you.” The church burst into applause as the lector said, “For this, let us pray to the Lord.”
Other prayers: for a friend having knee surgery. For the repose of souls. For those struggling with addiction to alcohol and drugs. For “the sick — especially the mentally ill, who have no sense of life.” The band’s bassist stood and prayed: “on this anniversary of Roe vs. Wade...I pray that somebody in the community takes a stand, to answer the call of our pastor to be the culture-of-life coordinator. And when she does, may we as a community support her.”
Choir members took their places — black robes with a white satin stripe down the center, each adorned with the emblem of a crown above a cross. “Stand up and give God the glory, stand up!” they sang, while the congregation stood and clapped and swayed to the beat of the drum and the peppy riffs of the saxophone.
Father Jennings processed in, took a place with the people, and, after the music had subsided, led them in singing: “We shall overcome/ We shall overcome... Deep in my heart/ I do believe/ That we shall overcome...some day.”
“Lest we forget the dream,” he said, his voice rolling forth. “Lest we forget...to prepare ourselves to celebrate these mysteries, let us call to mind the times that perhaps we have forgotten the dream and the vision, not just of Martin Luther King, but of Christ our Lord and Savior.”
The Gloria got back to the rollicking mood of the opening — trumpet and saxophone and piano under the choir shouting out “Glory to God in the highest!” then going quiet as Jennings intoned the prayer like a poem: “You alone are the holy one/ You alone are the Lord/ You alone are the most high, Jesus Christ...”
The sermon was inspired by the second reading, which covered the opening of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Jennings noted that they had strayed into “what they called ‘sacred prostitution.’ Paul is saying to proclaim the real Good News in a very difficult time.” This put Jennings in mind of King, “because tomorrow we celebrate Martin Luther King Day.” Like King, like Paul, “we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Jennings read from King’s “I have a dream” speech and told stories of injustices he had witnessed growing up in Alabama. Then he moved to the present, saying that the trouble was “still out there. It didn’t go away — it went underground.” But, he added, “The biggest dream-killers that I’m concerned about are the ones that we do to ourselves. We have met the enemy, and many times, he is us. How about the young black males who can’t seem to stay out of trouble?... How about being faithful to a relationship with a wife, and not beating your spouse? How about the drinking, and the drugs?... What are you doing about the dream?... The dream-killer, for us, is being apathetic and blasé, and just sitting down and doing nothing, not even caring about it! We are comfortable! We’ve got to feel a bit of discomfort in our ranks before we really start to do something. Otherwise, it’s going to creep and creep and creep and get worse and worse and worse.”
During the prayers of the faithful, Jennings asked “that the sacredness of human life be upheld for all, especially the unborn, the terminally ill, and those who sit on death row.” And also, “that our community recognize Jesus in poor people, immigrants, and disabled people. Let us pray to the Lord.”
What happens when we die?
“If you’re living right and praying right — if you pray it up and you’re good to go — you’ll go straight to heaven,” said Jennings.
Christ the King Catholic Church
Denomination: Roman Catholic
Address: 29 North 32nd Street, Logan Heights, 619-231-8906
Founded locally: 1938
Senor pastor: Tommie Jennings
Congregation size: 750
Staff size: 4
Sunday school enrollment: n/a
Annual budget: about $225,000
Weekly giving: about $3450
Singles program: no
Dress: casual to formal
Diversity: Hispanic, African American, some Pacific Islanders and Caucasians
Sunday worship: Gospel Mass, 8:30 a.m.; Spanish-language Mass, 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 45 minutes