‘He walked with Jesus’: For MLK celebration, Father Lee visits diocese

Father Roy Lee (above, right), of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, visited the Diocese of Raleigh to share a homily Jan. 15 at Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral during the annual celebration of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

He also visited Holy Cross Church in Durham Jan. 13 to share a presentation, and St. Michael the Archangel Church in Cary that same day for 5 p.m. Mass. He celebrated Mass Jan. 14 at Holy Cross.

“Father Lee,” his biography reads, “has had a very electric, challenging and distinguished pastoral ministry as lecturer, educator, counselor, revivalist, retreat master, homilist and chaplain in the U.S. Air Force.” He holds a Ph.D. from Colorado State University and, among other roles, is an associate director at the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University.

During the homily on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Father Lee said, “We have to understand that a house divided cannot stand.”

He went on to discuss how the faithful gather around the table at Mass and how he hoped that faith and knowing Jesus could help transform people to become more like the saints.

“Those saints … they, too, knew about the struggle that King talked about. And here you are today … the fight and the struggle is not over,” he said, noting that people have a responsibility to the human family. “King, himself, he knew Jesus. He had a relationship with Jesus. He walked with Jesus. And he was in community with Jesus.”

Father Lee’s presentation at Holy Cross, which was titled “The voice of the laity,” included song, humor, inspiration and history.

It covered the 2023 National Black Catholic Congress XIII theme of “Write the Vision: A Prophetic Call to Thrive” and the 40th anniversary of “What We have Seen and Heard,” a pastoral letter on evangelization from the Black Bishops of the United States. 

He began by noting that the opening presentation slide he created purposefully had a photograph of Dr. King with his wife, Coretta Scott King, to signify their partnership.

“We’re living at a very crucial moment,” Father Lee said to those gathered. “We celebrate this moment to commemorate the life and the work of this man, who was a Baptist minister, and he was a prominent leader in the civil rights movement and he was an advocate for racial equality, non-violence and social change through his writing, his speeches, his marches, his activism. This day is also a day of service that encourages people to volunteer to improve our communities.”

Father Lee spoke about Jesus and said, to cheers from those gathered, “I am just a nobody trying to tell everybody about somebody who can save anybody.”

He discussed love and spiritual growth. He challenged people to love each other by abandoning societal labels. “We have to be able to distinguish what’s of God, and what’s of man,” he said.

Smiling, Father Lee played audio of the “I Have a Dream” speech, which King delivered in 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Encouraging people to pay attention to present-day issues, he spoke about human rights and the challenges Black people in the United States face today.

Father Lee’s visit was organized by the African Ancestry Ministry and Evangelization Network of the diocese. AAMEN also organized a blood drive Jan. 12 at St. Joseph Church in Raleigh and a diaper drive service project Jan. 15 to benefit Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Raleigh.

Special thank you to Quincy Purvis for providing video of the presentation at Holy Cross, and Anna Rzewnicki, O.F.S., for photos from that day.