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Hundreds turned out for the special interfaith and ecumenical prayer service in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.
Hundreds turned out for the special interfaith and ecumenical prayer service in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)

A pastor from the church of Martin Luther King decried the sanitization of King's legacy at an interfaith service held Thursday.

"We resurrected a new Martin Luther King," said the Rev. Raphael Gamaliel Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, to an audience of several hundred people at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.

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In attendance were Mayor Catherine Pugh, Police Commissioner Darryl DeSousa and Archbishop Rev. William E. Lori. In his opening remarks, Lori remembered the deaths of King as well as Freddie Gray, who was arrested by police three years ago Thursday.

Warnock's speech warmed up the faithful with laughs, often followed up later by trenchant criticism. Rising to the microphone after having been seated on the altar next to the police commissioner, Warnock joked that "I was trying to be on my best behavior." But as he closed, he issued a powerful condemnation of police brutality, which he pointed out that King also criticized in a lesser-known section of his "I Have a Dream" speech.

Even though they weren't born when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, young activists say his legacy still lives on in their work.

He quoted less famous speeches of the civil rights leader, such as the title of a sermon King was to give on the day he was assassinated: "Why America may go to hell."

"I know that's shocking," he said. "But don't get mad at me, that's Dr. King."

Early on in his remarks, he jokingly warned Catholics and Episcopalians in the crowd not to be frightened should people in the audience speak back to him — that was just the style of Baptists. And his sermon was met several times with loud murmurs of agreement.

The service, in the vaulted Catholic church, opened with the blaring of a Jewish shofar, followed by an Islamic call to prayer made by Muezzin Hakeem Raheem of the Muslim Community Cultural Center of Baltimore. His plaintive calls of "Allahu akbar" intermingled with the ringing of church bells.

Catherine Dorsey, a parishioner at the cathedral, said that as a child, she and other African-Americans were not allowed to receive communion at their neighborhood Catholic church. "We accepted it as it was," she said. "We were used to it."

To Dorsey, it was heartening to see people of many different faiths come together for the service. "It's just wonderful to see people of all denominations, people of various ethnicities."

Students with the Cardinal Sheehan Choir, dressed in their red uniform sweaters, received a standing ovation for their now-famous version of the Andra Day song "Rise Up," which they performed before Warnock's remarks. After the service had finished, Kenyatta Harrison, director of the Cardinal Sheehan Choir, said she was thrilled that her students had a chance to hear Warnock speak what she called "the black national anthem."

"It was just amazing," she said.

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