Civil rights icon Sister Antona Ebo says spread the love of God

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Sister Antona Ebo, FSM, sat in the back of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and greeted the many who attended the sixth "Faith in Ferguson" prayer service March 10.

For about 20 minutes following the service, she shook hands, posed for pictures or just shared laughs and hugs in what quickly became a receiving line.

Sister Cathy Doherty, SSND, who organizes "Faith in Ferguson," attributed the crowd of an estimated 300 to Sister Ebo's presence on the 50th anniversary date of her participation in a Voting Rights march in Selma, Ala.

"People connected Selma to Ferguson and wanted to hear what she had to say," Sister Cathy said after the best-attended of the monthly archdiocesan prayer services to date.

A half-century ago, people of all races marched for giving people of color the simple right to vote, in Selma and elsewhere in the South. The nonviolent approach espoused by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. sent a powerful message against the violence perpetrated against them by police in Selma.

For the past seven months, Ferguson has experienced protests and sometimes violence in the aftermath of Michael Brown's death in a police-officer-involved shooting. Tension remains following the recent release of a U.S. Department of Justice report on Ferguson.

"There's something going on in Ferguson that makes for these moments of discontent," Sister Ebo said in her reflection, adding, "Every 20 years or so, we go through a new discontent. The only way to find our way through it is God's grace and mercy. We ask for His grace and mercy and love.

"We are all made in the image and likeness of God, so there's more work to be done by every one of us."

Standing at the ambo for the reflection, Sister Ebo, 90, spoke for a little more than 30 minutes from "the abundance of my heart" without notes, having left her prepared remarks at home. She mixed her remarks with humor ...

• "Sad but true, I'm not as frisky as I need to be," she joked, adding that if people nodded off she was "right there with them" because she returned the previous night from five days in Selma for anniversary celebrations.

... and with song.

• "We've got we got to do what the Spirit says to do, and what the Spirit says to do, I'm going to do, Lord," she sang, adding, "The Spirit says to be empowered to go forth and invite others into the church."

The lyrics came from what Sister Ebo calls her Bap-tic heritage -- a combination of Baptist and Catholic. She was raised in the Baptist church.

"That's where I learned those songs; they took it from the Scriptures," she said. "When we listen to one another, we are given to gift to molded by the Holy Spirit."

Dialogue between races and cultures creates understanding and builds bridges.

"Part of the problem is that we have not learned to listen to one another," Sister Ebo said. "Not just someone talking up here at a podium, but taking the time to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

"We need to learn to listen to one another so that we understand the difference in culture, in our relationship and in the way we talk with one another -- 'with' not 'at.' We've got to do what the Spirit says to do."

Sister Ebo cited the universality of the Church, that it should be welcoming to all as it was to her after her mother passed away when Sister Ebo was 4 years old.

"We have an invitation to come to the house of the Lord to magnify the Lord and worship Him," she said. "A lot of people over yonder are wondering, 'What do they do in that church?' That was what got me interested in this Church. 'What are they doing there?'

"We need to let people know we are here to praise and magnify the Lord ... The Spirit calls me to give the best I have to the Lord, to give God the glory and remember to pray for one another. ...

"We must spread the love of God and keep on praying."

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