With the choir of St. Ailbe Parish performing rousing and moving gospel songs and African-American high school students reciting Scripture and excerpts from the speeches of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the Archdiocese of Chicago joined the nation in commemorating the 50th anniversary of the civil-rights leader’s death. Cardinal Cupich led a prayer service with fellow Christian leaders in the chapel at St. Rita High School, 7740 S. Western Ave., on the evening of April 4, the day King was gunned down in 1968 on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. The service was part of the archdiocese’s peace-building and violence-prevention efforts. The archdiocese asked all its churches and schools to ring their bells 39 times that evening, joining numerous U.S. Catholic churches and schools that also tolled their bells. King was 39 at the time of his death. In his homily during the prayer service, Cardinal Cupich told the gathering that King was being remembered for how he lived, not for how he died. “As one who had chosen the path of involvement, he challenged this country, all people of good will, to take up a new road, a new life where former enemies become new friends,” the cardinal said. “His eyes were opened by God so that he could see more than an impossible dream, more than an unreachable goal or unsolvable problem. His eyes were opened so that he could return to Jerusalem, and dream bigger dreams, make visible the invisible and believe the unbelievable.” \ King’s message was not one of despair but of hope, and it was also a call to peace, he said. “Dr. King summons us this night, as he himself was summoned, to transform the still jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood, by working together, praying together, struggling together, going to jail together and standing up for justice together, knowing that one day, if we heed the voice of God, then by God all shall be free, not solely because of our fight, but because of our God-given rights, rights that should be as plain to all as good, old fashioned, common sense, tried and true,” Cardinal Cupich said. While civil rights in America have improved since King’s death, work must continue for equal freedoms, he said. “As Dr. King reminds us, we can build up the kingdom. We can lay down our weapons. We can set aside words that demean, policies that deepen discord, actions that perpetuate the lie that there is an us and a them,” Cardinal Cupich said in his homily. “We can do this when we know the truth that we are all part of one family, the human family. As he would often say, relying on an age-old quote: ‘We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.’” Arthur Eiland met King twice in Chicago — first at the now-closed St. Brendan Church and a second time in 1966 when King marched through the Marquette Park neighborhood. “My claim to fame is I shook hands with Dr. King,” Eiland said. “To have this opportunity to honor him, I couldn’t resist.” At 94, Eiland remembers growing up in Memphis when African Americans were “separate-but-equal” and he had to ride in the back of the bus and in separate train cars. Job opportunities were often limited to menial labor and those who wanted to attend college was limited in where they could go. “I’m in my 90s and I have seen what has happened and I have seen the fruits of what Dr. King did,” said Eiland, who attends St. Benedict the African Parish, 340 W. 66th St. Some of those fruits were apparent in his seven children being able to choose what colleges they attended. He’s also witnessed changes in the job market. “I came here [to Chicago] in 1942,” Eiland said. “If you would go to city hall you saw very few people of color there. If they were, they were in janitorial and menial jobs. Those were the transitions that I’ve been able to experience.,” Eiland said. While progress has been made, Eiland said there will always be struggles. “Human nature has not changed from biblical times,” he said. “The things [King] was trying to bring about were the things they were trying to bring about in the Old Testament — that we love one another, that we respect one another and that we all should respect the abilities of each other.” Humanity continues to struggle with those issues, which makes King’s ministry still relevant today, he said.