Lenore Rutherford, The Union Democrat

Music and passionate speeches filled the Sonora High auditorium Sunday in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

Guest speaker was Roy Bourgeois, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee and former missionary priest who founded the School of the Americas Watch to expose atrocities committed by graduates of the U.S.-backed School of the Americas. Many of the school's graduates have been linked to murders and kidnappings throughout Latin America.

Bourgeois drew several spontaneous rounds of applause during his speech and a standing ovation at the end.

He urged the 100-plus attendees Sunday to join his fight by signing petitions to close the school, telling them of atrocities he saw committed by American-trained soldiers against the poor in such countries as Bolivia and El Salvador.

He also pushed for the ordination of women priests in the Catholic Church, a stance for which he was expelled from the priesthood and his own Maryknoll Missionary Community in November.

"I have to speak clearly and boldly against sexism, racism and homophobia," he said. "It is wrong and immoral, and in the end, it will never be the way to the divine."

He said there is a price for standing up for what one believes is right, but if you don't stand up, you will be tormented.

He said the Catholics' trying to stop the ordination of women who have felt the calling to the priesthood is the same as trying to stopabolition, women's suffrage and same-sex marriage.

Also honored at the event was 97-year-old Del Berg, who has been a social justice activist since the 1930s, when he was part of the Friends of Abraham Lincoln Brigade, fighting against Francisco Franco's nationalists during the Spanish Civil War.

Joan Lofstrand, of Sonora, was one of many who attend Sunday's celebration.

"I am thrilled with this program," she said. "I come every year."

Pat Cervelli, a member of the committee that puts on the celebration, said she feels Martin Luther King Jr. was a genius.

"He is under-appreciated," she said. "We try to get his profound message of activism and social justice out because it's as relevant today as it ever was."

Winners of the annual Martin Luther King art and essay contest were announced by contest chairwoman Susan Tapper. Ninety-three students participated.

Dominick Restivo was the sole winner in the art contest for a song he wrote.

Lauren Dempsey placed first in the essay contest. Trey Peterson Wood placed second, and Wyatt Oakes placed third. Honorable mention in the essay contest went to Mariah Graham, Chase Johnston, LaVale West and Tonja Woodward.