Pope Francis leads his weekly general audience from the papal library in the Apostolic Palace. CNS photo/Vatican Media

Editorial: Pope’s voice needed

  • June 11, 2020

The cancer of racism is too widespread and too entrenched for one man to remedy alone, but if any one man could command international attention and speak with moral authority on the issue it would be Pope Francis.

So we are intrigued by a proposal from the president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life who believes the Pope should expand his list of respected essays by authoring a papal document on racism.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, speaking in Rome, called racism “a virus of the spirit, a cultural virus that, if not isolated, spreads quickly.” This problem is experienced “all over the world,” he said, which makes it an issue worthy of the Pope’s intellectual and moral scrutiny.

The archbishop’s comments came as thousands of people marched in dozens of American cities, and cities around the world, after George Floyd, an African American, was killed by a white police officer during what should have been a routine arrest for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill.

He died with an officer’s knee crushing his neck to the pavement for almost nine minutes. His dying words — “I can’t breathe” — became the lament of an angry nation at protests denouncing police brutality and racism.

Racism is a stain on humanity that can only be cleansed when people everywhere say yes to a moral self audit and a commitment to genuinely care for one another. There is nothing novel about this formula. It’s what many popes have preached and those sentiments even form a key component in the formula Pope Francis proposed to save the planet in Laudato Si’, his ground-breaking encyclical on the environment.

Reversing engrained and harmful attitudes that are destroying the natural world demand “a bold cultural revolution,” he wrote. Likewise, nothing short of a bold cultural revolution is demanded to overpower racism.

Laudato Si’, with its message about how all of humanity is interconnected, cemented the credentials of Pope Francis as a voice for the planet. That voice would be heeded now if it addressed racism. The issues may be different but the solutions are strikingly similar. Each begins by rooting out sinful behaviours that have infected society and then cultivating attitudes founded on morality, caring, tolerance and solidarity.

America may be the epicentre of racial conflict but racism is a global plague. Canada is certainly not without sin, nor is Church history without stains. But the modern Church is multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-national. It should embrace a leadership role in this virtuous cause to build world harmony.

The Pope’s forthright reflections five years ago on ecology, addressed to people of all nations, cultures and faiths, opened eyes and inspired conversations and programs worldwide. A similar awakening is demanded now for race relations.

So we agree with Archbishop Paglia. A reflection from Pope Francis would be a good place to start.

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