The President of the Pontifical Academy for Life has condemned racism as a “cultural virus” which has spread throughout the world and must be eradicated.
Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia was commenting on the death of George Floyd, while in police custody in Minneapolis and the subsequent protests throughout the US.
“I would compare [racism] to Covid-19,” said the Italian archbishop, “but it is a virus of the spirit, a cultural virus that, if not isolated, spreads quickly.”
The late Mr Floyd, 46, was arrested by police on suspicion of forgery. Once he was handcuffed, a white police officer pinned him down on the street and put his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck for eight minutes.
A widely-circulated video shows Mr Floyd repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe” as he appears to lose consciousness and was later declared dead at a hospital.
Responding to the tragedy, Archbishop Paglia says that racism can only be defeated by people caring for each other. “Today we must start a revolution of brotherhood,” he said.
“We are all brothers and sisters. Brotherhood is a promise that is lacking in modern times.
“In my opinion, the true strength that supports us in our weakness is brotherhood and solidarity. And just as it defeats the coronavirus, it also defeats racism.
“The fight against racism,” he added, “[is done] not with violence but in the style of Martin Luther King Jr: with words, with culture, with faith, with humanism. It is fought the same way we fight against the coronavirus.
“It’s not enough to remain silent,” he continued.
“To prevent the virus of racism from multiplying, those [who oppose racism] must also multiply.”
Archbishop Paglia said he believed Pope Francis should consider writing a document that addresses the subject of racism, a problem that exists “all over the world”.
He also noted that the Pope’s 2019 letter marking the 25th anniversary of the Pontifical Academy for Life reflects on many of the same divisions that exist in the world today.
In the letter, titled ‘The Human Community’, the Holy Father said the sense of fraternity between people and nations has been weakened by the erosion of mutual trust and “remains the unkept promise of modernity”.
Pope Francis wrote: “Mutual distrust between individuals and peoples is being fed by an inordinate pursuit of self-interest and intense competition that can even turn violent.”
Members of the US bishops’ conference said the incident is a “wake-up call” and the issue of racism needs to be addressed by each of us in a “spirit of determined conversion”.
They stated: “Racism is not a thing of the past [sic] it is a real and present danger that must be met head on.”