ROME – One Vatican official has warned that violent protests surrounding the killing of George Floyd – whose death took the global stage seemingly overnight, prompting widespread backlash throughout the international community – will only make racism worse, without solving the underlying issues.
“What is happening in the United States and in other parts of the world reveals that racism is truly like a virus…placed in people’s hearts,” Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia told Crux, adding, “If it is not controlled, but is allowed to go free, it becomes a real and true pandemic.”
President of the Vatican’s Academy for Life, Paglia said racism is rooted in both “narcissism” and “individualism,” which are “unfortunately spreading.”
“We must deeply commit ourselves to overcoming it,” he said, but insisted that violence is not the answer.
Referring to biblical passages written by the Apostle Paul, Paglia stressed that “evil is overcome with good, not with another evil. Violence is defeated with non-violence. Not with further violence.”
Pointing to several iconic figures who lead large-scale protests, but in a peaceful manner, he pointed to Dr. Martin Luther King in the United States; Mahatma Ghandi in India; and St. Pope John Paul II, “who forgave the man who shot him.”
“Diversity must enrich us, not destroy us. It must make us richer, not more conflicted,” he said, voicing his hope that “the vaccine of brotherhood is spread throughout the world for a wonderful revolution of a universal fraternity which counters that racism that lurks in the heart.”
Protests erupted in the United States last week after an African American man named George Floyd, 46, died after police officers arrested him and pinned him to the ground after he was accused of attempting to buy cigarettes with a counterfeit bill.
Officers initially argued that Floyd had resisted arrest, however, a video that has gone viral shows Floyd saying “I can’t breathe” while pinned to the ground with an office kneeling on his back and neck. Floyd’s repeated requests for assistance, and the pleas of onlookers for officers to back down, were rebuffed, culminating in Floyd’s death Monday.
A day later, the Minneapolis Police Chief announced that the four officers involved in Floyd’s detainment had been fired and that an FBI investigation had been launched. On Friday, Mike Freeman, Hennepin County attorney, announced that the white officer who pinned Floyd to the ground for 8 minutes and 46 seconds had been charged with third degree murder and manslaughter.
Protests exploded across the nation in the days following Floyd’s death. In some cases, cars have been set on fire, stores broken into and looted, tear gas fired, and one reporter was even blinded in one eye after being struck by a rubber bullet while covering clashes between police and protestors in Minneapolis.
Floyd’s cause has also gone international, sparking protests in several major European and Latin American cities.
Over the weekend, demonstrators gathered in London, Berlin, Paris, Auckland, Copenhagen, Milan, Rio de Janiero, Mexico City, Dublin, Krakow, Toronto, Perth, and a mural was even painted in Floyd’s honor Idlib, Syria.
When it comes to fighting deeply engrained racist attitudes, Paglia said a cultural revolution is needed, especially when racism is evident in the highest tiers of society.
“It’s important that it is studied, and a mentality of solidarity is created at all levels of society, because ignorance is the terrain on which racism is spread most easily,” he said, urging that anti-racist mentalities based on solidarity be taught in schools, so people “as children” learn to look at others without prejudice.
Paglia also stressed the need to take this approach and, “communicate it in the governing classes, to the senior executives, and even to the police, the armed forces, because an antidote to ignorance is awareness.”
A “spiritual jolt” is also needed, he said, and encouraged churches and various religious confessions “intervene more, showing that God is the father of all, and prefers no person over another.”
“I think the Church has a great, very large task. In my view, it must be even more creative, bolder,” he said, insisting that in the current context, the Church must be “a prophetic voice, and one that is stronger, because the desert is becoming more arduous.”
Paglia also called for “a leap of conscience” to be made, “so that the word ‘race’ be banned, and the words ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ be proposed more.” Brotherhood and solidarity, he said, are “the vaccine to combat this racism.”
Terence Floyd, the younger brother of George Floyd, echoed that sentiment himself when he visited the site of his brother’s death Monday, where he chastised those causing violence and property damage.
“I’m outraged too. I get angry and I want to bust some heads too, but my brother wasn’t about that. My brother was about peace,” he said, calling his brother “a gentle giant” and telling protestors to “channel your anger elsewhere, don’t tear up your town.”
“If his own family and blood are not doing it, then why are you? If his own family and blood are trying to be positive about it and go another route to seek justice, then why are you out here tearing up your community?” he said, adding, “Just relax and justice will be served.”
In this regard, Paglia said he believes that “the strength of the Church, of the Gospel, and the message of other religions, must be stronger today, and say to everyone that with violence, racism will increase, it is not destroyed. With violence, hatred is increased, it does not diminish.”
To adequately face the problem, “a greater effort from the Church and from culture at all levels is indispensable,” he said.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen