Bishops across Canada have condemned racism and encouraged peaceful protest amid the global wave of outrage at the killing of George Floyd while in police custody.
“I was sickened by it, and have since found myself struggling to comprehend, without success, what in the thinking of those officers lay behind doing such a horrible thing,” Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith wrote in his weekly blog.
“What kind of mindset would lead to the apparently wilful termination of another man’s life or dare to claim justification for the pulverization of the victim’s dignity? Both the act and the way of thinking that led to it beggar belief.
Archbishop Smith added: “Implicit within the scenes unfolding in the lives of our neighbours in the United States is a call to everyone everywhere to a serious examination of conscience – individually and collectively. How do I look upon another person who is in any respect different than me? Why?”
Racism is not just an American problem, Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller wrote in a pastoral letter for Sunday June 7, drawing attention to the suffering of Indigenous Canadians.
“The fight against racism requires a personal change of heart. What is needed is a genuine interior conversion — the long road of conversion that will compel personal change and systemic social reform.”
A statement from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops called racism, “the denigration of humankind, the denial of God-given rights.”
“The Bishops and Catholic faithful of Canada join with Pope Francis in lamenting all who have lost their lives and suffered because of exclusion, racism and violence which are antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” the bishops wrote in a June 8 statement.
“We invite all Canadians to pray for all those who have lost their lives as a result of the sin of racism, to work for reconciliation and healing, as well as for peace and justice in our land and throughout the world.”
The bishops’ statements followed the May 25 killing of Floyd, an African American, while in the custody of Minneapolis police. A video showed Floyd died while a white officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes. Derek Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder.
Cardinal Thomas Collins, archbishop of Toronto, emphasized the reality of racism in our society.
“Racism knows no boundaries and it remains a present-day challenge that must not be ignored,” Collins said in a June 5 statement.
“It is important that … we authentically listen to the plight of those who have been victims of racism, intolerance and violence. I firmly believe on these occasions that we should all listen more than we speak, in order to gain a better understanding and appreciation of the suffering of others.”
Ottawa-Cornwall Archbishop Terry Prendergast called for “respect for the personal dignity and life of each person created in God’s image,” in a June 5 statement.
Protests in Ottawa organized by the No Peace Until Justice Coalition drew Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and several of his cabinet ministers out to kneel in silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck.
“I invite you (to) speak about and to pray for the healing of relationships between people of different races and to help bring about the elimination of expressions or gestures of racism wherever these are found, including in Canada,” said Prendergast.
In his weekly video message, Regina Archbishop Don Bolen compared Floyd’s death to Jesus’ crucifixion.
“It is above all in His death on the cross — which was death by asphyxia — that the Lord ultimately witnessed to how the deepest transformation is brought about by God. George Floyd too died by asphyxiation, and the Lord who invites us to stand with the crucified in our day summons us to solidarity,” Bolen said.
Bolen was quick to point out racism does not respect boundaries.
“Here in Canada, here in Saskatchewan, we too struggle with an embedded racism,” Bolen said. “Why is it that our Indigenous people are on the losing end of so many societal indicators of well-being?”
Bolen also had a question for Christians.
“How is it that our churches, inspired by the Gospel of the crucified Christ, are so often blind to the suffering and injustice, humiliation and wounds of our sisters and brothers?”
— With files from Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News