Cardinal Peter Turkson on Wednesday decried the existence of racism around the world, urging people to seek justice and fraternity, and to forgive those who have hurt them or others.
Speaking to Vatican News June 3, the Ghanaian cardinal said racism was a widespread social phenomenon, and could be found not only in the United States but in many other parts of the world.
“For us as a Church, it goes against the basic thing we believe about the human person right from Creation. We are created in the image and likeness of God. Every person is imbued with human dignity that is precious in the sight of God, which doesn’t come from any human person,” he said.
Turkson responded to questions about racism in the context of widespread protests taking place in the U.S. after the death of George Floyd in police custody. Some protests have turned to nights of rioting, and conflicts with police. At least five people have died amid the protests.
The cardinal, who is the prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, spoke about justice as a “positive virtue.”
“Justice is actually the mending of relationships, the restoration of ties. In a situation like this, the cry for justice means the cry against what hurts brotherhood, what keeps brotherhood from happening,” he said.
“When we have situations that go radically against human dignity, that stymy it or kill it, it becomes a big source of concern,” he continued.
Turkson pointed out two examples of acts of injustice toward God and man which took place soon after creation.
“The first was disobedience of God’s word. The second was the killing of a brother,” he said, referencing Cain’s murder of his brother Abel. “The first instance of violence in the human person is the killing of a brother.”
In the video of the May 25 arrest of George Floyd, an officer with the Minneapolis Police Department can be seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck for several minutes after he was taken into custody. Floyd could be heard saying “I can’t breathe.” He died soon after.
In the face of racism, the Church must promote the dignity of the human person, Turkson said in the interview.
“It is in this context,” he stated, “that the President of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, reflecting on this situation, says that the riots in U.S. cities reflect the justified frustration of millions of brothers and sisters who, even today, experience humiliation, indignity, unequal opportunity only because of the color of their skin.”
The cardinal also noted the Catholic Church’s praise for calls by George Floyd’s brother for non-violent civil action, and said: “I would add to the call of non-violence also the call to forgiveness. This, I think, is the way we can dignify the memory of George Floyd.”
The cardinal also urged bishops, priests, and other Catholic leaders in the United States to unite in prayer, especially in the many cities experiencing violence, proposing that they hold an ecumenical or interreligious prayer event in an open park.
“As a Catholic Church, that’s what we can do: pray for George now. And it would be great if there could be some organization of a big prayer event to bring people together,” he added. “It would give them the chance to express their pent-up anger, but in a way that is wholesome, in a way that is religious, in a way that is healing.”