Will Pope Francis address the racial injustice that is oppressing Black America, during his visit, such as police brutality and over-incarceration of African American males? Rev. Traci Blackmon of St. Louis is hopeful that he will.
During his stay in the U.S., which began on Tuesday and ends on Sunday, the Pope will visit a school in Harlem and a Philadelphia prison, among other places.
According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Blackmon visited the Vatican in June to discuss the racial tension in the U.S. As pastor of Christ the King United Church of Christ in north St. Louis County, she was one of the most visible religious organizers during the Ferguson protests following the death of Michael Brown last year.
The Pope’s advisors wanted to meet with Blackmon and other grass-roots advocates to better understand the racial tension between African American communities and police. One of the advisors specifically asked about the pool party in a Dallas suburb involving a black bikini-clad teenage girl who was thrown to the ground by a white policeman.
“I was very shocked,” Blackmon said. “It did catch me off guard. And when we were there, (the pool party) had just happened. This wasn’t a case where anyone lost their life, and to ask about it was a way of saying, ‘We are paying attention. We do know what’s going on. And we’re looking deeper than the surface.’’’
She added, “I told them it was indicative of racial discord that permeates America, that’s always been here, and it manifests in various ways in the history of our nation and that we’re at a critical moment.”
Up to this point, Pope Francis has been the most vocal about the environment and global climate change. In June the Vatican released an “encyclical,” a lengthy public letter about climate change—not just for the globe’s 1.2 billion Catholics, but to everyone of any — or no — faith.
“In it, (he) boldly challenges us all to take an honest look inside our hearts and question the foundations of a society that has created wealth for some at the expense of others and “our common home—the planet earth,” Inequality.org reports. He calls for the wealthiest nations to pay their fair share in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and assisting developing countries in building climate resilience and renewable energy.
In the past, the pontiff has also spoken out against income inequality. He urged global leaders to fight growing income inequality in his first major written work as pope. He laid out the platform for his papacy in the 84-page document last November, attacking the “idolatry of money” and calling on politicians to guarantee all citizens “dignified work, education and healthcare.”
The pontiff’s planned meeting at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic School in Harlem on Friday will likely not be the venue to discuss race, as questions will be vetted and presented by third and fourth graders.
On Sunday morning, the pope visits Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. Inmates at a neighboring prison built the chair that the Pope will sit in. While much attention has been given to the chair, prison reform advocates hope Francis will discuss America’s flawed criminal justice system.
The pope will have a perfect opportunity to open up about Ferguson and other cities where racial tension has dominated the news on Thursday when he speaks to the Senate and House. During the joint session, he will make the first-ever address to Congress, which will broadcast live on the Capitol's West Front. This speech will be one of four he will hold in English. The remaining 14 speeches on his U.S. trip will be in his native Spanish.
In 1985, Pope John Paul II, apologized to African leaders for the involvement of white Christians in the slave trade, and later called racism “a plague” on the United States during a 1999 trip to St. Louis. Leaders of the Black Lives Matters movement expect Pope Francis to comment on the obvious lack of progress in communities of color two decades later.
“It would mean a lot if he used some of his time in the United States to address police brutality and racial injustice,” said Shaun King a leader in the movement. “I’d stop short of calling it a wasted trip if he didn’t, but it would be a disappointment,” he said.
“The history of Pope Francis’s remarks indicates that he wouldn’t come to the United States and not address the issue that’s most pressing. And here, that’s race.” Blackmon said.