When the monsignor in the pink room said he wanted to talk about the pool party, Traci Blackmon realized Pope Francis was serious about racial justice in America.
It was June, Vatican City. Blackmon, a St. Louis County reverend who was one of the most visible religious organizers during the Ferguson protests following the death of Michael Brown, had just arrived in Rome to discuss the racial tension roiling the United States. The pope’s advisers, in anticipation of his first trip to the United States this month, had wanted to meet with grass-roots advocates who could explain the country’s fraught relationship with race. So Blackmon went to the Vatican expecting to talk basics — slavery, Jim Crow, Ferguson.
But then, according to two people who were present in the meeting, the Missouri reverend walked into a room painted pink to meet Monsignor Peter Brian Wells, the assessor for general affairs of the secretariat of state. Wells wanted to know about the pool party where an onlooker had recorded a white cop wrestling to the ground a black 14-year-old girl in a bikini in the Dallas suburbs.
“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.’ ”
That discussion, which Blackmon said was intended to prepare Pope Francis for his trip to the United States, marks some of the clearest evidence yet that the pontiff may address topics of racial justice during his trip here next week. There’s already wide belief that Francis will advocate for climate change, inequality and broader protections for immigrants, but speculation is mounting that Pope Francis could also wade into the contentious issue of race in America.
If so, it would end Francis’s silence on black America. Francis harshly criticized U.S. border policies last summer at the height of the unaccompanied minor crisis at the Texas border, calling them indicative of “racist and xenophobic attitudes.” And yet Francis, who often speaks broadly about global racism, hasn’t specifically addressed the racial tension in the United States that has inflamed debate over police shootings, mass incarceration and urban decay in African American communities.
But prominent bishops predict that could change next week. “I suspect what will come up will be the challenges of racial harmony,” said Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, last month at a Philadelphia conference after fielding a question about whether the pope will speak about gun control. “And being just to people, especially to people who are living in very poor circumstances, I think that will come up.”
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, the first black president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called the economic and educational divide between black and and white communities an “injustice that cries out for a response that is both overdue and necessary.” He added: “I sincerely hope that Pope Francis does strongly exhort us in the U.S.A. to continue our efforts to bring about a greater spirit and atmosphere of racial harmony and justice in our nation.”
Last Updated on Tuesday, 22 September 2015 14:03