Catholic Bishop Mark Seitz had no idea that his act of solidarity in El Paso, Texas, would be met with a phone call of gratitude from his boss, Pope Francis.
With eyes closed, masks covering their faces, white roses in hand and handwritten signs that read “Black Lives Matter,” Seitz and 12 other priests from the Diocese of El Paso knelt in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds on Monday.
They were praying in silence for George Floyd, a black man who died in the custody of Minneapolis police after an officer knelt on his neck for that same amount of time.
“Frankly, what I did and what I have said is only a very small way to take part in what so many are doing in their peaceful protests,” Seitz said.
Two days after the clergy’s prayer, Seitz had just finished celebrating Mass when he got a call on his cellphone from the pontiff himself.
In Spanish, Francis told Seitz how grateful he was for Seitz’s response to Floyd’s death.
“Through me, he’s expressing his unity with everyone who is willing to step out and say this needs to change,” Seitz said. “This should never happen again. Wherever there is a lack of respect for human beings, where there’s a judgment based on the color of their skin, this has to be rooted out.
“Whether it’s in law enforcement, in business, in government, in any aspect of our society, this has to change. And now we know very clearly that the Holy Father is making this his prayer.”
During Pope Francis’ weekly Angelus prayer at the Vatican on Wednesday, he addressed Floyd by name in a “relatively rare” move for the Pope, according to John Allen, CNN’s senior Vatican analyst.
Francis called Floyd’s death “tragic” and said he is praying for him and “all those others who have lost their lives as a result of the sin of racism.”