After ‘taking a knee,’ Texan bishop gets a call from pope

The phrase ‘taking a knee’ refers to a gesture many professional athletes around the US have been making in public to protest racial injustice and police brutality.

The gesture has spread. Lately, even police officers showing solidarity have knelt before those protesting the May 25 killing of George Floyd, who died after being filmed pinned to the ground with a knee to his neck, constrained by a police officer.

On 1 June Bishop Mark Seitz from El Paso joined with the gesture, ‘taking a knee’ during a rally. He was the first Catholic bishop to do so.

Holding a sign that read “Black Lives Matter”,  he led a silent prayer for eight minutes and 46 seconds – the length of time police officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on George Floyd’s neck.

Seitz says he was nervous about making the gesture.

“It’s difficult to know what a bishop should do. But I’ve had some excellent advisers — people and priests. I tried to listen to them, listened to my heart.”

“Sometimes, you just have to take the leap into the unknown.”

Seitz’s action was rewarded last Wednesday, when he received an unexpected phone call.

It was the Pope’s secretary, who said the Holy Father was on the line.

Francis congratulated him for speaking out, Seitz said.

Francios also said he had called Archbishop Jose Gomez, the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, to convey support and solidarity during the civil unrest.

“I told him I felt it was very important at this time to show our solidarity to those who are suffering,” Seitz says.

“I told him I had just come from Mass at which I was praying for him and I always do. He thanked me and said that whenever we celebrate Mass, we are praying together, he where he is and me at the border.”

Seitz says the phone call shows Francis “is aware of what’s happening…and is anxious for the church to be responsive in a pastoral way … in solidarity with those who have experienced racial discrimination.”

After the call, Seitz wrote an essay reaffirming his commitment to racial justice.

“Frankly, civil rights are not enough. That’s the minimum and clearly, we’re not there yet,” he wrote.

He also reflected of an image he saw on video of “a young white woman at a protest near the White House who put her body in front of a young kneeling black teenager as police officers in riot gear approached.”

“As Jesus said, ‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

“It’s a scene of solidarity and self-giving that has played out across the country so many times in the last week.

“Here in El Paso there were two young police officers who knelt down … during our protest and it helped diffuse some tension. There is something profoundly eucharistic about that and I’m so inspired by our young people. They are teaching us something.”


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