ROME — Pope Francis said on Wednesday that he was watching the “disturbing social unrest” in the United States with “great concern,” adding his voice to those of other world leaders who have spoken up about the days of unrest across the United States after the death of a black man in Minneapolis.
“We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life,” the pope said in his weekly general audience.
He said he was praying for “the repose of the soul of George Floyd and of all those others who have lost their lives as a result of the sin of racism.”
The pope was the latest religious or government leader to react to the turmoil in the United States, where, for more than a week, tens of thousands of people have staged daily peaceful protests and impassioned marches across the country. The looting that has followed demonstrations in recent days has somewhat tapered off.
The protests erupted after Mr. Floyd, a 46-year-old black security guard, died after his neck was pinned under a white police officer’s knee for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis last week. The officer has been fired and charged with second-degree murder, and three other officers were charged with aiding and abetting murder. The killing, captured on video, was the spark for the outpouring of anger and anguish expressed in demonstrations in more than 140 cities.
The pope’s comments came a day after Christian leaders criticized President Trump for using two religious sites in Washington for what they said were acts of political theater. On Monday, Mr. Trump posed holding a Bible outside the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, and on Tuesday he and the first lady spent about 10 minutes inside the St. John Paul II National Shrine.
The pope called for “national reconciliation and peace” and said the recent violence on U.S. streets was “self-destructive and self-defeating.” Like his predecessors, Pope Francis has often used his weekly addresses to the faithful — a general audience each Wednesday and a prayer on Sundays — to weigh in on global matters and issues of social justice. He has tackled subjects like human trafficking and migration, climate change and its impact on the poor, and access to universal health care, which have been among the cornerstones of his papacy.
The pope’s condemnation of racism and calls for justice in the aftermath of Mr. Floyd’s death echoed comments from other current and former leaders.
Former President Jimmy Carter
Mr. Carter on Wednesday issued a statement in support of the protests but condemning the violence.
“Rosalynn and I are pained by the tragic racial injustices and consequent backlash across our nation in recent weeks,” he said. “Our hearts are with the victims’ families and all who feel hopeless in the face of pervasive racial discrimination and outright cruelty. We all must shine a spotlight on the immorality of racial discrimination. But violence, whether spontaneous or consciously incited, is not a solution.
“As a white male of the South, I know all too well the impact of segregation and injustice to African Americans. As a politician, I felt a responsibility to bring equity to my state and our country.”
“We need a government as good as its people, he said, “and we are better than this.”
Former President George W. Bush
On Tuesday, Mr. Bush praised peaceful protesters and called for empathy for people seeking justice.
“Laura and I are anguished by the brutal suffocation of George Floyd and disturbed by the injustice and fear that suffocate our country,” he said in a statement. “It remains a shocking failure that many African Americans, especially young African-American men, are harassed and threatened in their own country.”
He said the “doctrine and habits of racial superiority, which once nearly split our country, still threaten our union.”
Former President Barack Obama
Mr. Obama, who has released two statements about the death of Mr. Floyd and plans to hold a forum on Wednesday afternoon, said millions of people were experiencing a shared anguish.
“It’s natural to wish for life ‘to just get back to normal’ as a pandemic and economic crisis upend everything around us,” he said on Friday. “But we have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly ‘normal’ — whether it’s while dealing with the health care system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street, or just watching birds in a park.”
Mr. Obama commented again on Monday, in an essay published on Medium, after the weekend’s protests expanded and turned violent in some cases.
“Let’s not excuse violence, or rationalize it, or participate in it,” he said. “If we want our criminal justice system, and American society at large, to operate on a higher ethical code, then we have to model that code ourselves.”
He also planned to hold an online forum on Wednesday evening.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada
When asked on Tuesday what he thought of Mr. Trump’s call for military action against American protesters and the tear-gassing of peaceful demonstrators to make way for a photo-op, Mr. Trudeau paused at his lectern for 21 uncomfortable, televised seconds.
“It is a time for us as Canadians to recognize that we too have our challenges,” he said, adding, “There is systemic racism in Canada.”
Catherine Porter contributed reporting from Toronto.