EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Bishop Mark Seitz, the leader of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso, says he felt somewhat overwhelmed when he received a phone call from Pope Francis’ personal secretary.
“The Holy Father would like to speak with you,” she said. “Would you like to speak with him in Italian or Spanish?”
“Español,” replied the bishop, who admits his Italian is limited and who still wasn’t completely sure the person with whom he was talking was being serious.
“You’re not expecting to talk to the leader of a billion-plus Catholics,” Seitz said in a taped interview provided by the diocese.
Before long, Seitz was on the line with Pope Francis.
The pope wanted to say he was grateful for Seitz’s response on behalf of the church to the death of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis.
Seitz and other clergy held a prayer on Monday at Memorial Park, where the previous night hundreds gathered to peacefully protest Floyd’s death before the night took a sour turn when some of the people clashed with the police.
El Paso Police say some of the protesters attempted to box-in officers, began throwing bottles, and even spray painted vehicles before EPPD’s Tactical Unit deployed gas and non-lethal rounds into the remaining crowd. That led to an hourslong standoff.
A second protest was planned for Monday at the park, but it never materialized.
Still, Seitz offered his services. In fact, the bishop also led a silent prayer the lasted 8 minutes and 43 seconds, the amount of time former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin allegedly held his knee to the back of the neck of Floyd, who later died.
“I expressed to the Holy Father that I felt it was imperative to show our solidarity to those who are suﬀering,” Seitz said.
Seitz said the pope is reaching out to people who are willing to demand change and say, “This should never happen again.”
“When it comes to racism, clearly this is a sin that causes division. And it is against the will of God for humanity,” Seitz said.
The diocese says the bishop also responded by telling the pope how honored he is to serve the people of the Borderland.
“For me, 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 protest,” Seitz said.