The protest against oppression, exclusion and unjust suffering is like “the DNA of the biblical message”, an Austrian bishop has said.

– Bishop of Feldkirch: “Racism robs people of air to breathe”

Bishop of Feldkirch Benno Elbs was writing June 13 in the Vorarlberger Nachrichten newspaper.

In his opinion piece, Elbs, 59 years old and Feldkirch bishop since 2013, wrote that the biblical God is the God who puts an end to wars, leads to freedom from slavery and helps people to make a new start in every situation with which they are faced in life.

The motive for Elbs’ reflection this Saturday was the racism which he said “is hitting us with new force these days” in the wake of the soul-searching in the US and around the world provoked by the murder of unarmed black man George Floyd at the hands of white Minneapolis police.

Echoing Floyd’s last words that have now become a rallying cry for anti-racism protesters the world over, Elbs said racism is a poison “that robs people of air to breathe” and said that the fight now must be for justice for people who are “unjustly discriminated against, marginalised, even killed because of the colour of their skin”.

Bishop Elbs also had choice words for US President Donald Trump, who at the height of the George Floyd protests chose to drive out demonstrators from a Washington park with tear gas just so he could have his picture taken with a Bible in front of a church damaged in the unrest.

If Trump actually reads the Bible above and beyond having his picture taken with it, “he should also have an open ear for the voices of those who have been demonstrating around the world since then”, Elbs counselled the president.

In his column, the Feldkirch bishop also urged citizens to work constantly for the rights of equality and human dignity, and not to take their realisation for granted just because they are enshrined in countries’ constitutions.

“These days we are reminded anew of the responsibility we all have for the success of social coexistence”, Elbs warned.

The bishop also pointed to Pope Francis’ encyclical on the care for the Common Home, Laudato si’, as a roadmap for these days, in the sense in which that document’s stress on the interconnectedness of things is becoming more and more evident and the Pope’s “integral ecology” is “closely connected with the concept of human dignity”.

“The fate of people on other continents also concerns us”, Elbs insisted.

The Feldkirch bishop explained that going forward it is essential that people take responsibility individually, locally and internationally since “we are all one human family”.

As qualities for a healthy future, Elbs pleaded for empathy and concern for both the present and for the needs of generations to come, insisting that “this goal should unite us all”.

– Bishop of Innsbruck: “God has given us all the breath of life – regardless of skin colour”

Another Austrian bishop joining in last week on the anti-racism protests sweeping the globe was Bishop of Innsbruck Hermann Glettler, who ‘took a knee’ last June 8 along with 4,000 other participants in a demonstration in the cathedral city pleading for global fraternity.

“The virus of racism can only be starved with the fresh air of encounter, respect for each person, appreciation, patience and reconciliation”, Glettler told protesters at the event, drawing on his twenty years of experience as pastor to the African Catholic community in Graz.

Again echoing Floyd’s now sadly-famous last words, the Innsbruck bishop stressed that “God has given us all the breath of life – regardless of skin colour, gender, cultural background and religious affiliation”.

Glettler pleaded with protesters for a worldwide “we” of global brother- and sisterhood that excludes no-one, because diversity is God’s “gift” and “we are all daughters and sons of one heavenly Father”.

Lamenting Floyd’s “horrible” death, Glettler urged demonstrators, too, to be “vigilant” against the “life-threatening viruses” of “racism, contempt for one’s neighbour, and the non-recognition of the equal dignity of all human beings”.

While there may be no vaccine for the “virus” of racism, the bishop said, it is also true that the disease of discrimination cannot tolerate “fresh air”.

“That is precisely why we must air all areas of our lives as often as possible: with the fresh air of respect for one another, with the fresh air of attentive encounters, with the fresh air of reconciliation and patience”, Glettler clamoured.

The bishop concluded with a prayer: “God, give us all your purifying, reconciling and invigorating fresh air, we need it now more urgently than ever!”

More on Novena on the Church’s fight against racism:

Portuguese bishop stresses: “One cannot participate in the Eucharist and be racist”

“Not simply an American phenomenon”: Irish Bishops call on citizens to “examine our own consciences” on racism

Opinion: “How can we not see the relationship between how we treat others, the violence of our consumption and our colonial heritage?”

World Council of Churches clamours: “White supremacist business as usual is no longer acceptable”

There are George Floyds in Europe too: French bishop deplores racism, “ghettoisation” of minorities

Pax Christi slams “sins of white supremacy and systemic violence” in US, world


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.