George Floyd’s “I can’t breathe” is an expression of the “cry of the poor”, Vatican cardinal Peter Turkson has denounced.

– “Every human being requires a certain minimum of social conditions to enable him to live happily”

Turkson raised the alarm on the murder in the US of Floyd – an unarmed black man who succumbed May 25 to police violence after being tortured during an arrest over suspected forgery – in an online panel discussion last Friday on the theme: “Laudato Si’ After Five Years: Hearing the Cry of the Earth and the Cry of the Poor”.

Some 1,600 people around the world attended the virtual event, which began with prayers, after a “tragic week”, for “all those who suffer from acts of racism and injustice”.

The Prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development linked Floyd’s murder and the subsequent protests that have paralysed cities in the US and beyond to Pope Francis’ call in his 2015 encyclical on care for our common home for the world to turn to an “ecology of nature, ecology of the human person, ecology of society, ecology of peace”, in Turkson’s words.

Highlighting the fact that Francis, in Laudato si’, had built on “a lot of teaching” from previous popes, the cardinal traced Francis’ idea of an “integral ecology” down through popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Turkson explained that where Paul defined “ecology” as “a set of conditions which constitute an environment which enables something to thrive”, John Paul stressed the moral conditions in society necessary for the good life and Benedict highlighted that “society itself also has an environment that needs to be respected”.

All those papal teachings culminated in Francis’ idea of the “cry of the poor”, the cardinal went on, affirming that that weeping of society’s least can be heard when “what they need to constitute their thriving, prosperous environment, is denied them”.

Floyd’s death throes and the subsequent protests over systemic injustice and police brutality are “a cry for people to recognise that every human being requires a certain minimum of social conditions to enable him to live and live successfully and happily”, Turkson insisted, adding: “That’s what social ecology is all about”.

– The need for comprehensive Christian non-violence

How then are Catholics to attend to the cry of the poor as voiced by Floyd and other victims of this “capitalism that kills”, in Pope Francis’ phrase?

Cardinal Turkson said the answer to that question lies in the idea of Christian non-violence, which is undergoing a resurgence in the current pontificate.

“Christian non-violence is not only when you [do not] hold a gun or a knife to the throat of somebody. Christian non-violence is also when you do not do violence to people’s dignity, people’s rights”, the cardinal explained.

– Disgust in the worldwide Church over “a sin that cries out to heaven for justice”

The murder of Floyd has provoked anger and disgust in large sections of the Catholic Church in the US and worldwide, with the US Bishops’ president, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles deploring the “senseless and brutal” killing as “a sin that cries out to heaven for justice”.

The World Council of Churches, too, decried the “hateful and deadly prejudices” that led to Floyd’s death and have now bubbled over into the nationwide protests.

The president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, meanwhile lamented the “virus” of racism that has taken root not only in the US but “all over the world”.

More on Novena on the George Floyd murder:

Floyd killing: Vatican official calls for “revolution of brotherhood” to fight “virus” of racism

World Council of Churches expresses “revulsion” at George Floyd murder, calls for “full accountability”


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.