Pope Francis has backed the fight of US National Basketball Association players for racial equality and social justice.

– Stars “honoured and inspired” to share struggle with pontiff

The morning of this November 23 a delegation from the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) met with the pontiff in the papal library of the Vatican Apostolic Palace, the NBPA confirmed in a statement.

At the heart of the meeting today, the NBPA said, were players’ “individual and collective efforts addressing social and economic injustice and inequality occurring in their communities”.

Along with NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts, Executive Director of the NBPA Foundation Sherrie Deans and NBPA Chief of International Relations Matteo Zuretti, in attendance at this morning’s papal audience were the players Marco Belinelli, Sterling Brown, Jonathan Isaac, Kyle Korver and Anthony Tolliver.

ESPN reported that the players and their union have been active in bringing attention to police brutality and racial injustice, including through taking a knee before games and painting “Black Lives Matter” along court sidelines.

A number of the players meeting the Pope today have also boycotted NBA games in protest at the police brutality which Brown has even suffered in person, having been thrown to the ground and tasered in 2018 as eight policemen arrested him over a suspected parking violation.

Most of the NBA stars in the Vatican today have also worn on their jerseys racial justice slogans such as “Say Their Names”, “Equality” and “Enough”.

“We are extremely honoured to have had this opportunity to come to the Vatican and share our experiences with Pope Francis”, Korver was quoted as saying. “His openness and eagerness to discuss these issues was inspiring and a reminder that our work has had a global impact and must continue moving forward”.

“Today’s meeting was an incredible experience”, Tolliver added. “With the Pope’s support and blessing, we are excited to head into this next season reinvigorated to keep pushing for change and bringing our communities together”.

“This meeting validates the power of our players’ voices”, said NBPA Executive Director Roberts.

“That one of the most influential leaders in the world sought to have a conversation with them demonstrates the influence of their platforms. I remain inspired by our players’ continued commitment to serve and support our community”.

– Pope speaks with EU Council President

Also on Monday, President of the European Council Charles Michel confirmed on Twitter that he had spoken with the Pope by telephone to discuss the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and also against religious fanaticism.

“During my call with @Pontifex this morning we discussed how to tackle #COVID19 from a multilateral perspective – addressing needs of the most vulnerable”, Michel wrote, adding that he and the Pope “also examined continued fight against religious hatred and radicalisation, promoting interfaith and inter-cultural dialogue”.

Michel last spoke with the Pope on May 11, when according to the European Council President the pair discussed the need for “a determined Europe that leads [the] charge against #COVID19“.

“Caring societies must act in a spirit of global cooperation & join forces on vaccines & treatments available to everyone and everywhere… We support our most affected partners, especially in Africa”, Michel said at the time.

Michel and the Pope met in person on November 25 2014 when the-then Prime Minister of Belgium welcomed the pontiff on his visit to the European Parliament and the Council of Europe.

Michel was also present in the Vatican on May 6, 2016 on the occasion of the award to Pope Francis of the Charlemagne Prize.

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