(Source: Frei Betto, Brazilian liberation theologian and Dominican friar; translation: Novena)

I learned with Christianity, dear George Floyd, that the blood spilled by the martyrs waters the earth and produces fruit in abundance. From here in Brazil, in the south of the world, where a genocide is taking place because of the government’s negligence in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, I thank God for the gift of your life. Your sacrifice was not in vain.

As your 8-year-old daughter Gianna declared, “My Daddy changed the world”.

Beaten, you rose; humiliated, you grew; murdered, you live forever in the memory of all of us who cry out in anger “Enough” with racism.

Before you, millions of black women and men were enslaved, raped, colonised and segregated, considered despicable, inferior, foul beings. Not even the blood of Zumbi dos Palmares and Martin Luther King, cruelly murdered like you, was enough to silence the racists, reduce the extreme violence of the American police and convince families, schools and governments to adopt effective education against prejudice and discrimination.

Now, George, your pain gives courage. The world’s streets are flooded with protests that provoke us to be intolerant of bigots. Crying out in public for rights and respect is more important than maintaining social distancing to save lives. Jesus rightly said that “for those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).

Even in our parliaments, George, politicians take a knee in protest and observe 8.56 minutes of silence in reverence of your memory.

May God forbid that any other knee should kneel on the neck of a black man, an indigenous person, a refugee or an outcast.

I thank you, George, because your sacrifice forces governments to insist less on law enforcement and more on social policies. Now police academies are beginning to review their curricula to introduce classes in ethics, human rights [and] respect when dealing with suspects.

You didn’t choose to be poor and have to work miracles to survive. Nobody chooses that. You were made poor by the system that transforms universal rights like health and education into commodities available only to those who can afford them. Others are left to live a precarious life. Many, uneducated, end up in jails, or for lack of access to health services are prematurely condemned to cemeteries, as is now the case with the pandemic.

Your daughter is right. Your death will change the world. But not as much as we would like.

There will still be white supremacists, hardened racists and even blacks who make apologies for slavery and hate black movements, described as “accursed scum” by Sérgio Camargo, unworthy president of the Palmares Foundation, the main Brazilian institution for the preservation of black consciousness.

Now, George, thanks to you, these people know that, as Chico Buarque sings, “leave my heart in peace / for it is a pot full of sorrow / and any lack of attention / please, don’t / can be the last straw”.

More on Novena on the legacy of George Floyd:

Council for World Mission calls on Christians to “rise up” against “pandemic” of racial injustice

Vincentian Family condemns “very serious sin” of racism, “the complete opposite of faith”

No justice, no peace: Why Catholics fight against institutionalised violence

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

George Floyd’s “I can’t breathe” an expression of the “cry of the poor”, Cardinal Turkson denounces

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


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