.- Pope Francis met with five NBA players at the Vatican Monday to discuss their efforts to combat social and economic injustice in the United States.
Milwaukee Bucks shooting guards Kyle Korver and Sterling Brown were a part of the delegation, along with Orlando Magic power forward Jonathan Isaac, the Memphis Grizzlies’ Anthony Tolliver, and Marco Belinelli of the San Antonio Spurs.
The basketball players met with the pope privately Nov. 23 in the papal library of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace. Three executives from the players’ union, the National Basketball Players Association, also took part in the meeting.
The pope commended the athletes for being examples of teamwork. “You’re champions … giving that good example of teamwork but always remaining humble ... and preserving your own humanity,” AP reported the pope as saying.
Pope Francis requested the meeting last week because he wanted to learn more about the American athletes’ social justice advocacy, and the players’ union quickly scheduled an overnight flight Sunday, according to ESPN.
Following the death of George Floyd in May, NBA players mobilized to raise awareness of the police brutality affecting Black communities and the broader issues of inequality.
Players from six NBA teams also called off their postseason games in August in protest after the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin -- a decision that led other professional sports teams to do likewise. Among those players were Brown and Korver.
Brown recounted the experience to the pope. “It was raw and emotional for our team,” he said.
Pope Francis wrote about racism in his most recent encyclical “Fratelli tutti,” in which he compared racism to a virus that “quickly mutates and, instead of disappearing, goes into hiding, and lurks in waiting.”
The pope also spoke out about racism in the U.S. during a livestreamed audience in June in which he said that he was praying for the soul of George Floyd and for all who lost their lives “because of the sin of racism.”
Pope Francis also called Archbishop José Gomez, president of the U.S. bishops conference, the same day to thank the American bishops for the pastoral tone of the Church’s response to the demonstrations across the country.
“We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life. At the same time, we have to recognize that the violence of recent nights is self-destructive and self-defeating. Nothing is gained by violence and so much is lost,” Pope Francis said via livestream June 3.
“Let us pray for the comfort of families and friends who are heartbroken, and pray for national reconciliation and the peace we yearn for.”
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