PHOENIX — Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted will bring a message of healing, reconciliation and encouragement to Catholic African Americans this Sunday in his latest outreach in the wake of last year’s death of George Floyd.

Floyd, a Black man, died in Minneapolis police custody in an incident that sparked a series of nationwide protests, riots and debates about America’s racial issues.

Bishop Olmsted’s message will come Sept. 19 during a pastoral visit to the African American community at St. Pius X Church in Phoenix for the monthly Unity Mass. There, he will confirm worshippers in their faith. Also scheduled to visit are the Supreme Knight of Peter Claver, James K. Ellis, and Bruce D. Sampson, Western States District Deputy. The Knights of Peter Claver is a Catholic lay order dedicated to evangelizing the African American community.

The Mass will begin at noon. The church is located at 809 S. 7th Ave., between Grant Street and East Buckeye Road in Phoenix.

Fr. Andrew McNair on April 18, 2021, at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

“Everyone is very excited,” Fr. Andrew McNair, the Diocese of Phoenix’s Chaplain for the African American Community, said. “He (Bishop Olmsted) cares about this particular community and wants to help us. In light of the tragic events of George Floyd, I am looking forward to it.”

Fr. McNair said he expects the bishop’s message to emphasize the themes of reconciliation, peace and forgiveness while encouraging worshippers to remain faithful followers of Jesus Christ and witnesses for Him in the public square. The past 16 months have been difficult ones for the African American community. While acknowledging “there is a lot of work to do,” Fr. McNair said he is filled with “a sense of hope,” stemming in large part from the bishop’s leadership.

Floyd died while in police custody on a street outside a Minneapolis convenience store May 25, 2020. Officers had been called to the scene with a report of a man attempting to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at the store. Floyd was placed under arrest, and while in custody — lying prone on the ground — was restrained by an officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck. Video taken by civilian bystanders showed Floyd was restrained for over nine minutes despite pleading with the officers, saying that he could not breathe.

The officer who restrained Floyd, 45-year-old Derrick Chauvin, was convicted April 20 of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death and sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison. Three other officers face trial for failing to stop Chauvin’s actions. The three are scheduled to go on trial in 2022. All four officers also face a federal court trial – Chauvin for using excessive force violating Floyd’s civil rights and the others for failing to stop Chauvin or failing to provide medical care to Floyd.

In the days and weeks following Floyd’s death, and until the verdicts, there have been demonstrations, sometimes violent, across the country.

On June 3, 2020, just after the Feast of Pentecost, Bishop Olmsted released a pastoral statement on racism, in which he stated, in part:

“Racism is a sin — it is a direct affront to the dignity of the human person who is a unique, precious gift from God. I unite my voice with the Black community, people of color, and all who are working for an end to mistreatment, discrimination and injustice.

Let us receive the Holy Spirit as the Apostles did and have the courage with God’s grace to do our part to address this evil in society.”

Less than a week later, the bishop, in his homily during a Mass for Forgiveness for the Sin of Racism, said Catholics have a key part to play in overcoming racism.

On July 31, 2020, Bishop Olmsted announced the establishment of a Racial Healing and Reconciliation Commission. The mainly volunteer panel’s purpose is to assist the bishop in identifying where bias and prejudice causes injustice in the Diocese of Phoenix.

“The Racial Healing and Reconciliation Commission will develop recommendations for how we can work together to ensure that our parishes, schools and ministries strengthen all families and communities, so that together we can live out our call to be ‘missionary disciples of Jesus’,” the bishop stated.

A number of committees and task forces have been established by cities across the United States to address racism, while some religious panels have been created to promote racial healing.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has both an anti-racism committee and a domestic justice and human development committee.

Fr. McNair was named to his chaplain’s role by the bishop in April of this year. He also services as Parochial Vicar at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral.