March 21 (UPI) -- Pope Francis condemned racism on Sunday, comparing it to a "virus" that changes and persists throughout time.
The pope did not cite any particular instance of racism, but his comments come after a gunman opened fire at three massage parlors in Atlanta last week, killing eight people including six Asian women, and on the day the United Nations observes International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
"Racism is a virus that quickly mutates and, instead of disappearing, goes into hiding, and lurks in waiting," he wrote. "Instances of racism continue to shame us, for they show that our supposed social progress is not as real or definitive as we think."
On Saturday, thousands of people gathered for a "Stop Asian Hate" rally in response to the attack on Tuesday during which Robert Aaron Long, 21, was charged with murder for targeting three Asian-owned spas in the Atlanta area.
Hyun Jung Grant, 51; Xiaojie Tan, 49; Daoyou Feng, 44; Yong Ae Yue, 63; Soon Chung Park, 74; Suncha Kim, 69; Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33; and Paul Andre Michels, 54 were all shot and killed, while Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, survived the shooting but remained in critical condition.
Police said Long cited a sex addiction as the reason for the shooting but Georgia state Rep. Bee Nguyen noted the fact that the businesses were all owned by Asians and six of the victims were Asian women.
"No matter how you want to spin it the facts remain the same. This was an attack on the Asian community," said Nguyen.
March 21 has also served as the day the United Nations observes International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, since 1960 when police in Sharpeville, South Africa killed 69 people at a peaceful protest against apartheid laws.
In a statement released Sunday, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi also compared the devastating impacts of racism to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Violent and deadly attacks against Black, Brown, Asian and Indigenous people, toxic language and daily and sustained racially charged acts have rightly forced painful -- but necessary -- conversations to re-examine prejudice, privilege, the way we view the world and most importantly how we act," Grandi said.