Pope Francis, who has been in Slovakia since Sunday, went to the east of the country on Tuesday to meet the Roma community in Košice at the Lunik IX estate. This habitat, located near the landfill, struggles with poverty and poor living conditions. – Too often you have been the subject of prejudices and ruthless judgments, discriminatory stereotypes, slanderous words and gestures – said Francis.
Francis, visiting the area inhabited by the poor from the beginning of his pontificate, came to one of the symbolic places in this part of Central Europe. Addressing the representatives of the community, Francis referred to the words of Saint Paul VI in 1965: “You in the Church are not on the margins. You are in the heart of the Church.” – No one in the Church should feel out of place or set aside. It is not just a way of speaking, but it is a way of being the Church. Because to be a Church is to live as called by God, to feel entitled to live, to belong to the same team – said Franciszek.
– Yes, the Church is home, it is your home. Therefore, I would like to say to you from my heart: you are welcome, always feel at home in the Church and never be afraid to be there. Let no one keep you or anyone else away from the Church, he appealed.
Pope Francis at the Roma estate in Koszyce
The Pope pointed out the need to break stereotypes. – It is not easy to go beyond prejudices, also between Christians. It is not easy to appreciate others, we often see obstacles or opponents in them and make judgments without knowing their faces and stories – he added. – Self-indulgent towards themselves, tenacious towards others. How often our judgments are in fact prejudices, how often we use adjectives, Francis said, calling this attitude “a verbal disfigurement of the beauty of God’s children.”
– Dear brothers and sisters, too often you have been the subject of prejudice and ruthless judgments, discriminatory stereotypes, slanderous words and gestures. As a result, we all became poorer, poorer in humanity. To regain our dignity, we must move from prejudice to dialogue, closure to integration, he said. The Pope said that closing people in ghettos does not solve anything, because when the confinement intensifies, sooner or later anger breaks out. He pointed to integration as the way to peaceful coexistence.
He also said that children’s dreams cannot break against barriers, because they want to grow up together with others, without obstacles and excluded. He appealed for making bold choices out of concern for the dignity of children, for their education, so that they would grow up “rooted in their origins, but at the same time seeing every possibility open”. – I encourage you all to confidently, step by step, cross the fears and wounds of the past: in honest work, in the dignity of earning daily bread, in cultivating mutual trust – he called.
Salesian mission in the Roma settlement
Francis thanked those who work for integration, which – as he admitted – requires not only great effort, but also is met with incomprehension and ingratitude, even in the Church sometimes. The head of the Salesian mission, Father Peter Besenyei said that when creating pastoral centers, priests looked for inspiration abroad, including in Poland, Hungary and Italy. As he noted, already in the times of the “totalitarian regime”, some Slovak priests “took risks and went to the peripheries to the poor”.
Father Besenyei thanked the employers who offer Roma people “a suitable job and a regular salary” and added that they were thus providing them with decent work and integral development. The priest also expressed his gratitude to the parents who adopt Roma children.
Young spouses who grew up in the district told the Pope about their experiences Lunik IX and decided to stay in it. They both found jobs, the woman graduated in pedagogy. The parents of two young children said they were giving them “a more dignified and peaceful life.”
At least 4,300 people live in the Lunik IX settlement of the Roma community in Košice. Difficult conditions prevail in decaying buildings located near a landfill. There is often a shortage of water and electricity, no heating, and some windows have no glass. This is an area of many problems, as well as the missions of Salesian priests who carry out integration, aid and educational activities. As it has been noticed, they face challenges to which the state and local government are often helpless.
Pope Francis was greeted by Romani music and hundreds of cheering residents of the estate, many of them by the windows of apartment blocks.
A resident of Lunik IX, Mario Tomi told Reuters that he was counting on the Pope’s visit to help change the perception of the Roma community in Slovakia. About 440,000 Roma live in this country.
Main photo source: PAP / EPA / VATICAN MEDIA