Pope Francis criticized the discriminatory stereotypes suffered by the Roma community and stated that “marginalizing people does not solve anything.” The pontiff also vindicated the importance of integration during his visit to the Slovak neighborhood of Lunik IX, considered the largest gypsy center in Europe.
“Dear brothers and sisters, too many times you have been subjected to preconceptions and ruthless judgments, discriminatory stereotypes, defamatory words and gestures,” said the pontiff in Lunik IX, located in the city of Kosice, the second largest town in Slovakia. where the Pope arrived on Sunday for a four-day tour.
“In this way we have all become poorer, poor in humanity. What we need is to regain dignity and move from prejudice to dialogue, from closure to integration,” added Jorge Bergoglio. More than four thousand people live in the Lunik IX neighborhood, including 800 children, despite the fact that it only has capacity for half of the inhabitants.
From the windows of the houses you could see posters that read “Francisco welcome among us.” Before the Pope’s arrival, gypsies of all ages sang and danced in typical costumes in front of the complex of three- and six-story buildings where they live.
“Marginalizing people does not solve anything”
“Judgments and prejudices only increase distances. Conflicts and strong words do not help. Marginalizing people does not solve anything,” the Pope insisted. According to official Slovak figures, about eight percent of the 5.5 million inhabitants are of Roma origin, and about 20 percent of them live in extreme poverty in more than 600 districts such as Lunik IX. Half of the 440,000 people from the Roma community live without drinking water in neighborhoods like the one the pontiff visited.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Veronika Remisova, referred to the poverty figures in the Roma community. “This is a huge number that we cannot ignore. Neighborhood coexistence is not always easy, but without humanity and real interest in others, we will not advance,” he said on social networks during the Pope’s visit.
For Peter Besenyei, leader of the local Salesian community and pastoral manager of the Gypsies of the Archdiocese of Kosice, “It is formidable that the Holy Father comes to a place where nobody wants to go”. “It is difficult to find teachers in Lunik IX, priests who are willing to work, and the Pope comes to this difficult environment”he added.
The neighborhood of Lunik IX was built towards the end of the 1970s. The district was originally intended for members of the Army and security forces during the communist era. However, with the economic and social crisis that began to affect what was then Czechoslovakia, it became a place of concentration for Roma families.
In addition to the Roma community living in Lunik IX, those from Jarovnice, in the Sabinov district, also participated, who will also be part of the mass that the pontiff will celebrate on Wednesday before his return to Rome. “We came to see the Holy Father because we want to thank him for being here. He is a great man with a good heart,” said Jana Ginová, one of the pilgrims who came to Kosice.
City spokesman Vladimir Fabian explained that residents were given the ability to register to be in the public, but many did not. For security reasons they were asked to remain in the buildings, although they enabled a corridor for them to move around the surrounding areas. Father Marian Deahos, a Salesian who works with the gypsies in another neighborhood, explained that generally for the Roma community the priest who is with them is important and the Pope “cares little for them.” While they awaited the arrival of the pontiff, gypsies of all ages sang and danced in typical costumes in front of the complex of three- and six-story buildings that make up the Slovak neighborhood. Sitting in the front row, Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger also joined in the dancing and singing of the Rom (Gypsy) community.
“You are welcome”
“You have great love and respect for the family, and they look at the Church from this experience “, the Pope affirmed, in response to the reception he had in the gypsy community.” Yes, the Church is home, it is their home. That is why – I would like to tell you with my heart – you are welcome, always feel at home in the Church and never be afraid to be here. Let no one leave you or anyone else outside the Church! “Bergoglio added in this context.
The Roma community is considered the most populous ethnic minority on the continent, especially in Central and Eastern Europe. According to historians, half a million Roma were killed by the Nazis during World War II, equivalent to a quarter of the population.
At present, discrimination against the Roma population persists. According to Iveta Duchonova, head of the government delegate’s office for this community, “in 2016, an EU report on minorities and discrimination revealed that 54 percent of Roma in Slovakia had been discriminated against because of their ethnicity.” In 2020 Amnesty International denounced that the situation of gypsies worsened during the covid-19 pandemic, when they were discriminated against for being considered “a threat to public health”.