In a visit to impoverished Slovak Roma, Pope Francis calls for “integration.”
Pope Francis paid a visit to a decaying housing development populated by ethnic Roma in eastern Slovakia on Tuesday, urging for the marginalized community’s “integration.”
The 84-year-old Argentine pontiff, who is on his first international trip since undergoing colon surgery in July, frequently appeals for aid to the world’s poorest people.
The pope told Roma at the Lunik IX estate in Kosice that “all too often you have been the object of prejudice and harsh judgments.”
“It accomplishes nothing to marginalize others. Separating ourselves from others inevitably leads to rage. “Integration is the path to peaceful coexistence,” he stated from a podium as inhabitants looked on from their apartment buildings.
A sign hung from one of the windows that read, “Francis, Welcome Among Us.”
Nearly 4,500 people live in Lunik IX, crammed into a space designed for half that amount.
As a result of unpaid payments, many blocks are without electricity, heat, gas, or running water.
Before the visit, Peter Besenyei, the local Salesian community’s leader in Lunik IX, remarked, “It’s excellent that the Holy Father is prepared to come to a place where no one wants to go.”
“It’s tough to find professors at Lunik IX, and it’s difficult to find priests ready to work there,” Besenyei told AFP.
City officials had been hard mending a road and cleaning up the region in the weeks leading up to the visit, but biases against the area’s residents run deep.
The pope visited Nikola and Rene Harakaly, 28 and 29, who grew up in Lunik IX but moved out to provide their children “a happier and more serene life full of dignity” during his tour.
“You have arrived at a time when everyone is in a difficult condition as a result of the pandemic,” said Jan Hero, a 61-year-old engineer and Roma community member.
In more than 600 shanty communities, predominantly in the south and east of this eurozone country of 5.4 million people, about 20% of Slovakia’s estimated 400,000 Roma live in abject poverty.
Eastern Slovakia has one of Europe’s lowest per capita GDP levels.
The Roma, who live primarily in Central and Eastern Europe, have long endured prejudice; historians estimate that the Nazis killed half a million Roma, eradicating nearly a quarter of their population.
Also in attendance will be the leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics. Brief News from Washington Newsday.