In the Roma district of Lunik IX, the pope advocates “integration” in the face of the “ghetto”

Pope Francis advocated “integration” during a trip Tuesday to a dilapidated neighborhood of the Roma community in Kosice, eastern Slovakia, judging that “putting people in a ghetto does not solve anything”.

Shortly before this eagerly awaited visit by the Sovereign Pontiff, the access road was repaired and the electricians brought power to the district of Lunik IX, which was plagued by deep social problems.

Putting people in a ghetto doesn’t solve anything. When you feed the closure, sooner or later the anger ignites. The way to peaceful coexistence is integration“, launched the Argentine Pope, after having carefully listened to the testimonies of members of the community.

Misery and overpopulation are chronic ills in Lunik IX, where 4,500 residents live crammed into an area planned for half the amount. Many HLMs have no electricity, no heating, no gas or running water, cut off due to unpaid bills.

“_Dear brothers and sisters, too often you have been the object of prejudices and ruthless judgments, discriminatory stereotypes, defamatory words and gestures,” lamented Pope Francis. He advised this isolated community to do “courageous choices“for their children, especially in terms of education”so that they grow well rooted in their origins, but at the same time without excluding any possibility“.

He also encouraged her to “overcome fears” through “honest work with dignity to earn your daily bread“, recalling that the Roma were welcome within the Catholic Church. The eastern part of Slovakia, an EU country of 5.4 million inhabitants, ranks among the poorest places in Europe, with a very low GDP per capita, alongside parts of Bulgaria and Romania.

The Roma community in Slovakia has 400,000 people, nearly 20% of whom live in extreme poverty in more than 600 slums, mainly in the south and east.

“Against a current”

Nikola and René Harakaly, 28 and 29 years old, a couple who have two children and who grew up in this neighborhood, received their studies thanks to the help of the Salesian Brothers. They have both found jobs since. “Our parents encouraged us to go against the grain“, they confided to the Pope.

We took out a loan, bought an apartment and got married in another part of Kosice. Today, thanks to all this we are offering our children a happier, more dignified and more peaceful life.“, they added.

Father Peter Besenyei, leader of the local Salesian community of Lunik IX and responsible for the pastoral care of the Roma in the Archdiocese of Kosice, for his part greeted “those who give Roma adequate work and a regular salary, thus helping them to have a life of dignity“. Some mixed marriages contribute.”to break down prejudices and stereotypes“, he said.

The Pope warmly encouraged the religious in their work with “the marginalized “. Even if it arouses “sometimes incomprehension and ingratitude, perhaps even in the Church“, he noted.

For Rudolf Mosorov, 66, inhabitant of Lunik IX, the Pope’s visit is a “miracle”. “He will bring us the blessing of God“, he confided.

According to Iveta Duchonova, head of the office of the government delegate for Roma, “in 2016, an EU survey on minorities and discrimination found that 54% of Roma in Slovakia experienced discrimination because of their ethnicity“. This discrimination”persists” and “remains widely tolerated“, she explained to AFP.

Pope Francis closed the day with young people in a stadium in Kosice. Around a million Slovaks live abroad where they seek better paid work, according to local estimates. This is the 84-year-old Argentine pontiff’s first overseas trip since his colon surgery in early July.

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