Pope Francis on Tuesday visited a dilapidated housing estate inhabited by ethnic Roma in eastern Slovakia, calling for “integration” for the marginalised community.
The 84-year-old Argentine pontiff, who is on his first foreign trip since a colon operation in July, often calls for assistance to the world’s poorest communities.
“Marginalising others accomplishes nothing. Segregating ourselves and other people eventually leads to anger. The path to peaceful coexistence is integration,” he said from a podium, as residents watched from apartment blocks.
In Lunik IX, nearly 4,500 residents are squeezed into a space meant to accommodate half that number.
“It is great that the Holy Father is willing to come to a place where no one wants to go,” Peter Besenyei, leader of the local Salesian community at Lunik IX, said ahead of the visit.
– Holocaust ‘shame’ –
During his visit, the pope met a couple, Nikola and Rene Harakaly, aged 28 and 29, who grew up in Lunik IX but said they moved away to give their children “a happier and more peaceful life full of dignity”.
Nearly 20 percent of Slovakia’s estimated 400,000 Roma live in abject poverty, in more than 600 shanty towns mostly in the south and east of this eurozone country of 5.4 million people.
The Roma, concentrated in Central and Eastern Europe, have faced discrimination for centuries — historians estimate that half a million Roma were killed by the Nazis, wiping out about a quarter of their population.
The leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics will also meet young people in a stadium in Kosice later on Tuesday before celebrating an open-air Mass in the town of Sastin on Wednesday ahead of his return trip to Rome.
Originally published as Pope calls for ‘integration’ in visit to impoverished Slovak Roma