June 13, 2011. (Romereports.com)
Benedict XVI held the first-ever papal audience with a group of European Gypsies. Upon entering the hall he was greeted with an enthusiasm for which the Gypsies are famous. The pope prayed before the image of the Virgin Mary that had the features of a Gypsy woman.
He spoke to the group of about 2,000 people, noting the persecution they faced by the Nazi's during World War II. The Porajmos was the sytematic campaign by the Nazi's and their allies to eliminate the Gypsy people.
There are no exact numbers of those who perished, different sources say it could be anywhere between 200,000 and 1.5 million.Benedict XVI“You have been left without a home and have come to consider the entire continent as your home. Unfortunately, down the ages you have known the bitter taste of rejection and, at times, persecution as happened during World War II: thousands of men, women, and children were brutally murdered in the concentration camps. It was an episode still largely unrecognized.”
The pope noted that this year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of the blessed Gypsy Ceferino Gimenez Malla and the 75th anniversary of his martyrdom.
He then listened as some of the audience told their stories, such as Ceija, who was only 9 years old when she was taken to Auschwitz.
She told the pope she still lives with the memories from the concentration camp and the smell of burnt of bodies.
Then a Gypsy who became a nun told her story how she was able to join the Church. Atanazia Holubova“In my teenage years I met a priest and a group of young Christians. We used to meet secretly during totalitarian era. For the first time I experienced the joy and the community based on Jesus Christ.”
The pope called on the governments of Europe to do more in helping to integrate the Gypsy community that even today often faces discrimination.
In a celebration of the Gypsy culture, the pope watched as a group of girls performed a captivating traditional dance.