Pope Francis visits Roma community: “The Church is your home, you are always welcome”
Pope Francis had a big smile on his face when he got out of his car at the Salesian Pastoral Center in the Lunik IX district in Košice for his meeting with the Roma community. He was welcomed by a festive crowd and lively music.
An estimated 4,300 Roma people live in Lunik IX, one of the biggest Roma communities in Europe. The district has long suffered from infrastructure problems, including a shortage of running water, gas and proper heating.
But that didn't stop them from preparing a very warm welcome for the Pope. People leaned out their windows to greet him.
The Pope was greeted by Fr. Peter Bešenyei, a priest who has dedicated his entire life to ministering to the Romani people.
FR. PETER BEŠENYEI
Director, Salesian Pastoral Center
“Different Romani, after meeting and listening to Jesus Christ, decided to live a new life. The Catholic Church makes a real effort for the Romani, even though the State neglects and fails to appreciate this work of the Church.”
The Pope listened attentively to 61-year-old Ján Hero, an engineer who thanked Pope Francis for his constant support of the Romani people.
“We are hopeful that your mission here today, among us, in this place, will help us spark a stronger faith and a more stable determination to transform our personal and spiritual lives for the better."
The Pope got up to personally greet Hero and his wife.
Then a young married couple who grew up in the Lunik IX district told the Pope of the challenge of growing up in this neighborhood. They said it was thanks to the Salesian's commitment and trust in them that they were able to build a better future for themselves and their two children.
With a smile on his face, Pope Francis stood up again, to personally greet the family and give them some rosaries.
Then Pope Francis addressed the Romani people with a poignant message.
“The Church is indeed a home; it is your home. So I would say to you with my whole heart: you are always welcome! Always feel at home in the Church, and don't every worry about whether you will be at home there. Nobody ought ever keep you or anyone else away from the Church!”
He denounced discriminatory attitudes, noting that we often justify judging others harshly, but are inflexible with others.
“Where there is concern for each person, where there is pastoral care, where there is patience and concrete efforts, all these things will bear fruit. Marginalizing others accomplishes nothing. Segregating ourselves and other people eventually leads to anger. The path to peaceful coexistence is integration.”
Pope Francis encouraged priests, religious and laity helping the Roma community to persevere on their path to peaceful coexistence, telling them not to be afraid to go out to encounter the marginalized.
After his address, those gathered prayed an “Our Father” together. Then the Pope gave them a blessing before departing for his next meeting, while the festivities continued in Lunik IX.