In a message of inclusion, Pope Francis is reaching out to the Roma people of Slovakia, where he has condemned Central Europe’s historic marginalization of communities including Jews.
On his second day in Slovakia, the pope travelled to the town of Presov in the eastern part of the country where he celebrated mass in the Byzantine rite in the city’s sports stadium. The highlight of the day was a visit to the Roma community in the nearby town of Kosice — a gesture analysts see as a sign of inclusion.
The impoverished Lunik neighborhood, which the pope will visit, is home to the country’s highest community of Roma residents, where his message is welcomed by a population living with problems that include overcrowded housing, in some cases with no running water or electricity.
Slovakia has a 400,000-strong Roma minority which has historically faced discrimination.
On Monday, the pope addressed the Slovak president and other officials in the gardens of Bratislava’s presidential palace and stressed the need to work for the common good and not focus on individual needs.
Referring to nation’s communist past, the pope said that until a few decades ago, a single thought system stifled freedom adding that “today another such system is emptying freedom of meaning, reducing progress to profit and rights only to individual means.”
Pope Francis said, “Fraternity is necessary for the increasingly pressing process of integration.”
The pope also addressed representatives of the Jewish community on Monday at a memorial for Jews that were killed in the Holocaust. At this site, a synagogue was demolished in 1969 in what the pope said were efforts to cancel every trace of the Jewish community.
Here in this place, the pope said, the Name of God was dishonored, for the worst form of blasphemy is to exploit it for our purposes, refusing to respect and love others.
More than one hundred thousand Slovak Jews were killed during the Holocaust and the pope added that it was shameful how people who said they believed in God perpetrated or allowed “unspeakable acts of inhumanity.”
The Jewish community in Slovakia now amounts to some 2,000 people. Pope Francis said, “Let us unite in condemning all violence and every form of antisemitism.”
An open-air Mass in the Slovak town of Sastin Wednesday caps the pontiff’s visit before his return to Rome. This visit to Hungary and Slovakia is his first foreign trip since he underwent intestinal surgery in July.