Wednesday 21 August 2019

Pope 'sorry' for Roma's persecution by Catholics

Blessing: Pope Francis meets members of the Roma community in the Barbu Lautaru district of Blaj, Romania. Photo: Andreas Solaro/Pool via REUTERS
Blessing: Pope Francis meets members of the Roma community in the Barbu Lautaru district of Blaj, Romania. Photo: Andreas Solaro/Pool via REUTERS

James Aldershot

Pope Francis has apologised to the Roma ethnic minority for their history of discrimination in Europe.

The pontiff also paid homage to Romanian Catholics persecuted during communist rule as he wrapped up the third and final day of his visit to the country with a message of forgiveness.

Francis reached out to the minorities of Transylvania during the deeply symbolic visit about 20 years after St John Paul II made the first papal trip to the majority Orthodox country.

In his final stop before heading back to the Vatican, Francis visited a community of Roma, also known as Gypsies, in a newly built Catholic church that was so small organisers asked the clergy to leave to make more room for Gypsy families to get in.

There, Francis apologised for the "many experiences of discrimination, segregation and mistreatment experienced by your communities".

It was a reference to the second-class status of the Roma minority in Romania and throughout Europe.

Roma are more likely to be poor, uneducated and at risk of harassment, according to EU studies.

Neighbouring Hungary, for example, has been warned by the EU about discrimination against Roma children in education. And the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights reported last year that 80pc of the Roma population in Europe is at risk of poverty.

Francis recently met members of Roma communities at the Vatican.

"History tells us that Christians too, including Catholics, are not strangers to such evil," he said, in an apparent reference to the World War II deportation of Roma along with Romanian Jews that is commemorated by a Holocaust memorial in Bucharest.

"I would like to ask your forgiveness for this," he went on.

"I ask forgiveness - in the name of the Church and of the Lord - and I ask forgiveness of you.

"For all those times in history when we have discriminated, mistreated or looked askance at you ... and were unable to acknowledge you, to value you and to defend you in your uniqueness."

Francis has made it a point to use his trips and meetings with foreign leaders to ask forgiveness for past injustices, just as John Paul did.

He apologised to indigenous peoples for the conquest of the Americas while in Bolivia and during a meeting with the president of Rwanda, apologised for the failures of Catholics in the Rwandan genocide.

Also yesterday, he beatified seven Greek-Catholic bishop martyrs in Blaj, a stronghold of the Greek-Catholic Church outlawed during communism.

Irish Independent

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