In the Lunik IX district, the Salesian community consecrated a Catholic Church, the Church of the Risen Christ, in 2010, and since 2012 have operated a youth center. The Catholic sisters run a center for women and a kindergarten.
In a video the Salesians published earlier this month about their work in the district, Fr. Peter Bešenyei said their service in the community is “always about relationships. Once a relationship is established, mutual prejudices are broken down.”
“We Salesians offer immediacy, friendship. Simply, as people, we enter the Roma community,” Bešenyei continued. “Many people ask us: ‘How can we help you?’ I always answer: ‘Come and join us for Sunday Mass.’ The more we isolate ourselves, the more tensions and prejudices will grow. On the contrary, the more we live common positive experiences, the closer we will get.”
Pope Francis said: “Dear brothers and sisters, all too often you have been the object of prejudice and harsh judgements, discriminatory stereotypes, defamatory words and gestures. As a result, we are all poorer, poorer in humanity.”
“Restoring dignity means passing from prejudice to dialogue, from introspection to integration,” he continued, explaining that this can be carried out through concern, pastoral care, patience, and concrete efforts. “All these things will bear fruit,” he underlined. “Not immediately, but in due time those fruits will be seen.”
Košice, with a population of around 240,000, is the second largest city in Slovakia after the capital of Bratislava. It is the largest city on the country’s less-developed eastern side.
A new mural was created for Pope Francis’ visit to the Lunik IX district depicting flowers growing from the cracks of a building. The design of the mural was created in collaboration with local Roma children and funded by the city of Košice.
Mayor Jaroslav Polaček told local media the city of Košice also funded some repairs in the neighborhood prior to the pope’s visit, “so that we are not ashamed of the city quarter because many visitors will come here,” adding that “other special requests, which came directly from the Vatican,” were not completed however.
“It is not easy to leave prejudice behind, even for Christians,” the pope said in Lunik. “It is not easy to value others, especially if we see them as problems or enemies; if we pass judgement without making any effort to get to know them and to listen to their stories.”
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“Marginalizing others accomplishes nothing. Segregating ourselves and other people eventually leads to anger,” he stated.
“The path to peaceful coexistence is integration: an organic, gradual and vital process that starts with coming to know one another, then patiently grows, keeping its gaze fixed on the future. And what is the future? It is our children. The future belongs to them; they are the ones to guide us: their great dreams must not collide with barriers that we have erected.”
“Courageous decisions must be made on behalf of our children: to promote their dignity, to educate them in such a way that they can grow up solidly grounded in their own identity and be given every opportunity they desire.”
At the beginning of the encounter, Pope Francis listened to two short testimonies from Roma.
The 61-year-old Ján Hero, a father of five with his wife, Beáta, who is Slovak, recalled visiting Rome six years ago with other Roma for a meeting with Pope Francis.
“We have the hope that your mission here today, among us, in this place will help us to ignite a greater faith and a more stable determination to transform our personal and spiritual life towards the better,” he said.
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