Pope Francis will meet members of the Roma minority, which has about 400,000 members in Slovakia, on Tuesday during his visit to the run-down Lunik IX neighborhood in Kosice, in the east of the country.
The Argentine Supreme Pontiff began his journey in the city of Presov, about 40 kilometers from Kosice, where he celebrated a mass according to the Byzantine rite in which some 30,000 faithful participated, who cheered him as the popemobile passed.
This is the 84-year-old Francisco’s first trip abroad since his colon surgery in early July. So far he has been seen to be in good health.
Almost 4,500 inhabitants coexist in the Lunik IX district of Kosice, squeezed into a space destined to house half of them. Many buildings do not have electricity, heat, gas or running water because their supply was cut off due to non-payment of bills.
“It is formidable that the Holy Father comes to a place where no one wants to go.” Said Peter Besenyei, leader of the local Salesian community and pastoral manager of the Gypsies in the Archdiocese of Kosice.
“It is difficult to find teachers in Lunik IX, priests who are willing to work, and the pope comes to this difficult environment.” He told AFP.
In the weeks leading up to the visit, city authorities cleaned up the neighborhood and repaired the road leading to it.
For Rudolf Mosorov, a 66-year-old resident of Lunik IX, the pope’s visit is a “miracle”. “It will bring us the blessing of God”, he celebrated.
Almost 20% of Roma in Slovakia live in extreme poverty, in more than 600 neighborhoods, especially in the south and east of this euro zone country of 5.4 million inhabitants.
Eastern Slovakia is one of the areas with the lowest GDP per capita in the European Union.
“Prejudices and stereotypes”
Gypsies are considered the most populous ethnic minority on the continent, with large communities living in Central and Eastern Europe.
According to historians, half a million Roma were killed by the Nazis during World War II, which is equivalent to a quarter of the population.
A choir of 35 gypsy children will sing for the pontiff, who is expected to pronounce a few words in the Romani language.
According to Iveta Duchonova, head of the government delegate’s office for this community, “In 2016, an EU report on minorities and discrimination revealed that 54% of Roma in Slovakia had been discriminated against because of their ethnicity”.
This discrimination “persists” and “is widely tolerated”, he declared to AFP.
Anti-Gypsy Racism “ is not a consequence of his life, but is based on historical models of discrimination, prejudice and stereotypes” against them, Duchonova said.
Pope Francis will meet with young people at a stadium in Kosice on Tuesday at the end of the day.
Almost a million Slovaks live abroad where they are looking for a better paying job, according to local estimates.
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.