By Linda Bordoni
Pope Francis ended his pilgrimage to the Balkan country of Romania asking forgiveness, in the name of the Church, for the injustice perpetrated against some of the country’s – and the world’s - most marginalized and discriminated people.
His apology and call for social inclusion came during a meeting with representatives of the Roma community that makes up about 10 percent of the nation’s 20 million people.
He chose the Barbu Lautaru district of the city of Blaj, where the majority of the inhabitants are Roma to ask forgiveness for all the times in history the Church has discriminated or mistreated them.
The Church: a place of encounter
Describing the Church as a place of encounter in which there is room for everyone, Pope Francis said this fact is part of our identity as Christians.
But, the Pope said, “My heart is heavy. It is weighed down by the many experiences of discrimination, segregation and mistreatment experienced by your communities”.
“I would like to ask your forgiveness for this,” he said, noting that Christians, including Catholics, “are not strangers to such evil”.
“I ask forgiveness – in the name of the Church and of the Lord – and I ask forgiveness of you,” he said.
The Pope said his plea for pardon refers to “all those times in history when we have discriminated, mistreated or looked askance at you, with the look of Cain rather than that of Abel, and were unable to acknowledge you, to value you and to defend you in your uniqueness”.
Condemning an attitude of indifference that breeds prejudices and fosters anger and resentment, the Pope said “Whenever anyone is left behind, the human family cannot move forward”.
Deep down, he continued, “we are not Christians, and not even good human beings, unless we are able to see the person before his or her actions, before our own judgments and prejudices”.
Choose love over hatred
The Pope then said that as men and women of good will, we need to choose a civilization of love over a civilization of hate, and he invited the faithful to choose the way of Jesus, that – he said – demands effort, but brings peace.
The Roma community has a great role to play
Pope Francis then encouraged those present, who represent their people across the globe, never to be afraid to share and offer the distinctive gifts that mark their culture and their history.
Amongst those he listed were the respect for the value of life and of the extended family, support and concern for the vulnerable within the community, respect and appreciation for the elderly, spontaneity and joie de vivre.
“Wherever you find yourselves”, he said, “share those gifts and try to accept all the good that others can offer to you” and he encouraged them to journey together, in helping to build a more humane and fraternal world.