By Robin Gomes
“Judgement and prejudice only increase distances. Hostility and sharp words are not helpful. Marginalizing others accomplishes nothing. Segregating ourselves and other people eventually leads to anger.” Pope Francis used these words to condemn the discrimination that the Roma people face, stressing, “The path to peaceful coexistence is integration.”
He made the remark during a meeting Tuesday evening with the Roma community of Košice, Slovakia, where he is on the 34th apostolic journey of his pontificate. The Luník IX neighbourhood where the Pope met them has the highest density of Roma people in Slovakia. Basic services such as gas, running water, sewage system, electricity and heating are scant in the run-down and overcrowded tenement buildings.
After listening to the testimonies of some of the Roma people, the Pope said it is not easy to leave prejudice behind, even for Christians. “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.”
Stereotyping and prejudice
Pointing to what Jesus said, “Do not judge”, the Holy Father lamented the gossip or rumours we pass or the prejudices, judgements and labels we tag others with, but consider ourselves justified.
“In this way,” he said, “we disfigure by our words the beauty of the children of God, who are our brothers and sisters. “We cannot reduce the reality of others to fit our own pre-packaged ideas; people cannot be pigeonholed.” Our knowledge and appreciation of others must be grounded in our acknowledgement that each of them possesses the inviolable beauty of a son or daughter of God, a reflection of the Creator’s image.
Recalling the words of Saint Pope Paul VI - “In the Church, you are not on the margins... You are in the heart of the Church”, Pope Francis assured the Roma people, “In the Church, no one ought ever to feel out of place or set aside.”
He told them that too often they have been the object of prejudice and harsh judgements, discriminatory stereotypes, defamatory words and gestures, which make humanity poorer. Restoring dignity, he said, means passing from prejudice to dialogue, from introspection to integration.
He explained that integration through peaceful coexistence as an organic, gradual and vital process starts with coming to know one another, which grows patiently, keeping its gaze fixed on the future, who are the children.
“Our children,” the Pope pointed out, “want to grow together with others, without encountering obstacles and exclusion.” “They deserve a well-integrated and free life,” the Pope said, calling for “courageous decisions on behalf of 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”.
The Salesians of Don Bosco, assisted by the Salesian sisters and numerous volunteers have established a pastoral and community centre in Lunik IX, helping the integration of the Roma people.
Pope Francis thanked all who dedicated themselves to the task, particularly priests, religious and the laity. He encouraged them saying, “Do not be afraid to go out to encounter the marginalized. You will find that you are going out to meet Jesus.” He said Jesus awaits them “wherever there is need, not comfort; wherever service rules, not power; wherever incarnation, not self-indulgence, is required.”
Pope Francis also expressed his closeness with refugees and prisoners. Do not be afraid to go out to encounter the marginalized. You will find that you are going out to meet Jesus. He awaits you wherever there is need, not comfort; wherever service rules, not power; wherever incarnation, not self-indulgence, is required. Those are the places where he will be found.