Eastern Europe

Pope Francis visits Slovakia’s largest and poorest Romani settlement

18:16, 14 September 2021
Pope Francis visits Slovakia’s largest and poorest Romani settlement Photo: Vatican Media/Keystone Press Agency

The journey to Lunik IX slums is a part of the Pope’s tour around Slovakia and Hungary.

On Tuesday Pope Francis paid a visit to the Lunik IX settlement in Kosice, Eastern Slovakia, the biggest among some 600 Roma suburbs in the country.

Francis, sometimes called the Pope of the peripheries, traveled to the region as a sign of inclusion for the most marginalized minority in Slovakia.

Lunik IX was originally built for around 2,500 inhabitants, but its current population is estimated to be twice or three times larger than this number. Many of the suburb’s residents do not have running water, gas, or electricity since they cannot pay debts and bills.

"It is amazing that the Holy Father is coming to a place where no one wants to go. It is difficult to find teachers here, it is difficult to find priests who would be willing to work there, and the Pope comes there in this difficult environment," said leader of the local Salesian community Peter Besenyei.

Last week Slovak authorities cleaned the slums and repaired a road to the settlement.

“We got new roads, new stairs, they repaired everything. It was all destroyed before,” local resident Alexander Horvath said.

On Tuesday morning the Pope celebrated a Byzantine rite Mass in Presov, a town not far from Kosice, in recognition of the country’s Greek-Catholic believers. According to organizers, more than 30,000 people attended the event.

“Pope coming to Slovakia — you have an opportunity like this only once in a lifetime, we are so happy for that.”

After the Mass and Roma encounter, Francis is bound to meet Slovakia’s youth in a stadium in Kosice.

Francis was captured in a good mood during the visit, the first international trip after his surgery in summer. On July 14 the Pope left hospital after undergoing a colon removal procedure.

Francis is expected to leave the country on Wednesday after the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, Patron of Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, and other regions.

Overall, Slovakia is home to some 400,000 – 500,000 Romanies, most of them live in the country’s eastern and southern parts. Slovakia, a relatively poor country of the EU, has a population of approximately 5,4 mln people.