The Roma, with their priests and nuns, had been waiting for the Pope since the beginning of the day and had gathered from various pastoral centers directly in the Luník IX district. The program had already started in the morning with the Mass celebrated by the Salesian bishop, Msgr. Vladimir Fekete, Apostolic Prefect of Azerbaijan, and about forty priests. The artistic program, made up of dances, songs and prayers, was prepared by 200 Roma, who live in various villages in eastern Slovakia.
On arrival, Pope Francis turned his gaze to the Roma people, gathered at the windows of the buildings in front of the Salesian house. The four Salesians present in Luník IX, with the Provincial of Slovakia, Fr Peter Timko, welcomed the Holy Father into the Salesian house.
Then, on the stage set up for the occasion, Fr Peter Bešenyei, the Rector of the mission, illustrated to the Pontiff the work carried out for all those on the peripheries. “Thank you, Fr Peter, for having told us about the pastoral centers, where you do not do social welfare, but personal accompaniment,” said the Pope. “Thank you, Salesians. Go forward on this path, which does not deceive that it can give everything and immediately so, but is prophetic, because it includes the least, builds fraternity, sows peace.”
The Holy Father underlined that too often, the Roma “have been the object of prejudice and harsh judgments, discriminatory stereotypes, defamatory words and gestures.” For this reason, during his speech, Francis asked the Roma present: "How to go from prejudice to dialogue, from closure to integration?" The answer is found in the testimony of Nikola and René, a young married Romani couple, present on stage with their two young children, who grew up in the Salesian oratory directly in the Luník IX district, where they participated in the animation service of the children. They too thanked the Salesians for accompanying them and preparing them for life outside the neighborhood where they now live.
“Nikola and René, you helped us,” the Pope later said. “Your love story was born here and matured thanks to the closeness and encouragement you received. You felt empowered and wanted a job; you felt loved and grew up with the desire to give something more to your children.”
More than 160 people signed up as volunteers to organize the meeting of the Roma with the Pope. Most of them belonged to the Salesian Family as Salesian Cooperators or Past Pupils of Don Bosco.
At the end of this short meeting, which lasted 45 minutes, Pope Francis asked those present to pray together an Our Father, each in their own language, and to all present he imparted the apostolic blessing. He then went to the “Lokomotiva” stadium, where thousands of young people were waiting for him.