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Pope Francis meets with Roma in a notorious housing project on day three of his Central Europe trip. The visit comes after he met with Holocaust survivors in Bratislava Monday.
Pope Francis traveled to the eastern Slovak city of Kosice Tuesday to meet with members of the Roma community in a dilapidated housing project, Lunik IX.
The visit to Lunik IX is one of the highlights of his four-day swing through the Central European nations of Hungary and Slovakia and a gesture of inclusion for one of the country's marginalized and impoverished communities. On Monday, he met with Holocaust survivors in Bratislava, the capital.
One fifth of Slovakia's population belong to the Roma minority. They have long been excluded from society, generally living in segregated settlements that often lack basics like electricity and running water, heating and gas.
In the days leading up to the pope's trip, politicians in Slovakia openly debated who was "to blame" for the inclusion of the "eyesore" Lunik IX with its rundown prefabricated buildings that are home to thousands on the Pope's itinerary, according to DPA news agency.
Thomas Schumann, spokesperson for Renovabis, the Catholic relief organization for Central and Eastern Europe, told the DPA he hoped the pope's visit would spur greater inclusivity of opportunities and education for members of the Roma community in Slovakia.
Pope Francis started Tuesday with a large Byzantine rite open air Mass near Kosice in the city of Presov. There the pope recalled the persecution of Christians under communism.
"Here I think of the martyrs who in this nation bore witness to the love of Christ in troubled times, when everything counselled silence, taking cover, not professing the faith," the Pope told the gathered faithful. "How many generous persons suffered and died here in Slovakia for the name of Christ!"
Organizers expected 40,000 in attendance and an outdoor stadium had filled prior to his arrival by popemobile.
"We came here at 3 a.m. to get the best spot," Presov resident Slavka Marcinakova told AP, calling the opportunity to see the pope a "once in a lifetime" event.
On Tuesday evening, Pope Francis is scheduled to meet with young people at the outdoor football stadium in Kosice.
ar/rc (AP, dpa)