(Source: CD/Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development)

On Saturday August 29 a centre for the Roma was inaugurated in Croatia, where Europe’s largest ethnic minority numbers over 35,000 people, mainly concentrated in the north.

The centre was built by the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM) in the diocese of Varadzin, where there are about 10,000 Roma.

SMOM’s Roma ambassador Franz Salm, who was present at the inauguration, said that the Roma “face discrimination every day [and] are unable to complete a basic education and find a job”.

“With these programmes the Order of Malta is trying to break this cycle of segregation and poverty”.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, the Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, was due to attend the inauguration of the centre and chapel dedicated to St. John the Baptist in the village of Petrijanec as a representative of Pope Francis.

However, the head of the Vatican department that oversees the apostolate of the street and the Church’s ministry to itinerant people, Roma and Sinti could not finally travel due to COVID-19 health regulations.

The cardinal therefore sent to the Bishop of Varadzin, Bože Radoš – the new president of the Committee for the Pastoral Care of Roma of the Croatian Bishops’ Conference – the apostolic blessing on behalf of the Pope and a message in which he explained that Francis “hopes that the centre will be a privileged place where the Church can lovingly accompany the integral development of those who will benefit from the educational, formative, spiritual and recreational activities” that will be organised.

The pontiff also hopes that the new centre “represents a further opportunity to create strong ties with the community living in this area”.

The inauguration was preceded by a Eucharistic celebration presided over by Msgr. Djuro Hranic, the Archbishop of Dakovo-Osijek and former president of the Roma Pastoral Care Committee.

Hranic was joined by co-workers from all over Croatia; by Count Georg Eltz, for the Order of Malta; by the director of the centre, Kristina Čačić, the secretary of Roma Pastoral Care in the Diocese of Varaždin; by Sister Karolina Miljak, from the Congregation of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus and national director of pastoral care for the Roma of the Croatian Church, and by many of the children attending her catechism courses.

“For us, integral human development means including the Roma in all our projects, in our community life, because they really need everything”, Sister Karolina said in an interview with Vatican News.

“Children, for example, just play all day long. We will try to improve the quality of their daily life.

“That is why the centre is very important for Petrijanec and for the whole of Croatia, because there are 545 children here from the first to the fourth class and we know that if we want something to change, we have to start with the children.

“As they grow up, we can offer them many values that are important for life”.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.