Pope tells Roma: Live honestly, send kids to school

2015-10-26 19:01
Faithful reach for Pope Francis' hand during an audience with Roma the Vatican. (Gregorio Borgia, AP)

Faithful reach for Pope Francis' hand during an audience with Roma the Vatican. (Gregorio Borgia, AP)

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Vatican City - Roma people should be guaranteed adequate schooling and living standards, but they should also live honestly and give people no excuse to harbour prejudices against them, Pope Francis said on Monday.

Thousands of Roma, Sinti and members of the Travellers community from Europe and beyond were invited to Rome by the Vatican for an October 23-26 pilgrimage that culminated with a papal audience attended by about 7 000 people.

"I know the difficulties of your people," Francis said. "The time has come to eradicate centuries-old prejudices, preconceptions and mutual mistrust that are often the root cause of discrimination, racism and xenophobia."

But the pope also warned, "dear friends, don't give the media and public opinion occasions to speak badly of you", as he urged his audience to be "good Christians, avoiding all that is not worthy of this name: deceitfulness, fraud, scams, fights".

The pope stressed the importance of being law-abiding citizens and of sending children to school for a community that is often poor, associated with crime and unemployment, and confined to living in squalid slums.

"Your children have the right to go to school," Francis said. "Don't stand in the way."

Roma people have a right to live in dignity with adequate work opportunities and access to health care and education, the pope insisted, as he urged authorities to guarantee this "even for the families that live in the most impoverished conditions".

Associazione 21 Luglio, a human rights group, seized on the remarks to criticise local authorities in Rome for pursuing a policy of "forced evictions" from Roma camps in a drive to "clean up" the city ahead of the Catholic Jubilee of Mercy.

The event, running from December 8 to November 20 2016, is expected to attract millions of visitors.

Associazione 21 Luglio said that since the pope announced the jubilee year in March, authorities had conducted 70 evictions, targeting 1 150 people and costing $1.66m.

In Italy, Roma people are considerably less integrated than in other European societies. In Rome, their camps have been likened to ghettos, and they are often blamed for burglaries, robberies and other crimes.

In June, a Pew Research Centre study showed that 43% of people in Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Poland viewed Roma people negatively with percentages rising to 86% for Italians and 60% for the French.

Francis, a well-known champion of the destitute, paid an impromptu visit to a Roma camp in February and last year deplored "hostility and contempt" towards the Roma people.

Read more on:    pope francis  |  vatican city

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