Pope Francis has taken another revolutionary step, condemning those who used God’s name to commit cruel acts against believers of other faiths, such as Jews during the Holocaust
Continuing his tour of Slovakia on Tuesday, the pontiff warned the faithful against any superficial use of the crucifix.
“Let us not reduce the cross to an object of devotion, let alone a political symbol, a sign of religious and social status,” François said.
He then traveled to the far east of Slovakia to meet the country’s Roma in a gesture of inclusion for the most socially excluded minority group, victims of discrimination, marginalization and poverty.
Francis acknowledged that the Roma in Slovakia have long been subject to “prejudices and harsh judgments, discriminatory stereotypes, defamatory words and gestures”, and even misunderstandings on the part of the Catholic Church.
He urged the residents of Lunik IX settlement in Kosice to think about future generations as they try to overcome their own long-standing prejudices, obstacles and mistrust of the Slovak majority, and to try to integrate better so that their children can have a better future.
Roma have long suffered from racism and discrimination in Slovakia and elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe, and continue to face enormous obstacles in employment and education. Mistrust is mutual, with some Slovaks accusing the Roma of crime and the Roma distrusting state institutions which have long failed them.
On Monday, the Pope met with representatives of the Jewish community in Bratislava and visited the site of a synagogue destroyed by the Communist government in 1960.
Slovak Jews suffered one of the harshest persecutions in Europe. Of the country’s 89,000 Jews in 1940, some 69,000 were killed in the Holocaust. Currently, there are only 5,000 Jews living in Slovakia, which is barely 0.1% of the population.
Against the grim backdrop of the Holocaust memorial in Rybne Square, the pontiff declared that God’s name was dishonored; referring to anti-Jewish laws and practices enforced by the Slovak regime and led by Catholic priest Jozef Tiso, a Nazi ally.
The pope’s speech follows an apology from the Slovak government last Wednesday for the terrible “Jewish code” that deprived Slovak Jews of their human and civil rights.