On Saturday 29 August a centre for the Roma in Croatia was inaugurated, where Europe's largest ethnic minority counts over 35 thousand people, mainly concentrated in the north.
The centre was built by the Sovereign Military Order of Malta in the diocese of Varadzin, where there are about 10 thousand Roma. SMOM's Roma ambassador Franz Salm, who was present at the inauguration, said that the Roma "face discrimination every day, 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, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, was supposed to attend the inauguration of the Centre and Chapel dedicated to St. John the Baptist, in the same village of Petrijanec, as a representative of Pope Francis, due to the competence of the Dicastery for the apostolate of the street, itinerant people, Roma and Sinti, but his trip was not possible due to the health regulations on COVID19.
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 the Eucharistic celebration presided over by Msgr. Vlado Košić, Bishop of Sisak, in the presence of co-workers from all over Croatia; Count Georg Eltz, for the Order of Marta; and the director of the Centre, Kristina Čačić, secretary of Roma Pastoral Care in the Diocese of Varaždin; Sister Karolina Miljak, from the Congregation of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus, national director of pastoral care for the Roma of the Croatian Church, and many of the children attending her catechism courses.
"For us, integral human development - said Sister Karolina in an interview with Vaticannews - means including the Roma in all our projects, in our community life, because they really need everything. Children, for example, just play all day long. We will try to improve the quality of their daily life". That is why, she said, 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".