Pope Francis apologized Sunday to the Roma ethnic minority for a history of discrimination in Europe and paid homage to Romanian Catholics persecuted during communist rule as he wrapped up his three-day visit with a message of forgiveness. Francis reached out to the minorities of Transylvania during a deeply symbolic visit to Romania about 20 years after St. John Paul II made the first-ever papal trip to the majority Orthodox country, the AP reports. In his final stop Sunday, Francis visited a community of Roma, also known as Gypsies, in a new Catholic church so small that organizers asked the clergy to leave to make room for Gypsy families to get in. There, Francis apologized for the "many experiences of discrimination, segregation, and mistreatment experienced by your communities," a reference to the second-class status of the Roma minority throughout Europe.
"History tells us that Christians too, including Catholics, are not strangers to such evil," Francis said, in an apparent reference to World War II-era deportation of Roma along with Romanian Jews commemorated by a Holocaust memorial in Bucharest. "I ask forgiveness of you," Francis said, "for all those times in history when we have discriminated, mistreated or looked askance at you ... and were unable to acknowledge you, to value you, and to defend you in your uniqueness." Roma are often among the poorest and least educated citizens in Central Europe. Neighboring Hungary, for example, has been warned by the EU about discrimination against Roma children in education. The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights reported last year that 80 percent of the Roma population in Europe is at risk for poverty, and that hate-motivated crime and harassment were preventing their inclusion in society. (Vatican archives could soon reveal the actions of Pope Pius XII during World War II.)