Slovakia, 30 July 2020 -- The small country of Slovakia with 5.3 million people has about an 8-9% Gypsy (Roma) minority, in 4th place in Europe where a significant portion of about 10 million Roma-Sinti ethnic peoples live. Although the Roma have lived in Slovakia for more than 600 years, still a large number of them are not yet 'integrated' within the ordinary social network of this country. Yes, there are even some Roma-Gypsy Catholic priests and religious sisters - but the 'Roma Ministry is considered more difficult than the missio ad gentes outside their country by most of the Catholic clergy and religious.
Yet, for the Salesians of Don Bosco this challenging mission is connected with the name of one pioneer, Fr. Peter Bešenyei (57 years), who dedicated his whole pastoral life after his ordination in 1992 to the Gypsy-Roma ministry - basically as a founder in Bardejov-Postarka, in Michalovce and also in Lunik IX (Kosice). His rich missionary experience in his own homeland is shared in his first collection 'The Gypsy Silence' (Romske ticho, ed. DB 2009) and last year he published a second volume, a narrative style experience-based appeal 'Let's kill the racist in ourselves' (Don Bosco Publications, Bratislava (130 pages).
In 50 short essays Fr. Peter tackles in an honest, open and daring way racism, prejudice, segregation from both sides - from the majority of the Slovak people as well from the Roma-Gypsy minority point of view. As an experienced pastor, educator and missionary Fr Besenyei offers concrete ways to different groups of people: medical staff, teachers, priests, drivers. His advice is always Gospel inspired with concrete hints from the Samaritan, Lazarus or the Prostitute. At the end you can enjoy three different homilies on the Roma-Gypsy Catholic community pilgrimages (2010 - 2017 - 2019). We hope this publication will be soon available in other major languages as well!
Fr. Peter is currently a member of the Kosice SDB community, working as Director of the Roma-Gypsy Pastoral Centre (Kosice), and Secretary of the Slovakian Bishops Conference for the Roma-Gypsy ministry, as well as provincial delegate for the Roma-Gypsy ministry of the SDB Slovakia province (183 SDBs living in 20 communities, three of them fully involved in this ministry). Among the 600 Slovakian Gypsy 'settlements - villages - special districts' our Salesian humble contribution is only a drop in the ocean, but offers a shining prophetic sign to society and to the whole Catholic community.
Ten years ago (2010) the Salesian Congregation celebrated the 'Salesian Missions Day' with the theme 'I am With You' - Salesians Walking with the Roma Youth, and among the three Projects to sustain was the Kazincbarcika Technical school (Hungary, UNG province), Stara Zagora (Bulgaria, CEP province) and Kosice-Lunik IX (Slovakia, SLK province). Now after 10 years, during the 2020 Salesian Mission Day the 'Lunik IX Oratory is again proposed as the Project of the year.
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