Europe

Pope Francis apologises to Roma for Catholic discrimination

Pope Francis meets Roma people in Romania Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The pope asked for forgiveness from the Roma people

Pope Francis has apologised to the Roma people on behalf of the Catholic Church during his visit to Romania.

At a meeting with Roma people on the last day of his visit to the country, the pontiff asked forgiveness for "all those times in history when we have discriminated, mistreated or looked askance at you".

Roma people have faced persecution in Europe for centuries.

Hundreds of thousands are thought to have been killed during the Holocaust.

Nowadays Roma live mainly in southern and central Europe, and make up an estimated 8% of Romania's total population. They complain they struggle to get work because of discrimination, and many live in poverty.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The pope made the comments when he met with Roma people in central Romania

"I ask forgiveness - in the name of the Church and of the Lord - and I ask forgiveness of you," Pope Francis said in the central town of Blaj.

"Indifference breeds prejudices and fosters anger and resentment," the pontiff said. "How many times do we judge rashly, with words that sting, with attitudes that sow hatred and division!"

"This is a historic moment for me and my people," Damian Draghici, a Roma MEP for Romania, told the BBC. "I hope this message will change people's attitude and stereotypes against our people."

Who are the Roma?

The meeting with the Roma came after a ceremony in Blaj at which Pope Francis beatified seven bishops who were jailed and tortured during Communist rule in Romania.

Authorities detained the men in 1948 for treason after they refused to convert to Orthodox Christianity.

All seven died in confinement and were buried in secret.

"With great courage and interior fortitude, they accepted harsh imprisonment and every kind of mistreatment, in order not to deny their fidelity to their beloved Church," Pope Francis told tens of thousands of worshippers at the open-air Mass on Sunday.

Beatification - a papal "blessing" on a dead person" - is a crucial step on the way to sainthood.

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Media captionThousands see Pope Francis arrive in Romania

The seven bishops were part of the Eastern Catholic church - a religious group that practises Orthodox Christian rituals but recognise the Pope's authority.

When a Communist regime took power in Romania following the end of World War II, the authorities outlawed Eastern Catholicism and demanded worshippers convert to Orthodoxy.

According to 2011 census data, only about 150,000 Eastern Catholics remain in Romania - roughly one 10th of the number that followed the church in 1948.

Historians believe thousands of Romanians were executed by Communist authorities, with many more imprisoned or tortured for opposing the regime.

The totalitarian government collapsed in December 1989. President Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife were executed on Christmas Day.

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Image caption An icon showing the seven bishops appeared during the mass
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Tens of thousands of people attended the open air ceremony in Blaj
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Priests took pictures of Pope Francis

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