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German bishop urges Christians to combat anti-Gypsy prejudices

17 May 2024

Alamy

The acting council chair of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), the Rt Revd Kirsten Fehrs, leads the ecumenical Stations of the Cross in Schleswig-Holstein, Lübeck, in March

The acting council chair of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), the Rt Revd Kirsten Fehrs, leads the ecumenical Stations of the Cross in Schleswi...

THE acting council chair of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), the Rt Revd Kirsten Fehrs, has urged Christians to combat anti-Gypsy prejudices, and work against the hostility directed at Roma minorities in Europe.

“There are still prejudices, even outright hatred, against Sinti and Roma in many countries, including here in Germany,” Bishop Fehrs said.

“For a long time, the suffering inflicted against them was not seen, and the genocide not noticed. Since the Protestant Church also failed at that time, it’s all the more important that the EKD stands up against anti-Gypsy caricatures today, and supports inclusiveness.”

Bishop Fehrs issued the appeal for International Roma Day, on 8 April, which has raised awareness of Roma issues since 1990.

She said that the day offered an opportunity to recognise the Roma contribution to cultural history, but also to draw attention to continuing discrimination and violence, and to press for justice and “inviolable human dignity” for Roma communities under Germany’s Basic Law, or constitution.

“From a Christian perspective, every human being has a dignity given by God — it is important to live this human dignity in everyday life,” Bishop Fehrs said. “This is especially true when rights are being questioned by radical populists. Together, we must ensure we remain a society with a human face.”

Church organisations have repeatedly urged better treatment of Europe’s ten to 12 million Gypsies, who make up one third of the world’s total, but are the continent’s least organised and represented minority: up to four-fifths live in poverty, and 30 per cent lack running water and basic facilities.

About half a million Roma, who first reached Europe from the Punjab in the tenth century, were killed by Nazis during the Holocaust — something not publicly commemorated until the 1990s — and Roma life expectancy currently remains 11 years below the European average.

In October 2020, the European Commission launched a ten-year plan to improve conditions in all areas for Roma, including halving the gap with the general population in education, employment, health, housing, and income.

In a resolution last October, however, the European Parliament said that the EU’s 27 member-states still needed “concrete policies” for protecting and integrating Roma, as well as “concrete actions” to “fight and dismantle systemic discrimination and build a Europe of equality for all”.

In January last year, the EKD in Germany called for Churches to examine their own “history of guilt” towards Roma, many of whom belong to predominant Christian denominations, and undertake a “critical examination” of relevant “theological and ecclesiastical thought patterns and influences”.

In Britain, where the first Roma Congress was co-organised by the World Council of Churches in 1971, an ecumenical Churches Network for Gypsies, Travellers and Roma was set up in the late 1990s, and the Church of England now has a dozen chaplains working with Roma communities.

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