Roma pilgrims seek just ‘one glimpse’ of Pope Francis at Hungary Mass

By Krisztina Fenyo

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – When Pope Francis visited Hungary two years ago, Roma pilgrim Csaba Kovesi, accompanied by a cross blessed by Francis and Pope John Paul II, drove around the country calling on people to travel to Budapest to see him.

Now Kovesi is on a repeat mission, driving a pick-up resembling a “popemobile” with the cross on display, hoping to convince people to attend an open-air Mass led by Francis in front of parliament on Sunday.

“We (Roma) who live in this faith would really love to get near him, just get … one glimpse,” said Kovesi as he prepared his pick-up, emblazoned with photos of Francis, for the drive.

“Faith is the greatest thing in the world and we Roma people think that we can prove our belonging by getting near the greatest man on Earth.”

Hundreds of thousands of Roma in Hungary live in disproportionate poverty and suffer from prejudice in schools and workplaces, rights activists say. During a visit to Romania in 2019, the pope asked for forgiveness in the name of the Roman Catholic Church for the mistreatment of Roma people.

Kovesi, 50, had his 1.5-metre-high cross carved for a Roma pilgrimage to the Vatican in 2003. He said Pope John Paul II blessed the cross and the group.

The cross was then taken to the Hungarian village of Csatka, a holy place for Roma in Central and Eastern Europe, where a small chapel was built for it. “Holy God help the Roma”, says an inscription on the crucifix in the Lovari language.

They carried the cross twice more to the Vatican where Francis also blessed it, Kovesi said.

“Then I told him that (Roma) have no country, no homeland of their own but we are children of the church,” Kovesi said. “And as the translator translated this, at that moment he came to me directly and blessed me.”

(Reporting by Krisztina Fenyo; Editing by Nick Macfie)