'Pope of the Periphery' visits Slovakia's excluded Roma minority in Kosice, as local officials hurriedly fix roads and homes after decades of neglect

Pope Francis traveled to the far east of Slovakia on Tuesday to meet with the country’s Roma in a gesture of inclusion for the most socially excluded minority group in Slovakia, who have long suffered discrimination, marginalization and poverty, The Associated Press reports.

Francis visited the Lunik IX settlement in Kosice, the biggest of about 600 shabby, segregated settlements where the poorest 20 percent of Slovakia’s 400,000 Roma live. Most lack basics such as running water or sewage systems, gas or electricity.

Before the Pope arrived, Slovak officials began repairing decades of neglect, residents said.

“We have new roads, new stairs, they repaired everything,” resident Alexander Horvath said. “It was all destroyed before.”

The “pope of the peripheries” has long sought to meet with society’s most marginal during his foreign trips, making sure to always include visits to slums, ghettos or prisons where he can offer words of encouragement, solidarity and welcome.

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