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August 15, 2022



COVID-19 dampens turnout for annual international pilgrimage by Catholic Roma in the Czech Republic, but the atmosphere was not affected

22.9.2020 9:24
Approximately 130 Romani people assembled on Saturday, 19 September in the center of Olomouc for a pilgrimage that has become a Romani tradition.
Approximately 130 Romani people assembled on Saturday, 19 September in the center of Olomouc for a pilgrimage that has become a Romani tradition.

Approximately 130 Romani people assembled in the center of Olomouc, Czech Republic on Saturday, 19 September for a pilgrimage that has become a Romani tradition. This year marked the 22nd such pilgrimage by believers in the Romani community.

Speaking on behalf of the organizers, Richenza Buková told the Czech News Agency that attendance this year had been reduced significantly by the measures taken against the COVID-19 pandemic. The theme of this year's pilgrimage was Jekhetane ("Together").

"It was more modest. In the beginning we were almost afraid that nobody might show up, it was 10 AM and nobody but us was here. However, just after 10 approximately 60 people arrived from Ostrava, and after Holy Mass about 70 people arrived from Přerov," Buková said.

The pilgrimage this year was held in the Cathedral of St. Wenceslas and its adjacent gardens. It included a late morning mass, and after a common lunch there was a lecture and competitions for children.

Musical accompaniment was provided throughout the day by a band from the Don Bosco Salesian Center in Ostrava and by the Triangl Band. "Everything went smoothly, in a friendly spirit, joyfully," Buková said.

Originally the organizers had anticipated as many as 250 pilgrims attending. Because of the measures associated with the pandemic, however, many of the usual pilgrims did not make it this year, including, among others, Romani people from Slovakia.

"We were meant to also have the GPS band from Slovakia here, but they called off their participation even before the rules became more strict. They knew that if they traveled to the Czech Republic their members would have to quarantine upon return. Moreover, as their lead singer told us, they all have young children at home and are afraid to travel. The community and the priest in Prešov gradually called off their participation too," Buková said.

"I'm glad this year's pilgrimage was actually a pilgrimage, which means we were traveling toward God and simultaneously had the opportunity to come together. Maybe paradoxically, thanks to the coronavirus situation, we experienced this year's pilgrimage more deeply and more calmly. This demonstrates to us that the number is not important, but that the quality of our experience on our travel with God is what matters," said Petr Prinz, the director of Caritas Olomouc.

Holy Mass was celebrated by the Archbishop of Olomouc, Monsignor Jan Graubner, together with the Salesian priest Father Jiří Caha. During the liturgical reading of Christ's Parable of the Sower from the Gospel of Luke, the priests' homily focused primarily on children and young people.

Instead of GPS, musical accompaniment during the Holy Mass was provided by a new Salesian band from Ostrava. "When we learned the Slovak band was not coming, we contacted the Salesian priest Father Jiří Caha with a request for aid. In an absolutely unbelievable way, Father Caha quickly put together a band of Salesian musicians and presented them here in Olomouc as the Don Bosco band," Buková said.

In recent years the pilgrimage by Romani people has only come directly into Olomouc twice, in 2007 and 2019. During all the other years it was held in the Basilica of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Marty called Svatý Kopeček (Holy Hill) near Olomouc.

The pilgrimage is currently being held at the Cathedral of St. Wenceslas in Olomouc proper because the interior spaces of the ambits and basilica at Svatý Kopeček are undergoing reconstruction, and that is where the auxiliary cultural program has usually been held. This year's spiritual pilgrimage was called Jekhetane, which means "together" in Romanes.

"Caritas and the church feel that we have a debt toward Romani people, because when the Gospel is proclaimed, their needs and specific situations are frequently forgotten. Although we, as Caritas, do not know how to undertake some aspects of the pastoral care of Roma, we want to at least attempt to do so," Prinz said.

The pilgrimage by the Roma has been organized since 1998 by Caritas Olomouc and has been attended by up to 600 people in previous years. The organizers want the pilgrimage to make it possible for Romani people from all over the country to share their traditional values together, to present their culture, and to contribute to bringing the majority society and the Romani minority closer together.

ČTK, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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