Slovak church bungles inclusion of Romani newcomer into First Communion ceremony, charges of racial discrimination being investigated
Slovak media and online social networks have recently been discussing the case of a Romani girl who was told that during her First Communion at the Basilica of St. Nicholas in Trnava she would not be allowed to sit with the rest of the children - at their parents' request. The mother of the 11-year-old girl first posted a description of her situation to the "Ask a Lawyer" group on social media the night before the ceremony asking for advice about what to do.
"Would you be able to advise me where to file a complaint ... for discrimination? Tomorrow we are meant, or rather my daughter is meant, to attend her First Communion, and today we went to confession, and the other parents of the other children do not want my daughter to sit in front with the rest of the kids, they want us as a family to be seated in the back. What can I do in such a case?" the post read.
In the discussion beneath her post, the mother later alleged that the church had offered to hold a separate First Communion ceremony just for her daughter. Jozef Viskupič, Governor of the Trnava Region, whose son was meant to attend the same service, subsequently contacted the chaplain and told him he believed it would be unacceptable for one child to have to sit separately from the rest during First Communion.
"He agreed and the girl was able to sit with everybody else. I informed the catechetical leaders and the mass took place in dignity and humility and in God's temple, where we should all be - and all are - equal," the Governor posted to Facebook after the service.
The situation was also condemned in a live social media broadcast by the Governor's cousin and chair of the Ordinary People and Independent Figures movement ((OĽaNO), Igor Matovič. The party chair claimed that the Governor had told the chaplain, among other things, that if he were to succumb to the pressure from the other non-Romani parents, the Governor would hold the Romani girl on his lap during the ceremony.
"In my view this is a catastrophic example of our internal racism - we are even able to demonstrate our racism towards a defenseless child at her First Communion, on such a big day for her," Matovič said. According to some of the non-Romani parents, however, the seating arrangement issue was not about racism.
"We were addressing the seating of the parents, not the children. That's essential, it was never even hinted at that the child would sit somewhere in the back," one of the parents told news server aktuality.sk.
That same parent then sent a more detailed statement by the non-Romani parents to the editors of that news server. The statement describes that the girl at issue had not attended the ceremony rehearsal together with the other children, had not been seen on Friday at confession, and that allegedly nobody had paid for her share of the ceremony, including the gift each child receives.
The non-Romani parents were, therefore, startled to learn the girl would attend the ceremony, as they had not been informed. "We want to clarify that under no circumstances did any of the parents make any remarks about the girl's origins. One Romani girl has already been here among our children, it wasn't a problem, there were no allusions made to her origins, nothing of the sort. That child regularly attended all the activities together with her parents," the non-Romani parents say in their statement, adding that what they disliked was the fact that the girl had not attended the rehearsal and was not, in their view, prepared for the ceremony.
The parish of Trnava responded to the incident, stating that the girl had come to them from a different parish and a different school. Her mother, according to the parish, asked to join the First Holy Communion about a week before the ceremony was to take place.
The parson therefore asked the opinion of the catechistical leaders in the other parish, who had taught the girl for the last two years, whether she was prepared to receive communion. After they confirmed to him that she was, he agreed to accept the girl's participation in the ceremony.
"The seating order was determined not because of discrimination, which we thoroughly reject, but because she applied late and did not attend preparations and rehearsal," the parish said in its statement, adding that spiritual services are annually provided to dozens of believers from the Romani community and no problems have ever arisen during them. The case is currently being investigated by the National Criminal Agency.
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