International Roma Day

April 8 is the International Roma Day. What does this date mean, and what are the aims of this special day?

In April 1971, a major international gathering of Roma representatives – the first such event in history - took place in London. The participants came from 14 countries. Their aim was to explore the current social situation and culture of the Roma, to raise their voice against the marginalization of the Roma population, and to push the accounting for the crimes of the past, particularly in the Third Reich.

Some of the themes of this international gathering were also dealt with when in February 2015 some United Methodist leaders, who are committed to ministries with Roma, met in Cluj-Napoca (Romania). Witness and service of The United Methodist Church in Central and Southern includes a variety of ministries with Roma: in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and in Hungary. Some of these ministries have been started decades ago.

The presentations and discussions focused on identity and prejudices as well as on a sustainable development and future of the United Methodist Roma congregations. It was fascinating to realize how one’s own culture is perceived as abundantly and marked by a variety of origins – and how little it takes to categorize the strangers and to pigeonhole them. However, where relationships are established and developed, the diversity of the other person becomes visible and comprehensible. This does not mean that all characteristics attributed to a person would suddenly disappear, but image and relation turn to be more abundantly and more exciting.

Among the participants there were also three international guests who are committed to an improvement of the life conditions of Roma in Romania. In this country – and also beyond – a network of Christian organizations, which are involved in ministries with Roma, is slowly developing. It is not so much about establishing steadfast structures but simply about knowing whom to get in touch with in case a helping hand is needed – and it is also about learning from one another. A network of friends is very precious – and this is particularly true for countries in which the UMC has not many local churches and members.

The UMC itself is also such a network, which is open to cooperation with others. It would be great if we could succeed in improving the sustainability of this network so that we can carry each other’s and also the stranger’s burden. May we also in this regard get beyond categorizing one another and instead experience the wealth of diversity, which God has prepared for us in this world.

Source: Thomas Rodemeyer, Coordinator of the Ministries with Roma in the UMC in Central and Southern Europe
Date: April 8, 2015