Roma, Slovakia ( - A wave of religious conversion flows through Slovakia's Roma settlements. Spiritual organisations may show more success at integrating Roma than municipalities and social workers do.

In Čičava, a small village in eastern Slovakia, a priest is leading a Roma integration revolution. Ten years ago Martin Mekel moved with his two daughters, son and wife to the house that today also serves as a formation centre for Roma. The ground floor consists of a kitchen, a large common area for activities and masses and a room with bunk beds for students who want to focus on their studies. Pictures of saints colour the concrete walls, and wooden carved hearts remind visitors of God’s love.

Martin, who had first studied physics, is a tall, thin man with a gentle voice. When he smiles, he squeezes his eyes together instead of opening his mouth. He looks tired but not without reason. The past decade has been one of early mornings and late nights. He organises advisory meetings, workshops, music sessions, festivals and excursions, in addition to leading four masses per week. All of his work is aimed at the Roma minority. But for Martin, these activities are nothing more than a doorway to what he says is more important: building an identity in order to achieve social change.

Today the Greek Catholic Formation Center for Roma is working with approximately a thousand Roma across more than 13 villages. According to their own estimates 70-80 percent of their teenagers are attending high school (non-compulsory schooling after age 15), and about 30 students are enrolled in university. Those numbers are high compared to some villages, where only a few Roma teenagers, if any, are attending high school.

Sára is one of the students attending university. She lives in what is called the downtown ghetto of Čičava and studies pedagogy in the nearby city of Prešov. She wears pink shoes that match her sweatpants and socks in the same shade of blue as her T-shirt.

“Seven years ago, when I was 13 years old, I first came into contact with the Formation Center. Now I know I am not alone. And it has changed me. Without religion I would maybe have finished high school, but a university? Certainly not.”

Stories like this one are well-known throughout Slovakia. No matter where you go on the eastern side of the country, if you drop the name “Čičava”, you will see lights in the eyes of social workers. Many community centres have already started to work with the Greek Catholic Formation Centre for Roma in the hope that they will offer a solution for their own local integration problems.

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Teachings of Christ

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-44 ESV)

Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem

O Lord and Master of my life, drive away from me the spirit of despondency, carelessness, love of power, and idle chatter. (Prostration)

Rather grant to me, Your servant, the spirit of wholeness of being, humility, patience, and love. (Prostration)

Yes, O Lord and King, grant that I may see my own faults and not condemn my brother; for You are blessed to the ages of ages. Amen. (Prostration)


Today is the fountainhead of our salvation, * and the revelation of an eternal mystery: * The Son of God becomes the Son of a Virgin, * and Gabriel announces the good news of grace. * Therefore, let us also cry with him to the Mother of God: * "Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you!” (Troparion, Tone 4)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

To you, O Mother of God, our leader and defender, * we, your servants, delivered from calamity, offer hymns of victory and thanksgiving. * So you, who have invincible might, * set us free from every peril * that we may cry to you: * "Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!" (Kontakion, Tone 8)

Random Proverb

"One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want." (Proverbs 11:24 ESV)

Pray Without Ceasing

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Wisdom from the Church Fathers

Seek, my child, the nobility of the soul, for it is truth; that of the body is false. Do not seek honor from men, for this injures one; but rather, seek heavenly glory . . . . You are to be sympathetic with all the brethren and help them as much as possible; and, you are to minister to them that are unable or weak. Do not desire to live by another's labors . . . . Never ridicule anyone, and especially when they are in misfortune. When you hear that a certain brother is disorderly, supplicate God to correct his life. Visit and help the sick, and serve the brethren as their servant; so you might be a friend of Christ Who, for your sake, became a servant and minister. Always heed, my child, not to fall into temptations. However, if it happens that you should fall, immediately rise up and amend yourself with repentance, and again hasten to prayer. In this manner, live your life, my child, and God shall always come to you and help you in soul and body.

St. Theodora of Alexandria, "The Lives of the Spiritual Mothers: An Orthodox Materikon of Women Monastics and Ascetics