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Marist Bulletin - Number 53


Romany in Hungary

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Brother Mateo González

Brothers commemorate our Marist return to Hungary
September 16, 2002 marked the 12th Anniversary of the joyful return of our Brothers to Hungary, thanks to the initiative of Brother Charles Howard and his Council.
I remember the high hopes we enjoyed on our arrival there, just a few months after the Berlin Wall was torn down. Joyfully, we set about re-launching the Marist charism of the Brothers who preceded us before the Iron Curtain divided the continent.
We received an outpouring of support and encouragement from so many brothers and Marist Provinces, especially in Europe, during the uncertainty of our early days. To a great extent, the support of the local population and especially the young people, all of whom welcomed us with open arms, guided our first steps in studying the language, becoming familiar with the situation in a country just emerging from its communist past, and immersing ourselves in its culture.
Our apostolic field was well-defined from the start, and addressed one of the priorities of the Episcopal Conference in Hungary: We offered our help and Marist way of doing things to set up and then direct the parish school Apor Vilmos in Győr. At the present time this school has more than a thousand students and a boarding school with more than 200. It’s doing very well and we’re happy to report that the goal we proposed when we arrived in Győr has been achieved. A community of four Brothers – François, Rémi, Misi, and Juanjo – continues to devote itself to our mission in this school.

A new challenge
In keeping with the guidelines of our recent General Chapters, four years ago the brothers in the Sector began a discernment process with a view to opening a new community in the country. In the spirit of refounding the Institute, we wanted to draw closer to the plight of the poorest, be present in out-of-the-way places, diversify our Marist mission, be in solidarity...
After a year in discernment and encouraged by the Interprovincial Council of Hungary, made up of representatives from the Provinces of Beaucamps-St-Genis-Laval and Catalunya, we decided to open a community in a very poor section of the city of Esztergom, one marked by deprivation of every kind: material, religious, educational, social, family life bereft of hope...
Presently three brothers, Bruno, Peter and I are working together in classes at a parish school, serving the Romany people among whom we live, and the nearby parish.

Marist presence among the Romany in Esztergom
Our insertion community among the Romany in Esztergom is meant to witness to the Gospel and reveal the essence of Mary’s way of life. We brothers are on the scene and sharing the life of these 250 people living in poverty: their ups and downs, hopes and trials, their culture, and their attempts to gain a foothold in Hungarian society... We have been accepted as members of this Romany community, even though they have a tough time trying to understand our not being married (and have generously offered to help us solve this “need”).
Many of the problems that our people face are attributable to a lack of educational opportunities. That being the case, we brothers have chosen to work mainly with children and young people, loving them and teaching them values that will help them now and in the future. We do keep in close contact with the adults and help them out whenever we can.

“Our house”
Since March 2002, we have run a Youth Center next to our residence, where every afternoon we welcome some 60 Romany children and young people ranging in age from 2 to 25. We call it “Our House,” a name that symbolizes what we are about.
The only requirement boys and girls must meet to enter the Center and take part in its programs is to show us their hands – they must have clean hands. The worst thing that can happen to a child here is to be told, “Tomorrow you can’t come to the Center.”
Activities take place each afternoon from 4 to 7 p.m., when the children finish their school day. On weekends we have sports and educational videos. During vacation we organize excursions and camps. We celebrate national holidays together.
Five teachers and two volunteers help us. Economic backing to maintain the Center is faithfully provided by our foundation “Heart without borders.”
Afternoon activities are followed by time for study, manual work, computers, games, music, Romany dance classes... For older members, there is a social club and vocational training.

At “Our House,” we aim to:
1. Help the children realize their talents, abilities, and personal potential.
2. Teach values, habits of personal hygiene and behavior that will help them gain access to the mainstream of Hungarian society.
3. Expand their knowledge of Romany and Hungarian culture, fostering identification with their own culture and integration into the wider society.
4. Promote a religious outlook that respects other creeds in a spirit of ecumenism.
5. Provide suitable space for educational, recreational and social activities.
6. Offer information and assistance concerning professional development and computer technology.

In summary, “Our House,” for Hungary a pioneering effort in this kind of endeavor – is open to all, and especially for those children of the poor who gaze upon the wonders of our world and dream of fascinating tomorrows, under the watchful eyes of Mary our Good Mother and Father Champagnat.

(PRESENCE MARISTE, Nº 234. January-April 2003, pages 6 and 7)

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