Inclusion on whose terms? The Church of Sweden and the Roma minority in Sweden
After decades of discrimination, the Church of Sweden is taking several steps to make amends with the Roma community. Will public apologies and the translation of prayers be enough to make Romas trust the Church?
From abusive to inclusive
The relationship between the Church of Sweden and the Roma is an unbalanced one. On the one hand, as a former state church, the Church of Sweden (henceforth referred to as the Church) has played a role in discriminating against Roma. Between 1934-1976, for example, the Swedish state imposed forced sterilisation on people considered physically or socially vulnerable.  Those Roma who had no fixed domicile were often sterilised and Roma children were taken away from their parents.  On the other hand, during the past decades, the Church has taken different initiatives to make amends for its abusive past and make the life and languages of Roma visible in its liturgy.  The translation of the Common Worship Liturgy Book into four different Roma dialects is an important step towards a renewed relationship between the Roma and the Church.  How is this reconciliation set to continue and what are the possible pitfalls?
Reconciliation on whose terms?
In 2000, the Swedish gave five different groups the status of national minority: the Jews, the Roma, the Sami, the inhabitants of Tornedalen, and the Finnish-speaking Swedes. The Swedish government recognises five groups of Roma that arrived in Sweden in different centuries and from several countries.    Due to their different backgrounds, these groups can have various religious affiliations. In addition, some groups, such as the travelling one, have often experienced a higher degree of discrimination, compared to the other Roma communities. In 2000, the same year as they became a national minority, archbishop K.G. Hammar led a mass of reconciliation for all Roma communities. Even though the mass was appreciated, the representatives of the Travelling Roma pointed out that reconciliation is something that happens between two sides that have done wrong to each other, while the Roma have done no wrong to the Church. Since then, the Church has taken a number of initiatives to include and make the Roma minority visible in its life and activities, both on a national and local level.
Mapping from 2012 showed that practising Roma religiosity within the Church of Sweden was difficult. This was due to the lack of knowledge about Roma, the absence of material translated into the Roma languages, and numerous prejudices. Between 2014 and 2016, the Church decided to continue improving its relation to the Roma through different projects.  In May 2021, the Church of Sweden presented a translation of the Common Worship liturgy book containing prayers and liturgies in four different Roma dialects.  On May 23rd 2021, masses were celebrated in both Uppsala and Linköping Cathedral using the newly adopted Common Worship liturgy book, with representatives from the Roma communities taking part in both masses. On August 19th the same year, the translation of the Common Worship liturgy book was introduced in the diocese of Vesterås.
At the moment, however, there seem to be no long-term plans to involve the Roma communities in the activities of the Church. While there are confirmation groups focusing on young Sami, there seem to be no such groups for young Roma. Moreover, while parts of the website of the Church can be viewed in several minority languages, no parts of it are translated into any Roma dialects. In addition, the Roma minority still experiences discrimination when making contact with the Church. For example, it seems to be difficult to book local churches to celebrate baptism. These examples show that even though the Church of Sweden shows willingness to include the Roma minority on the national level, on the local level discrimination still takes place.
Religion is an important part of Roma’s life and tradition. In Sweden, quite a number of Roma are members of the Church and have a strong desire to remain so.   The examples in this article show that there is a need to take into account the wishes and religiosity of Roma communities and to do so with a long-term plan.
The translation of the Common Worship liturgy book, the will to make amends for a discriminatory past, and efforts to make the life and traditions of Roma communities visible are positive steps. However, in order to work for a shared future with the Roma minority, the Church needs a long-term budget that will secure practical activities on a grass-root level. This way, the needs of the Roma communities and those of the Church can continue to meet each other on both a local and national level.
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