Religion in Romania
Romania's evangelical Romanies
Jan 17th 2011 by B.J. | RÂMNICELU
HERE in the remote Romanian village of Râmnicelu, a quiet religious revolution has taken place. Among the local Roma, who make up half the population here, Orthodox Christianity, traditionally the religion of Romania's Roma and non-Roma alike, is giving way to a sparky Pentecostalism.
Grigore Vasile, a Romani preacher, claims to have converted 80% of Râmnicelu's Roma to Pentecostalism since 2008. In May 2010 over 150 converted en masse. The village boasts a Pentecostal Roma church with services in the Romani tongue featuring traditional music. Locals claim that the switch has turned religion from something encountered only at births, marriages and funerals into an integral part of their lives.
And there is evidence that the trend is being replicated elsewhere in Romania. “There is a rising trend of Roma converting to Protestantism,” says Ilie Dinca, president of the National Agency for Roma Affairs, a government body. Research conducted in 2007 by the Roma Education Fund suggests that a fifth of the country's Roma may now belong to smaller religious denominations, mostly Pentecostal but also Catholic and Islamic sects. Other mass conversions are reported to have occurred in the villages of Vale Rece and Tecuci.
Adrian Marsh, an expert on the Roma, estimates that Romani membership of Protestant churches in Romania is growing at about 6% a year, compared to less than 1% for Romania's non-Roma. The converts are coming at the expense of the Orthodox church, which is experiencing a 3.5% annual loss. There are now Romani-language Pentecostal churches across Romania, from the capital, Bucharest, to the provincial cities of Timisoara, Sibiu and Cluj.
What lies behind all this? “First, the [Pentecostal] preachers use the Romani language to touch their congregants. Second, they integrate traditional Roma music into their services. Third, they offer much-needed humanitarian aid,” explains Gele Duminica, from Together, a Roma NGO.
The mass conversions in Râmnicelu, which is in one of the poorest parts of Romania, surprised some non-Roma. The village has earned notoriety in Romania for child marriages. Two years ago the union of a five-year-old girl with a 15-year-old boy caused a national outcry. In 2007 an 11-year-old girl gave birth in the local hospital.
Typically Romani girls drop out of school when they marry. But the director of the schools in Râmnicelu says that girls are now attending classes, and that the boys are better behaved. Locals say the conversions have helped them understand the value of education. Field-officers from the National Agency for Roma attest that conversions have reduced violence, criminality and alcoholism in other parts of the country.
In Transylvania, Florin Cioba, the self-styled "King of the Gypsies everywhere", is a Pentecostal minister. He says the religion is fast gaining ground. "Perhaps the reason for the conversion is historic," he says. "When we were slaves in Romania, until 1856, the Roma belonged to the monasteries of the Romanian Orthodox Church."
But Mr Cioba shows that Pentecostalism is not a panacea for the social blights of the Roma. He is notorious in Romania for having attempted to marry off his 12-year-old daughter in a Romani community.