Pope Benedict XVI paid tribute on Saturday to the "painful" history of Europe's Roma nomads and called for the community to start a "new page" through integration.
Speaking to around 2,000 Roma representatives at a meeting in the Vatican, Benedict also said that Roma culture had "enriched" Europe but that the community had suffered from intolerance for centuries.
"Your history is complex and sometimes painful. You are a people who in past centuries have not had nationalist ideologies, have not wanted to conquer land or dominate other people," the pope said at the audience.
"You have remained without a homeland and ideally you consider the entire continent your home. But there are still grave and worrying problems, like the often difficult relations with the societies in which you live," he said.
"I invite you, dear friends, to write together a new page in the history of your people and of Europe! Seeking accommodation and dignified work and education for your children are the basis on which to build integration.
"Through the centuries you have known the bitter taste of a lack of hospitality and sometimes of persecution like in World War II," he added.
"Europe's conscience cannot forget such pain," the German pontiff said.
Benedict XVI, now 84, was drafted into a German anti-aircraft corps at the end of the war and was briefly held as a prisoner of war in 1945.
The event at the Vatican was to honour the 150th anniversary of the birth of Ceferino Gimenez Malla, a Catholic Roma from Spain who was beatified by late pope John Paul II in 1997, putting him on the path to sainthood.
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