A ROMA taxi driver who experienced a torrent of racial abuse from passengers is tackling the stigma he claims is surrounding his Community by helping Roma people turn away from lives spent begging.
Luciano Ulita, who lives in Silversprings, said that when he first travelled to Ireland back in 2002 he told people he was Italian to avoid being stigmatised.
"Roma gypsies had a bad name,” he said. “People don't trust the Roma or Romanian people. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what country we're from. We are all Christians. Now I’m proud to call myself a Romanian gypsy.”
Since founding the Apostolic Church in Mayfield Business Park just under a year ago he has been working tirelessly to change perceptions around his community.
During his short time serving as a pastor in the Church, he has already inspired a number of Romani people, involved in activities like begging and stealing, to turn to Christianity.
“These are the things that bring shame to this country,” he said.
He highlighted the dangerous nature of common stereotypes.
“One of the things I love most about Cork is the people,” he said.
“For every 20 people I have in my taxi 15 will ask me where I’m from. 95% of these people are great."
"They’re the kind of people who make me proud to live here, but there’s always the 5% who say things like 'how are you working?' or 'go back to your country!' I don’t become angry but I do ask for an apology.”
The father of six has taken to the streets of Cork city in an attempt to convert those begging.
“We came across a couple of Roma begging on the streets and brought them sandwiches. We spoke to them about the Church and God and asked them why they felt they had to do this. Many of these people are not living here and fly back after a short time."
"Of course we are not able to control everyone and we can’t stop them coming here. Unfortunately, there’s always going to be one or two were not able to help, but we will never give up on anyone.”
Luciano is hopeful that those giving his community a bad name can be saved.
“We visit the doctor when we’re sick and the Church is no different.
"Jesus Christ didn’t come to the people with no sin. I preach about how God doesn’t want us to sin and what it means to be a good person."
"Lots of people used to beg but things are improving. It’s something I want to work on more and more. I hear there are a few Roma in prison in Cork. My hope is to gain access to the prison so I can preach the Gospel to them.”
He has witnessed firsthand the difference religion can make to someone’s life.
“There are so many people who have come to our Church and been converted. I know this because I no longer see them begging when I’m driving around in my taxi. ” Luciano remains positive about the future.
“I hope that in the next 15 years we will see Romani doctors, nurses and solicitors. There aren’t enough role models, but we believe in hope. Times are always changing and we want to finish what we started.
He stressed that the majority of his community are good -living people.
“We have families in the community who can’t find houses to rent because they are Roma. These are good honest people. I had a family member who had employers refusing to accept his CV because of who he is.”
Luciano is working closely with Blackpool Community Centre and Cork City Partnership to help people turn their lives around.
“We are so very grateful to Blackpool Community Centre and Cork City Partnership. Because of them, people in the Roma community are able to participate in courses such as dressmaking and literacy classes as a way of improving their skills. They also offer activities such as football for the kids. We are also very thankful to StVincent De Paul who have helped so many families in the community.”