Gypsies Have a Place in the Church, Says Vatican

Pontifical Council Organizes a Congress Over «Children of the Wind»

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BUDAPEST, Hungary, JULY 4, 2003 ( The Vatican wants to make sure the world’s gypsies feel at home in the Church.

To that end, the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers organized a world congress, entitled «Church and Gypsies: For a Spirituality of Communion.» The weeklong event here ends Monday.

The meeting seeks to evaluate the Christian life and integration of the 18 million «children of the wind» — as gypsies are usually known — who live primarily in Europe, and a similar figure, according to some estimates, residing in India. The gathering has attracted 170 representatives from several episcopal conferences, as well as several hundred Catholic gypsies.

In a message sent for the occasion to Archbishop Stephen Fumio Hamao, president of the pontifical council, John Paul II applauds the choice of the topic «spirituality of communion» as the theme of the meeting.

The Church expresses its attention, understanding and solidarity toward these people, rejecting the temptation to give in to mistrust and indifference, the Pope said.

Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, the pontifical council’s secretary, said that the meeting in Budapest seeks to find «ways of reciprocal and creative encounter between the Church and gypsies.»

«Still today, for many they are an unknown people and, because of their diversity, they are victims of discrimination and rejection,» he told Vatican Radio. «In reflecting on the topic of communion, we seek to call attention to values such as openness, hospitality, coexistence, fraternity. Moreover, we wish to make known the solidarity and welcome that the Church offers to gypsies so that they will feel at home in her.»

The archbishop explained that the issue of communion poses critical questions.

«Is it possible that in our times there are still people who are hungry? Who remain illiterate? Who lack basic medicines? Who do not have a home?» the archbishop asked. «Unfortunately, for many gypsies the answer is yes: Namely, it is possible to say that they die of hunger, that they are illiterate, that they do not have medical treatment.»

«This is leading us in Budapest to reflect on some fundamental issues regarding respect for the dignity of gypsies, tolerance, and collaboration in the social and political field, topics such as: the human and social development of gypsies; new educational plans in an intercultural society; the safeguarding of gypsies’ rights in the migratory phenomenon and in the processes of integration; the role of the media in the formation of a culture of solidarity and tolerance,» he explained.

The archbishop concluded: «Moreover, given that rights and duties go together, we are also addressing with gypsies their role and obligations in bringing about authentic social and ecclesial communion.»

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