BARBASTRO, Spain, MAY 11, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The Catholic Romani community worldwide celebrated Blessed Ceferino Jiménez Malla — known popularly as “El Pele” — with the 7th International Pilgrimage of the Gypsy People.
The pilgrimage held Sunday marked the 75th anniversary of his martyrdom in 1936 in defense of the faith. Moreover, this year marks the 150th anniversary of his birth. Blessed Ceferino was born in Benavent de Sagria, although he passed the greater part of his life in Barbastro.
Bishop Ciriaco Benavente of Albacete, Spain, president of the that country’s episcopal migrations commission, presided over ceremonies. He stated that “Blessed Ceferino is a glory of the Church and for the gypsy ethnic” community.
In his homily, the prelate pointed out “the increase in devotion to the blessed throughout the world.”
He stressed “the values of the first gypsy — beatified by John Paul II — who found God from market to market and was a servant of the Church in nocturnal adoration, in St. Vincent conferences and as a Franciscan tertiary.”
“He has been the glory of a people mistreated by history, on which so many stereotypes have fallen,” Bishop Benavente said. “The blessed arose from these people and he fills us with joy and pride.”
“He has stolen our hearts because he showed solidarity with all his brothers,” he noted.
The prelate recalled Blessed John Paul II’s interest in having the first beatification of a member of the gypsy community carried out “urgently.”
The bishop also referred to the Diocese of Barbastro-Monzon as “a beautiful and holy land, watered by the blood of martyrs,” such as the one “whose 75th anniversary is being celebrated.”
Elena Jiménez, great-granddaughter of Blessed Ceferino, spoke about her admired relative with emotion: “We come every year because Uncle Pelé is our guide. The greatest thing for a religious family and a reference in the entire world.
“If he is canonized there will be a great celebration.”
Jesús y Bartolo Jiménez, great-nephews of the blessed, residents of Barbastro, said: “He was a blessing from God; from the moment he had the use of reason he only used the word of the Father, whom he always invoked; he worked and was a protector of all.
“We were in Rome and we lived these ceremonies with great excitement.”
Israel Cortés, son of “El Bomba,” who was a great friend of Blessed Ceferino, sang a saeta, a particular style of Spanish religious song, dedicated “to the martyr of the rosary.”
The local press reported that, for the first time, Jesús Jiménez and his son José Luis attended this celebration, “to pray to the blessed in his chapel because, thanks to his intercession, my son was cured from a liver ailment that had no solution, according to oncologists who cared for him in the Valley of Hebron hospital.”
Jiménez recalled that it was in April of 2005 when he traveled to Barbastro to invoke “El Pelé.”
He added, “Every year we come with the family and it is the first time [that we attend] this celebration.”
Prayer and celebration
In the course of the day there was prayer in the Barbastro cemetery before Blessed Ceferino’s tomb.
There was also a procession from the house where “El Pelé ” and his family lived to the church of St. Francis of Assisi. At that church, Bishop Benavente presided over the Eucharistic celebration with ten Spanish, French and Italian priests, among them Father José María Garanto, the pastor, who thanked the bishop and the faithful present.
During the Mass a reliquary containing the martyr’s rosary was blessed and Barbastro’s choir sang several pieces of popular polyphony. At midday there was a celebration in San Antonio Square.
The Diocese of Barbastro-Monzon is celebrating a year of grace, on the 75th anniversary of its martyrs. It will close on August 12.
Since May 4, 1997 — the day of the beatification of Blesseds Ceferino and Florentino, bishop — the parish of St. Francis of Assisi has spared no efforts in making known worldwide the great witness of faith of this gypsy.
It has offered the parish as a place of prayer and center of pilgrimages for all his devotees who entrust to him their needs and concerns.
The liturgical feast of Blessed Ceferino was established on May 4. In 1998, the parish dedicated one of its chapels to him, with an image made by sculptor Juan de Ávalos, a great devotee of Blessed Ceferino and of St. Francis of Assisi.
Since then, international pilgrimages, presided over by the diocesan bishops and other Spanish prelates, have been organized on the last weekend of the month of April. This year, as an exception, the pilgrimage was in May in order to mark the anniversaries mentioned.
In Cordoba, the diocese’s gypsy pastoral ministry celebrated the feast in honor of Blessed Ceferino on May 7 with a Mass in the parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Miralbaida.
The celebration in honor of Blessed Ceferino was held on the Saturday closest to his feast day. Many faithful attended the gypsy Mass, which was presided over by Father Jose José Ángel, and concelebrated by Father Sergio Asenjo, pastor of St. Louise de Marillac.
Pepe Vacas, director of the Gypsy Pastoral Secretariat recalled in the assembly the moment when John Paul II beatified Ceferino in 1997, and recognized his “uncommon qualities.”
He affirmed that Blessed Ceferino was a man that, as the Blessed Pontiff said on that occasion, “showed with his life how Christ is present in the various peoples and races and that all are called to holiness.”
In his homily, Father Ayala pointed out that, just like Jesus Christ in the Gospel appeared to the disciples of Emmaus, he also wants to encounter persons through “the word, communion or a brother who needs us.”
He noted that this was Blessed Ceferino’s experience: He was a pious man, very devoted to the Eucharist and to the Virgin, and caring of the poorest. The celebration ended with the sharing of a traditional gypsy meal.