On Gypsy Pastors and Consecrated Persons

“Preparation for the Pastoral Duties Among Their People”

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 6, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the final statement from the First World Meeting of Gypsy Priests, Deacons and Religious Men and Women, promoted by the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers. The meeting was held Sept. 22-25 in Rome.

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From September 22-25, 2007, the First World Meeting of Gypsy Priests, Deacons and Religious Men and Women, promoted by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, took place in Rome. The theme of the meeting, “With Christ at the Service of the Gypsy People”, was inspired by the Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of Gypsies, a Document published by the Pontifical Council on December 8, 2005. It proposes, among other things, the preparation of the Gypsies themselves for the pastoral duties among their people and calls for a pastoral care of vocations to facilitate an authentic implantatio Ecclesiae in this environment.

Approximately forty people attended the event, including 33 consecrated Gypsies from nine European countries (France, Italy, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Spain, Ukraine and Hungary) and from Brazil. At the last moment the delegates from India were prevented from attending.

The meeting was officially opened on Sunday, September 23rd, with the Eucharistic Concelebration presided by H.E. Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, the Secretary of the Dicastery, who also gave the Homily.

The work sessions started off with the opening address. After a warm welcome, Archbishop Marchetto expressed gratitude to God for the gift of the vocations of particular consecration among the Gypsy people. He then described the consecrated Gypsies as a “tangible sign” of the realization – albeit amidst none too few difficulties – of the implantatio Ecclesiae in the Gypsy environment spoken about in the Guidelines (Cf. No. 101). Next, the Archbishop Secretary recognized the value which the vocation to the priesthood and to religious consecration represents for the evangelization and human promotion of the Gypsy people. He stated that through the courageous witness of the consecrated persons, “the Church discovers in her children that she is still too stifled by stereotypes and prejudices with regard to the Gypsies, but wishes to renew the dialogue and give a cordial welcome”. The Prelate also recalled that the meeting was taking place ten years after the beatification of Ceferino Jiménez Malla, the first Gypsy elevated to the honours of the altars who is proposed by the Church as a significant example of the universal vocation to holiness, especially for the Gypsies that have close cultural and ethnic ties with him.

Rev. Msgr. Novatus Rugambwa, the recently appointed Under-Secretary of the Dicastery, introduced the theme of the meeting to the participants. First of all, Monsignor stressed how the meeting should offer the participants an opportunity and a stimulus to compare themselves with what the Guidelines say about the Gypsies, their way of being, acting and living, but also with the needs entailed by the specific pastoral care of the Gypsies. Msgr. Rugambwa expressed appreciation for the role the consecrated persons are called to carry out in the Gypsies’ process of reconciliation in society and the Church. Next, he briefly focused on the social aspect of the Gypsies’ life which, unfortunately, still leaves a lot to be desired.

At noon, the Congress participants took part in St. Peter’s Square in the Sunday appointment with the Holy Father for the recitation of the Angelus. After the prayer, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the following words to them: “Dear brothers and sisters, may the theme of your Congress, “With Christ at the Service of the Gypsy People”, become more and more a reality in each of your lives. For this I pray and entrust you to the protection of the Virgin Mary”.

In the afternoon, the group went to the Shrine of Divine Love where in the little “church” dedicated to Blessed Ceferino Jiménez Malla, they recited the Rosary in honour of Our Lady and in homage to their Patron martyr of the Rosary. The participants in the meeting were greeted there by Msgr. Bruno Nicolini, the person-in-charge for the Diocese of Rome for the Pastoral Care of Gypsies. He was accompanied by a small group of Gypsies, and some delegates were also present from the Comunità di Sant’Egidio, that makes notable efforts to promote the Gypsy people. In this way they were able to experience ‘the unity in diversity’ for which the Gypsies themselves hold great hope.

The first presentation on Sunday, September 23rd, on the theme “Vocation as a Gift and Commitment”, in the context of the general theme “With Christ at the Service of the Gypsy People”, was made by Msgr. Mario Riboldi, one of the pioneers in the specific pastoral care for the Gypsy people, to which he has been dedicated for over fifty years. Starting from the biblical consideration about the vocation of prophets and priests, the speaker offered an overview of the situation of vocations among the Gypsies. Subsequently he focused on the events in the past that favoured the growth of vocations and then reported on how many and which vocations are known today. From the picture he presented, it appears that there are more than 100 consecrated Gypsies from the Rom, Sinti, Kales, Manousche, Bhill and Jajabor groups living in 16 countries of Europe, the Americas and Asia. After stressing the importance of their mission among their people, the speaker did not fail to point out the problematic aspects, such as the scorn both on the part of the gağé and their own ethnic groups (Cf. the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 6). Msgr. Riboldi concluded his report by stating that the consecrated Gypsies must be characterized by a great heart dedicated to the mission, following the example of Saint Paul, the Apostle of the nations.

The next intervention was made by His Excellency José Edson Santana de Oliveira, the Bishop of Eunapolis and Episcopal Promoter of the Pastoral Care for Nomads of Brazil, on the theme: “With Christ in the Service of the Gypsy People – In a Spirit of Charity and in the Communion of Charismas”. The speaker divided his report into two parts; in the first part he considered the historical and cultural conditions of the Gypsies in Brazil. This country can boast having had a President of the Republic of Gypsy origin, and a year ago, the National Day of the Gypsy was created by a decision of the Government. In the second part of his report, the Bishop focused on the pastoral work of the local Church with regard to the Gypsy people and stressed that despite the many successes achieved in twenty years of commitment, there are still many more challenges that need to be faced.

The evening of the first day was dedicated to dialogue between the participants and the speakers and a mutual exchange of experiences, which had particularly rich and significant results for the pastoral care of the Gypsies. First, they presented the complex reality in which the Gypsy people are living today. The difficulties that need to be faced “to affirm themselves” in the Church and society were also pointed out. The results of the discussion are reported synthetically in the Conclusions and Recommendations of the present document.

The following day, Monday, September 24th, opened with the Eucharistic Concelebration presided over by His Eminence the President of the Pontifical Council, Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino. In his Homily based on the Liturgy of the Word for the day (Luke 8:16-18), the Cardinal proposed the binome light/darkness and emphasized how the power of darkness is trying to obscure the splendour of divine light today. His Eminence stressed that manifestations of darkness are the rejection of God, religious relativism, the “culture of death”, wars, terrorism, the negative aspects of globalization, cultural uprooting, the loss of identity, and so on. With regard to the Gypsy reality, the Cardinal recalled that there is “darkness whenever respect succumbs to hatred, when marginalization and disinterest prevail over acceptance and commitment, and whenever good gives in to evil”. Likewise, whenever we witness acts of violence and injustice against the Gypsies – and vice versa – darkness and the shadow of sin fall over the communities. It is not easy to get out of the darkness, as His Eminence the President stressed, because it calls for taking the side of truth, justice and solidarity; it means taking the side of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized and the weakest. The first appearance of the light that overcomes the darkness is recorded when there is respect for every person, for his dignity and his convictions. Christians, therefore, and in a particular way persons consecrated to God, are called to be the luminous transparency of Christ in the environments where they work.

The first report of the day was given by Rev. René Bernard, SJ, the former National Director in France, which dealt with: “The Spiritual and Liturgical Dimension of the Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of Gypsies”. The speaker organized his presentation around three points: 1. Spiritual Dimension of the Guidelines; 2. From Reconciliation to Communion, and 3. What Liturgy for Baptism? He tried in this way to identify the ways in which the Catholic Church is present among the Gypsies and the periods of time needed to make the Gypsies’ participation in the Church active and fruitful. First, Father Bernard stressed the importance and validity of the mission and the fundamental presence of consecrated Gypsies “at the frontier” of two cultures and in a Gypsy world encompassed by the society of the gağé. Next, in speaking about the Catholic Church’s presence among the Gypsies, the speaker proposed an attitude of listening to the Gypsies – also the consecrated Gypsies – regarding their view of the Churches and the ecclesial Communities today since the Catholic Church is not the only one at this crossroads. The speaker asked if the Church is seen by the Gypsy people as a community that recognizes them on the local, regional, national and international levels. Next, Father Bernard considered the way in which the passage from reconciliation to communion takes place between the Gypsies and the gağé in order to “live together” and “be the Church”. He maintained that this requires knowledge on the part of the pastoral workers about the reality in which the future of the Gypsy people is taking place. Regarding the Sacraments, the speaker noted that Baptism is a priority for the Gypsy family, but the question remains open regarding the real motivations that lead the Gypsies to ask for this Sacrament.

Rev. Claude Dumas, the current National Director of the Pastoral Care for the Gypsies in France and the first Gypsy priest to occupy this position, made an intervention on: “The Challenges for Evangelization and Human Promotion in the Light of the Guidelines”, always in the context of the general theme, “With Christ at the service of the Gypsy People”. First, the speaker denounced the various forms of intolerance, rejection of others and racism towards the Gypsies, which do not allow them to feel like “brothers” of the gağé, or be considered as such by the Church. According to the author, fraternity between the Gypsies and the gağé is difficult to achieve in a Church which is perceived by the Gypsy community as belonging to the gağé, distant and inaccessible. In a situation of this kind, it is necessary to build bridges, which presupposes real dialogue and reciprocity, and this can only succeed if Gypsies and gağé are ready to take steps “in two directions”. The speaker concluded that the “Guidelines” call upon the consecrated Gypsies, given their position, to sensitize their ethnic brothers and sisters to “have the courage” to approach the gağé.

The participants took up the subjects of the reports again during the work groups which examined the many difficult problems of evangelization and human promotion.

The work sessions on the day concluded with the reading and general approval of the Conclusions and Recommendations that are presented below.


— Great diversity is noted in the real living situations of the Gypsy people today, according to the countries where they find themselves.

— Contemporary Gypsy culture is in a stage of change because of technological development, the influence of the mass media and literacy, which offers new possibilities for evangelization. For this reason, the Gypsies are increasingly aware of their own dignity and, at the same time, feel the need to work for the human promotion of their brothers and sisters from their ethnic group.

— The relation between Gypsies and gağé is falsified by age-old rejection. It opens up in the search for truth that is proper to it, permeated by trust and gratuitous love, without a desire to dominate.

This requires a re-reading of the process through which this encounter develops in order to take note of the evolution in language, the signs of growing trust, etc. In this way, the gağé also earn the right to speak which is recognized and heard by the Gypsies. The road is long to arrive at a real sharing of the Word of Christ in order to experience its joy.

— Religious language is thus in a constant search for truth on both sides since Truth is also Christ’s presence recognized in the other and in the Word of the Gospel that enlightens life’s events. It is certain that now the language of images penetrates and invades the Gypsy family through the television, Internet, advertising, etc. It is a pervasive language imposed by the world of the gağé and so it calls for a process of discernment.

— The Catholic Church is aware that the Gypsies need to sing and dance in their celebrations, according to their habits, so that their expression of faith will also be manifested physically.

— The consecrated Gypsies do not ask the Church to give them a special place because they too are members of Christ. In reality, openness and availability on the part of the Gypsies and the gağé are needed in order to transmit the Gospel to one another and live the catholicity of the Church authentically.

— The consecrated Gypsies hope that the Church, of which they are a part, will be, through them and with them, the place where every Gypsy can be recognized with all their particular riches, the place where they are equal to every other Catholic through the same dignity conferred on the faithful by the one same Baptism.

— The time has come for the consecrated Gypsies to endeavour so that the image which tends to consider the Gypsies only as poor people to be helped will be overcome. Efforts need to be made with the other members of the Church so that they too will consider themselves poor and in need of accepting the human and spiritual riches the Gypsies bring. The Gypsies, in turn, must be willing to receive from the gağé.

— It was confirmed that every service must be carried out in Christ and with Christ because in this way a human being can discover not only his own greatness and dignity and also that of others. Then the interpersonal services inspired by service make it possible to create an authentic culture of acceptance, solidarity and charity.

— Concern for vocations among the Gypsies was indicated as one of the priorities in their specific pastoral care. So the consecrated persons of Gypsy origin are asked for real evangelical transparency and a convergence of initiatives on various levels which will enable calls to be new workers in the Lord’s Vineyard to awaken and grow.

— Respect for diversity is manifested in heart to heart communication, which depends on the ability to empathize and on everything this attitude implies: that is, attention to the humanity of others and what they experience, while respecting their identity and customs and avoiding actions and gestures that could offend them.

— Consecrated Gypsies have a particular role to play in enlightening their brothers and sisters from their ethnic group regarding the presence of sects and new religious movements filled with non-evangelical proselytism. They are based first of all on the Gypsies’ attraction to what is wondrous, which appeals to the emotions and sensitivity rather than to faith intelligence. On the part of such movements there is also a certain ‘triumphalism’ with regard to the Catholic Church, which is considered the Church of the gağé.

— It is observed, especially in Eastern Europe, that the poverty of means and living conditions do not satisfy the fundamental needs of the human person and that this situation also has negative repercussions on the pastoral task for the Gypsies on the part of the respective Eastern Catholic Churches.


During the course of the meeting, some proposals and recommendations emerged which are presented below.

— First of all, mutual collaboration is hoped for between the Church and the Gypsy communities. For this reason, the Pontifical Council is asked to encourage the local Churches, both on the level of the Bishops’ Conferences and the Dioceses, to make a greater commitment to providing the Gypsies with a special pastoral care and to support the work already under way by the pastoral workers.

— The possibility will have to be considered of creating structures similar to a Prelature (See: Guidelines, No. 87 and 88) and of organizing an international seminary for the Gypsies in order to favour a good growth of Gypsy vocations and ensure their adequate specific formation.

— The presence is hoped for in every country of pastoral workers and animators dedicated exclusively to the mission of evangelization and human promotion among the Gypsy people. They are also called to carry out the role of mediators between the Church and the Gypsies.

— Specific formation for catechists to evangelize the Gypsies is becoming necessary, which takes into consideration their views and religious experience, with particular attention to Gypsy women inasmuch as they are the bearers of human and religious values in the family.

— The task of integration must start from the family, the basic cell of every human group, the fundamental place for education to dialogue, reciprocal exchange and creative, constructive relations.

— Since both Gypsies and gağé are involved in acts of racism, race must not separate us; instead efforts must be made to favour unity in diversity. The time has come to give the world – on the basis of equality and in legitimate diversity – the only sign indicated by Jesus Christ: “so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me ” (John 17:22b-23a). It is time to offer this sign of fraternal love more with actions than with words, more in everyday ecclesial life than in extraordinary events.

— The hope is expressed that the priests, deacons and men/women religious of Gypsy origin will take on the role of “bridges” between the two communities, Gypsy and gağé. As persons consecrated by God and to God, and as “ambassadors of Christ”, the duty is also entrusted to them to encourage, in society and the Church, the passage to reconciliation and communion between the Gypsies and the gağé.

— It is requested, with regard to the problem of sects, that the evangelization of the Gypsies will not be limited to the essential proclamation of the Gospel, but also be supported by witness and ties of friendship, fraternity and inculturation so that they will understand that morality does not come from an imposition but has its source in God’s love. In view of the Pentecostal Movement, it is up to the Church to say prophetic words than can instil hope in the hearts of the Gypsies and strengthen their religious, Catholic belonging.

— Lastly, it is recommended to look for adequate means to overcome the general diffidence towards the Gypsies and encourage openness in society that will offer them the possibility to become fully inserted into it.

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