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Monday, September 26, 2016
Church calls on Catholics to reach out to Gypsies and Travellers
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 Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue, speaking on behalf of all the Bishops of the Department for Christian Responsibility & Citizenship of the Bishops Conference, this week called on all Catholics to reach out to Gypsies and Travellers in their neighbourhoods. The Bishops' call follows Pope Benedict XVI's address last week (7 December) in St Peter's Square in which, commenting on Psalm 137, he said that all leaders, governments and citizens must use their power to come to the aid of the poor and oppressed. "God makes the choice to align himself in defence of the weak, the victims. We, too, must know which side to choose that of the humble, the last, the poor and the weak," said the Pope. Bishop O'Donoghue, backing the work of the Department for Christian Responsibility & Citizenship within the Bishops Conference, said the plight of Gypsies and travellers was worse than most other groups in our society. "It is the Church's responsibility to be the voice of the poor. If we do not, who will?" he said. "Among gypsies and travellers there is even greater poverty now than before. The more sophisticated society becomes, the more vulnerable travellers become. There are vulnerable people across the world, but we must also be conscious of those in our midst." The Bishops endorse the view of the Catholic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ) that issues relating to adequate site provision must be urgently addressed. A Report from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (July 2003) estimated that there would be a need for between 1,000 and 2,000 new residential pitches and between 2,000 and 2,500 pitches on transit sites or stopping places by 2007. The ODPM Report recognises that Gypsies and Travellers currently have licences and that many argue that they should have tenancies. However, the Report suggests a third option, comparable to the rights enjoyed by mobile home owners who are protected by the Mobile Homes Act 1983 which gives them, among other things, the right to sell, gift or will their mobile homes on site. The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) has pointed out that Gypsies and Travellers experience disadvantage and discrimination in almost every walk of life. They single out lack of suitable accommodation, due to a shortage of public sites and difficulties obtaining planning permission for private sites, as the most critical problem they face. The Bishops consider it a priority for themselves to provide more support for those in the Church who are already working with Gypsies and Travellers. They call on every Catholic parish and school to find ways of reaching out to Gypsies and Travellers in their area. It is also appropriate for Catholics to stand in solidarity with them in their struggle to obtain adequate accommodation and a decent life for their families, the Bishops say. The full text follows: STATEMENT ON GYPSIES AND TRAVELLERS Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue, Bishop with Responsibility for Ministry to Gypsies & Travellers, with and on behalf of the Department for Christian Responsibility & Citizenship - Catholic Bishops Conference of England & Wales We wish to call the attention of Catholics to the plight of Gypsies and Travellers who experience a level of disadvantage greater than most other groups in our society. The lack of secure and suitable accommodation gives rise to a number of other problems such as illness, unemployment and inadequate education for their children. The priests, religious and lay people who provide services or are involved in a ministry to Gypsies and Travellers have repeatedly raised this matter with us. They speak of a growing fear on many sites lest the authorities come to evict them. The root of these stories of fear and eviction lies in the inadequate provision of sites, which all acknowledge but which has not, to date, been effectively addressed. Earlier this year, the Catholic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ), in its submission to the Government's Consultation on Planning for Gypsy and Traveller Sites, highlighted § the discrimination suffered by Gypsies and Travellers, § their growing feeling of being under threat, § the extreme difficulties which they suffered when the statutory duty on local authorities to provide sites was repealed, § the lack of suitable accommodation and security of tenure on existing local authority sites. We concur with this analysis and endorse the view that the different issues relating to adequate site provision must be urgently addressed. We consider it a priority to provide more support for those already working with Gypsies and Travellers. However, a specialist ministry is not enough. Every Catholic parish and school must, in the spirit of a welcoming community, find ways of reaching out to Gypsies and Travellers in their area. It is also appropriate for Catholics to stand in solidarity with them in their struggle to obtain adequate accommodation and a decent life for their families. We can be confident that we will all be changed and enriched in the process.
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