Vatican issues document on Gypsies

 Yesterday, Cardinal Stephen Fumio Hamao and Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, respectively president and secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples presented the document: 'Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of Gypsies.' The text of the document is the result of a broad-ranging study to which pastoral workers, experts and gypsies themselves have all contributed. The document's six chapters are divided into two sections: the first presents an overall view of the Church and gypsies, while the second concentrates on specific questions. Cardinal Hamao explained how the origins of a specific form of pastoral care for gypsies date back to the first half of the 20th century through the individual initiatives of priests in France, Germany, Italy and Spain. The Holy See recognized it as a special mission in 1965, after the first historic international pilgrimage of gypsies to Rome, by creating the International Secretariat for the Apostolate of Nomads," which was later integrated into the Pontifical Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migration and Tourism, created by Paul VI in 1970. "Though the document refers to gypsies, whose number in Europe alone is about 15 million," the cardinal continued, "it is equally valid for other nomads, who share similar conditions of life in the various continents. In any case, nomadism is not the only characteristic of the gypsy people. ... It is their ethnicity, their culture and age-old traditions that we should take into account. Therefore the local Churches, in countries where they live, should find pastoral inspiration in these Guidelines, ... adapting them to the circumstances, needs and requirements of each group." The president of the pontifical council went on to note certain "positive signs of evolution" among gypsies, such as "a growing desire to attain literacy and professional formation, social and political awareness expressed by forming associations and parties, increasing participation in local and national management in some countries, and the presence of women in social and civic life." He also recalled the enthusiastic participation of gypsies at "the beatification of the Spanish martyr Ceferino Jimenez Malla, the first gypsy to be raised to the honour of the altar." Although the nomadic quality of gypsy life in some way reflects the condition of all mankind - "homo viator" - gypsies' right to identity often comes up against the "indifference or opposition" of many people, who "share habitual prejudices towards them. Signs of rejection persist, often without eliciting any reaction or protest from those who witness them." The cardinal added: "All this has caused untold suffering in the course of history, as we know. Their persecution reached its height especially during the past century. ... Obviously the Church too should recognise their right to have their own identity, and stir consciences in order to achieve greater justice for them." "These Guidelines," he concluded, "are a sign that the Church has a particular concern for gypsies, meaning that they are the receiver of a special pastoral action in appreciation of their culture. ... In fact, everyone should be welcomed in the Church, where there is no place for marginalization and exclusion." Archbishop Marchetto concentrated on pastoral activity, firstly noting that "the peculiar nature of gypsy culture makes evangelisation merely 'from the outside' ineffective." All the same, "a genuine incarnation of the Gospel - called inculturation - cannot indiscriminately legitimise every aspect of their culture." The archbishop praised the "strong sense of family which is seen among gypsies," but warned that this "should not degenerate, for instance, into perennial resentment between families and clans." He also recalled the need among gypsies for equal rights between men and women and stressed the fact that "honesty at work is a civic and Christian virtue, which cannot be disregarded." He also lamented the fact that "audiovisual or printed information rarely makes the general public aware of the positive aspects of gypsy culture, and most often deals with negative ones, which further damage their image." "Of course, gypsies are a special minority because they have no country of origin to give them the support they might need and this means the lack of political guarantees and some degree of civil protection. In fact while the arrival of other people seeking refuge and of 'boat people' enables mobilisation of a given number of people and governments, that of gypsies usually brings about rejection, even if they come from very poor countries, and are sometimes forced to flee due to religious, racial or political persecution." Archbishop Marchetto pointed out that this situation can only be overcome with a common and comprehensive global policy, and that "it is vitally important that international organizations take an interest in gypsies." On the subject of the evangelisation of gypsies, he said it "is a mission of the whole Church, because no Christian should remain indifferent to a situation of marginalization with respect to ecclesial communion. ... Moreover, in the catechesis, it is important to include dialogue that allows gypsies to express how they perceive and experience their relationship with God. Therefore, it is necessary to assess the convenience of translating the Bible, the various liturgical texts and prayer books, into the languages used by the different ethnic groups." He concluded by highlighting the danger of the proselytism of religious sects among gypsies and indicating how "new ecclesial movements could play a special role in this specific pastoral care. With their strong sense of community and openness, and the availability and special warm-heartedness of their members." Source: VIS

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