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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

New document on care for much-persecuted Gypsies: Church must defend cultural identity, fight for greater justice

Vatican City, Feb. 28, 2006 (CNA) - A new document addressing the unique issue of pastoral care for the world’s heavily-persecuted population of Gypsies, saw light today during a presentation at the Vatican’s Press Office.

The document, entitled simply, "Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of Gypsies," stresses the defense of the ethnic group’s cultural identity and argues that no Christian should be indifferent to the marginalization of an entire people.

The wide-ranging text was presented by Cardinal Stephen Fumio Hamao and Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, who are president and secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, respectively.

Groups of pastoral workers, cultural experts and gypsies themselves contributed to the document. It is split into two major sections; one on an overall view of the Church and gypsies, and a second, which looks at specific pastoral questions.

Cardinal Hamao began by explaining that the Holy See first recognized the need for a special form of pastoral care for gypsies in 1965, “after the first historic international pilgrimage of gypsies to Rome, by creating the International Secretariat for the Apostolate of Nomads." This office was later integrated into the Pontifical Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migration and Tourism which was created by Pope Paul VI in 1970.

He said that while the document specifically addresses care for gypsies--who number some 15 million in Europe alone--"it is equally valid for other nomads, who share similar conditions of life in the various continents.”

The Cardinal pointed out that the Church must take into account the ethnicity, culture and age-old traditions of these peoples, and because of this, “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."

He also noted many positive signs of growth among the ethnicity, citing "a growing desire to attain literacy and professional formation, social and political awareness…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 honor of the altar."

Although, he said, 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."

This, he said, “has caused untold suffering in the course of history, as we know,” pointing out that “their persecution reached its height especially during the past century.”

“Obviously”, he stressed, “the Church too should recognize their right to have their own identity, and stir consciences in order to achieve greater justice for them."

The new Vatican 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."

Pastoral, Governmental care

During his own presentation, Archbishop Marchetto discussed pastoral activity itself, first noting that "the peculiar nature of gypsy culture makes evangelization merely 'from the outside' ineffective."

At the same time, he said however, "a genuine incarnation of the Gospel - called inculturation - cannot indiscriminately legitimize every aspect of their culture…Indeed, the universal history of evangelization affirms that the spread of the Christian message has always been accompanied by a process of purification of cultures.”

Bearing this in mind however, the Archbishop said that “purification does not mean emptying, but some amount of integration with the surrounding culture will be necessary: it is an intercultural process.”

“Reconciliation and communion between gypsies and non-gypsies, therefore, include legitimate interaction between cultures."

The Pontifical Council secretary went on to praise the "strong sense of family…seen among gypsies," but warned that this "should not degenerate, for instance, into perennial resentment between families and clans."

He also stressed the need among gypsies for equal rights between men and women and said that "honesty at work is a civic and Christian virtue, which cannot be disregarded."

The Archbishop admitted that “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.”

He said that “while the arrival of other people seeking refuge and of 'boat people' enables mobilization 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."

This situation, he opined, can only be overcome with a common and comprehensive global policy, pointing out that "it is vitally important that international organizations take an interest in gypsies."

Evangelization of gypsies, Archbishop Marchetto said, "is a mission of the whole Church, because no Christian should remain indifferent to a situation of marginalization with respect to ecclesial communion.”

He added that within 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."

The Vatican noted that the new document will soon be translated and available for viewing at the Holy See’s website:

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