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Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move - N° 90,  December 2002, p. 225-227.

Report of the VI National Meeting and

Seminar of PACNI*


Mons. Anthony CHIRAYATH,

Official of the Pontifical Council for the

Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

The Sixth National Meeting and Seminar of PACNI (Pastoral Care of Nomads in India) were held in the Pastoral Centre of the Diocese of Khandwa, ten hours’ journey by train north of Mumbai. Bishop Leo Cornelio SVD, Bishop of Khandwa and Member of the Pontifical Council, was the host. Archbishop Paschal Topno S.J., President of PACNI, chaired the sessions. Mons. Anthony Chirayath represented the Pontifical Council. There were about 100 participants coming from all parts of India. It was said that there are 35 religious congregations of women engaged in this ministry in India.

The meeting began with a Concelebrated Mass presided over by Archbishop Topno, assisted by Bishop Cornelio and Mons. Chirayath. The Mass was followed by the inaugural session. Bishop Cornelio welcomed the gathering. Archbishop Topno gave the inaugural address. He announced that the PACNI is now part of the Labour Commission of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI). The reason for integrating it into the Labour Commission is because the nomadic peoples are considered labourers. Both the Chairman and the Secretary of the Labour Commission were absent from the meeting since they were in Rio de Janeiro attending the World Congress of the Apostolatus Maris organised by the Pontifical Council. He thanked the Pontifical Council for taking keen interest in the Indian Church and for its constant encouragement in the pastoral care of nomadic people in India.

Mons. Chirayath gave the keynote address. He spoke about the concern of the Holy See in the pastoral care of nomadic people and gave a short history of the pastoral care of nomads in the Church. He urged the participants to do more for the promotion of this most neglected and marginalized people. Fr. Mathias Bhuriya, who is a Gypsy himself, spoke about the intention of his bishop to start in the near future an institute for the pastoral care of nomadic Bhils. Fr. Bhuriya is the Vice-President of the PACNI and Vicar General of the newly created Diocese of Jhabua.

In the afternoon three separate sessions were held for the southern, the central and the northern regions. In India the pastoral care of nomadic people is divided into three regions taking into account the long distances within the country. In India World Gypsy Day is celebrated every year on April 8. To mark this day meetings are held in villages, special Masses are celebrated in parishes and pastoral workers strive for awareness building among the population regarding the needs of the Gypsy people. It was said that the Indian Constitution gives special protection to Gypsy population.

Classes are organised for Gypsy children near the work places of their parents, lessons are given to street children under trees, voluntary doctors give free medical check-up to Gypsy children, training is given for non-formal teachers, health care and nutrition planning are taught to Gypsy mothers, small saving schemes are organised by pastoral workers, Gypsies are enlisted in the voters’ list, fighting against child labour, empowering people through education, keeping the children away from begging – these are some of the activities of the pastoral workers. Fr. Renato Rosso said that there are 452 non-formal schools run by the pastoral workers for Gypsy children.

Fr. Augustine sdb, who is parish priest in Chennai, said that he is trying to be faithful to the charism of the founder of his Salesian congregation by going out to help the Gypsies in his parish area. He said that the upper class Hindus in the area did not want that the Gypsies draw water from the village well. To keep the Gypsies away, they put a dead serpent in the well. But the Gypsies removed the serpent and started drinking the water. Fr. Augustine was moved by this sight. He got money to build a bore well and brought clean water to the places where the Gypsies usually camped. Now he is assisting the Gypsies in several ways. 

There was an informal meeting of priests and bishops to examine closely the present situation of the pastoral care of nomadic people in India. Some of the priests asserted that they are first of all pastors with a spiritual mission to preach the Gospel and only secondly they are social agents. They asked to keep this identity in PACNI. They also informed those present that there is lot of proselitization going on among the Gypsies from the part of the Pentecostals.

In the Executive Meeting it was decided to hold the next annual meeting in Bangalore before or after the Annual Assembly of the Bishops, to facilitate the participation of some of them in the meeting of PACNI. It was also decided to invite only Catholics to the next annual meeting, whereas regional meetings can be organised at ecumenical and inter-religious levels.

There were four workshops in four different languages. All were asked what are the human rights violations against the Gypsy people. These are some of the things mentioned: starvation, discrimination in society, in schools and in public transportation, isolation, no basic amenities, police harassment, stigma as criminals, child labour, non-education of children, not enlisting them in the voters’ list thus preventing them from exercising their fundamental rights as citizens. All these violations were put under four categories: basic needs, discriminations, violence and lack of awareness.

Some of the steps taken to eradicate such human rights violations are: personal contacts, study the situation and identify them, advocacy and lobbying, creating awareness, use of media, empowering Gypsy men and women, net-working with like minded NGOs. Fr. Renato Rosso said that nomads could develop all their human dimensions even in their nomadic life. It is not necessary they all should settle down. He said that we should not only teach them, but we have also so much to learn from them. In the last session both Archbishop Topno and Bishop Cornelio thanked again for the presence of the representative of Pontifical Council during the meeting and for his words of encouragement to the pastoral workers.

* Held at Khandwa, from 23-26 September 2002