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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

V World Congress of the Pastoral Care for Gypsies

Budapest (Hungary), 30 June – 7 July 2003

Welcome address  

 Archbishop Stephen Fumio Hamao



 Your Eminence, Your Excellencies,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my honour today, together with Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, Secretary, and the Staff of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, to welcome you in the name of the Holy See, to the Fifth World Congress of the Pastoral Care for Gypsies. This World Congress is organised in collaboration with the Hungarian Episcopal Conference, in particular, with the Hungarian Office of the Pastoral Care for Gypsies, whose Chairman is His Excellency Szilard Keresztes, Bishop of Hajdudorog. 

You have come from all over the world, from far and near, from the distant India, place of origin of Gypsies, and from Brazil, to which they were taken from Europe, their land of choice. I am happy to note that all the 25 Episcopal Conferences, which have created offices for the pastoral care of Gypsies, are represented in this Congress. In addition, there are also representations of Catholic charitable and social organisations that support the work of the Church in favour of Gypsies. I take this opportunity to thank them for their constant support.

I extend a special word of welcome to our Gypsy brothers and sisters who are present here, and who are and who will be protagonists of this Congress. Among them there are several Gypsy priests and religious brothers and sisters. Every effort has been made to ensure that this Congress will not be an event of the “gadge” (non-Gypsies) for the Gypsies, but on the other hand, a Congress of Gypsies for the Gypsies with the assistance of the Church, which is concerned with their pastoral care and their human and integral promotion.

The pastoral care of Gypsies was limited first to Western Europe and later to Central and Eastern Europe. But in this World Congress we can see several Delegates from India, from Bangladesh, from Brazil, and from Mexico. This is something new and good. The Church in India is now actively engaged in the pastoral care of Gypsies. Thirty-two Religious Congregations of women coming from 19 Dioceses of India were present for instance in the last annual meeting held in Khandwa in Central India. We are happy to have with us Bishop Leo Cornelio, SVD of Khandwa, who will be delivering the keynote address on the theme of this Congress: Church and Gypsies – “for a spirituality of communion”.

The theme has the source of inspiration in a passage of Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (No. 43). In the fourth part of the aforementioned document the Holy Father invites us “to promote a spirituality of communion”, which means “an ability to think of our brothers and sisters … as ‘those who are a part of me’. The “spirituality of communion means, finally, to know how to ‘make room’ for our brothers and sisters, bearing ‘each other’s burdens’… and resisting the selfish temptations which constantly beset us and provoke competition, … distrust and jealousy” (N. 43). For the Church, welcoming Gypsies is certainly a challenge. Their presence in our countries is an unceasing appeal to live Christian charity and communion, overcoming all indifference.

Gypsies are very dear to the heart of Pope John Paul II who, during his pastoral visits, takes every opportunity to meet them and encourage everyone to welcome them as brothers and sisters. Addressing the participants of the Third International Meeting in Rome he said, “Despite the clear teaching of the Gospel…it often happens that Gypsies find themselves rejected and despised. The world, to a great extent marked by avidity for profit and disdain for the weaker ones, must change its attitude and welcome our nomad brothers and sisters no longer with simple tolerance but in a spirit of brotherhood” (Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, Vol. XII, 2, pg. 1195).

And again in the last Congress organised in Rome in 1995, the Pope said: “No ethnic or linguistic group must feel they are strangers: all must be welcomed and fully appreciated. (…) The Church, whose activities are being re-organised also in Eastern Europe, must continue to take an active interest in Gypsies through generous pastoral workers and initiatives which bear witness in day-to-day living of the love of Jesus, Good Shepherd, for little ones, and those who are weak” (Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, Vol. XVIII, 1, pg. 1689).

The Church in Hungary seriously took to heart this appeal of the Holy Father, the appeal to the Church in Eastern Europe, to assist Gypsies in their countries. The results are very obvious. No other Particular Church has done so much for the promotion of Gypsies in the past few years as in this country. If our Pontifical Council took an unusual but happy decision to organise this World Congress for the first time outside of Rome, it is in recognition of the great work done by the Church in Hungary for the promotion of Gypsies during the last decade. I take this opportunity to congratulate and thank the Hungarian Hierarchy, the Papal Representative in this country, and especially Bishop Szilard Keresztes for their constant concern.

It is needless to say that the Church alone cannot carry out such an important and immense work without the wholehearted support, co-operation and encouragement of the Central and Local Governments. During our visits to Hungary in relation to our work for Gypsies, we had opportunities to discuss with high-ranking officials of the Government the situation of Gypsies and learn first hand the efforts of the Government to ameliorate the conditions of Gypsies in this country. The presence of eminent personalities of the Hungarian State and Government here, this evening, bears testimony to their concern for the welfare of our Gypsy brothers and sisters.

But no amount of outside help can improve the conditions of a community unless the persons in whose interest projects are prepared co-operate fully. This is what we have witnessed in Hungary. Gypsy communities have shown great interest and actively collaborated in the programmes prepared locally for their development. Young men and women, children at schools at various levels, their teachers and parish priests have all worked hand in hand to improve the conditions of Gypsies in this country. The Congress participants will be able to see for themselves in the coming days results of their work.

Although they have lived for centuries among sedentary peoples, Gypsies substantially retain their identity, which has as its fundamental elements the dignity of man and family unity, a confident dependence on God, nomadic life as a psychological dimension in attitudes and ability for detachments from places and things. The music, song and poetry are essential to their rich cultural tradition. With their tradition violin, guitar and dance they express their vitality, sensitivity and artistic vocation.

The diversity of life, culture, customs and occupation of Gypsies has always been viewed negatively. This is why their history is marked by centuries of rejection and persecution, the height of which was the “forgotten holocaust” that they suffered during the time of Nazism. In the Message of the Holy Father on the Anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe, the Pontiff joined the destiny of the Gypsies with all the other victims of the savageness when he said: “Extermination camps were built where millions of Jews, hundreds of thousands of Gypsies and others were massacred, their only crime being that of belonging to a different people”.

Only a few days ago, on his arrival in Rijeka Airport in Croatia, Pope reminded us again that “There are values – like the dignity of the human person, moral and intellectual integrity, religious freedom, the defence of the family, openness to and respect for life, solidarity, subsidiarity and participation, respect for minorities – which are inscribed in the nature of every human being, but which Christianity had the merit of clearly identifying and proclaiming. It is on these values that the stability and true greatness of a nation is based” (John Paul II in Rijeka, Croatia, see L’Osservatore Romano, 6-6-03).

Today survival of Gypsies is threatened by various factors: rapid transformation of modern society which renders their traditional activities no longer useful, creeping discrimination against them, the precarious conditions of their habitat and low level of education. However we see praiseworthy efforts by States to recognise the Gypsy people as a minority, with special rights and duties, with a proper culture to safeguard and a socio-political role. Gypsy associations are ever more numerous and politically present.

Gypsies have always demonstrated a strong sense of the sacred, as can be seen by their religious traditions. Unfortunately, the scarcity of priests and pastoral workers able to follow them, prevents many of them from receiving sufficient religious formation and pastoral attention. This makes them a fertile ground for the proselytism of sects. May their faith be stimulated by the noble figure of Ceferino Gimenez Malla, a humble Spanish Gypsy beatified on May 4, 1997 by Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square. Ceferino’s life was that of a true Gypsy and true Christian, crowned with martyrdom in August 1936 at Barbastro, during the Spanish Civil War.

In conclusion, I express the hope that this World Congress will be a further stimulus to all Particular Churches and Governments, especially in Europe, to do everything possible so that Gypsies will be welcomed and assisted. I appeal to the Gypsies as well that, conscious of the fact that their destiny is in their own hands, they should defend their rights, remembering at the same they have duties as well towards the society where they live. Affluent Gypsies should help their brothers and sisters who are poor. I thank you for your gracious presence and wish the Congress every success and pray that Our Lady Queen of Gypsies, whose image is printed on the programme, may protect you during the coming days in your reflection and prayer for the pastoral care of our Gypsy brothers and sisters.