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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




The Fifth World Congress of the Pastoral Care of Gypsies took place from 30 June to 7 July 2003 at the Péter Pázmány Catholic University, Budapest, on the theme The Church and the Gypsies: towards a “Spirituality of Communion”, promoted by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People in collaboration with the Episcopal Conference of Hungary. Attending were 203 participants, from 26 countries, chiefly European but from America and Asia as well. Noteworthy was the participation, for the first time, of a considerable group of gypsy priests, nuns and laypeople.

The opening session was chaired by Archbishop Stephan Fumio Hamao, who is President of the Council. The Pontifical Representative in Hungary, Archbishop Juliusz Janusz, read the message of the Holy Father, expressing the hope that there might be “growth in understanding and solidarity towards the gypsy population, and a forthright rejection of any temptation to distrust or indifference in their regard”.

In his keynote address Archbishop Hamao recalled the words of Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Novo Millenio Ineunte (§ 43) on the spirituality of communion, which should be the heart of the pastoral care of gypsies. The Holy Father, he said, had many times offered encouragement for this people so often treated as if they had no rights - people to whom our specific solicitude is directed - extending to his dramatic references to the extermination of hundreds of thousands of gypsies in the Nazi concentration camps. Nor had gypsies escaped persecution from other totalitarian regimes and over the course of the centuries. Archbishop Hamao recalled the heroic figure of Ceferino Giménez Malla, humble Spanish gypsy, who died a martyr’s death during his country’s civil war, and was beatified recently. 

There followed the addresses of Mr. Péter Kiss, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister for Diplomatic Affairs, H.E. Msgr. Nándor Bosák, Vice-President of the Episcopal Conference, and Professor György Fodor, Rector of the Péter Pázmány Catholic University. The President of the Republic, Mr. Ferenc Mádl sent a message wishing the Congress every success and later attended the Mass held on 3 July at the Church of the Assumption.

The speeches that followed stressed the need to combine forces in favour of the gypsies, in a sound, just and mutually respectful collaboration between Church and State. Also present at the opening of proceedings was Mrs. Dalma Mádl, wife of the President of the Republic, Mr. Kálman Gulyás, responsible for Ecclesiastical Affairs, and Mr. Lászlo Teleki responsible for National Affairs where gypsies are concerned.

I. Report of the Congress proceedings

1. The first address was given, on 1 July, by Leo Cornelio, Bishop of Khandwa (India), on the central theme of Congress. His main point was that true communion among people is realized: (i) when every human creature is respected as child and image of God; (ii) if differences between persons are accepted as gifts for all; (iii) when the life of relationships is lived, humbly, along with others, in recognition of the fact that we are all strangers and pilgrims on this Earth; and (iv) if we can offer authentic hospitality to each and everyone. It was important to understand the distinction between the integration of gypsies in society and their assimilation. Plans for assimilation, the Bishop emphasized, implicitly assume that the lifestyle of this minority group is not only different but deficient and “simply wrong”, and therefore needed to be put right, changed. Gypsies, therefore, needed to be rehabilitated - a highly offensive and supercilious assumption. With integration, on the other hand, the minority find their place in social context shared with the rest of the citizens, without shedding their identity.

2. Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, Secretary to the Pontifical Council, gave the second address of the day, taking for his theme the Church’s standpoint in the pastoral care of gypsies. After referring to the relevant document (then still in preparation) he spoke to the substance of the subject, suggesting the biblical and theological bases underlying this particular apostolate and concluding to the question of Church institutions set up for the benefit of gypsies. He raised the possibility of creating among pastoral structures personal-type jurisdictions, and invited reflection on this point, so that no door might be closed where the Church opens one, today, for an ever more effective evangelization.

3. The next address by Dr. Giuseppina Scaramuzzetti referred to policies in support of the human and social promotion of gypsies within the Italian context. The “figure” of the gypsy must be accepted in its entirety – in a comprehensive view of the person, never mind that the group in question is perceived as different, a view, moreover that must be reflected in the specificity and the adequacy of one’s acceptance. The speaker then turned to the subject of equal opportunity in the various contexts in civil life. Support here is geared to bridging the gap between gypsies and the rest of the citizens, though any plans formulated in an emergency should subsequently be brought under the institutions that are there for the entire population, for all that differences must be acknowledged, if only to facilitate relationships within society and the integration process.

4. This first day of the Congress saw study groups at work in their different languages (French, German, Hungarian, English, Italian, Slovak, Spanish and Portuguese). As a guide for their deliberations, in the two (morning and afternoon) sessions, the groups were given the same questionnaire. The reports of the respective working groups show that there was largely a common denominator in their considerations to the effect that: 

  1. the Church needs to devote greater human and material resources to this particular pastorate;
  2. the ministry of the Chaplain of Gypsies would gain by coordinating with the local parishes;
  3. the music, ritual and the festive dimension of the Liturgy should bear a decisive “mark” of gypsy culture if it is to have a far-reaching pastoral impact (this implying a more thorough preparation of the Liturgy by the ministers concerned);
  4. pilgrimages – something rooted in the gypsy way of life – should constitute a major feature of their pastoral care, and should be encouraged;
  5. the future of such pastoral care is in large measure dependent on promoting genuinely gypsy vocations to the priesthood and the religious life (here the permanent Diaconate might offer a solution); and
  6. the enlargement of the European Union will open up fresh possibilities for gypsy mobility from one country to another, entailing fresh problems and challenges for those engaged in pastoral care.

5. Here at Budapest, for the first time, a group was set up within this World Congress, with membership consisting of the gypsies present. The group concentrated on the question of language and culture, where it was noted that no homogeneity really existed. On this point it was to be hoped that participants might communicate more among themselves even when living in different countries.

 6. Wednesday, 2 July witnessed the presentation of three reports, and the holding of a Round Table of gypsy teachers and students. Bishop Szilárd Keresztes introduced the discussion on educational projects within the context of intercultural societies in Eastern Europe. Educational projects lay at the core of the problem brought about by the difficult situation in which gypsies find themselves. Bishop Keresztes described how gypsies were the victims of segregation, with, in Hungary, problems in bringing them into the educational system, and pointed up three particular aspects, namely that,

  1. teachers need to win over parents and come to understand their pupils’ family lives from the inside;
  2. the kindergarten has an irreplaceable role if gypsy children are to be adequately prepared for the environment they will later find in compulsory education or that they will “fit in” just like the others;
  3. teachers themselves must have a specific preparation if they are to understand the gypsy mentality and thus resolve conflicts between gypsy and non-gypsy pupils and measure up to the demands placed on them by language difficulties. Teachers also need to be properly trained in gypsy history, culture and art.

7. The round table that followed considered problems newly emerging, and proposals made, regarding the educational sector. Common to the findings may be mentioned the following:

  1. It was absolutely necessary to motivate families as regards harmonious living with others and as to the duty to send their children to school. Certain speakers here pointed out that not all gypsies want to sedentarize, so that respect for their way of life might call for other approaches to their education (TV, video, itinerant teachers);
  2. the scope of education should broaden to music and art, with due regard to the characteristics of the day-to-day way of life of gypsies;
  3. suitable teaching materials should be available both for the teachers and for their pupils.

8. The second discussion of the day, on safeguarding the rights of gypsies, was delivered by Fr. Antonio Perotti, CS. In the juridical framework of the European context, as outlined the various institutions concerned, recognition of the Statute of Minorities had gradually assured itself. Among such minorities, gypsies, too, are little by little gaining recognition.

Several points need to be clarified to facilitate a description of the various resolutions and proposals, namely:

  1. communion implies, essentially, respect for the rights of others, in particular as regards the dignity of man both as an individual and as a member of society;
  2. there is no defence of people’s rights divorced from context, just as respect for people’s context cannot proceed unless there is a rethinking of our cultural “registers”. The juridical principle, to be translated into a given context, needs to be mediated culturally if it is to achieve effective formal protection at law; and
  3. a revised nomenclature was needed making clear the distinction as between the gypsy and the migrant and the foreigner (which the gypsy may quite possibly be, in addition, in certain cases).

The meeting then reviewed several resolutions and proposals referring to the European legal context and concerning rights specific to the theme of the Congress, among these the right:

  1. to a nationality;
  2. to a place of abode and to the recognition of nomadism as a voluntarily accepted way of life;
  3. to freedom of movement within one’s country and abroad;
  4. to basic education and instruction for a trade or calling; and
  5. to access to social security, in particular the health services.

9. The last address of the day, given by Dr. Judit-Juhász considered the role of the media as these affect gypsies. There was a marked tendency to generalize and to “go along with” long-standing prejudices. There is no denying that, in central Europe gypsies are the least understood social group, and the most disadvantaged for this very reason. Thus, in describing the gypsy ethnic group the media take no exception to these prejudices, and often fail to call upon the people directly concerned for the sort of information that might suitably be transmitted. The image that the media have given gypsies is thus wide of the mark and often full of contradictions. As a result, the generality of citizens, doubtless without direct experience here, get an idea of gypsies that only reinforces existing prejudices. The picture is further one of conflict, where the negative aspects and rarely the positive ones are given prominence. As regards the media intended specifically for gypsies, the problem that often emerges is the lack of the right sort of stable publicity market – for the press circulation among this section of Hungary’s population encounters difficulties, while TV and radio have a wider “readership”.

In the debate that followed two proposals of interest were put forward, viz:

  1. There should be translations of the Bible in the local gypsy languages. This, however, implies first coordinating with existing translations and then embarking on further translations, especially for use in the liturgy;
  2. Vatican Radio could be approached to consider special transmissions for the pastoral care of gypsies.

10. On Thursday, 3 July Congress participants were received by the Deputy Chairman of the Hungarian Parliament at the Parliament building itself. Dr. Lászlo Mandúr expressed thanks for the Church’s work for the gypsy population and looked forward to a far-reaching collaboration between Church and State, especially in the interests of human promotion. Responding, Archbishop Hamao thanked Dr. Mandúr for the cordial welcome extended, and looked forward to reciprocally beneficial collaboration between Church and State.

11. On Friday, 4 July a Round Table was held for National Directors or their representatives on “Dialogue and Mission: what motivations and what objectives?”. Twenty members addressed the group. These represented Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, India, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States of America. A representative of the Sant’Egidio Community also addressed the meeting.

Among the pastoral implications discussed, the following should be mentioned:

  1. the need to engage bishops in the pastoral care of gypsies. Every Episcopal Conference and every diocese should have specific arrangements here;
  2. “letters of mission” extended to gypsy persons collaborating with the Chaplains could prove useful in involving these collaborators more effectively in pastoral care activities;
  3. there was an urgent need for a spirit of collaboration among local parish priests and chaplains to gypsies; and chaplains should remind the former that their cure of souls extends as well, whenever necessary, to gypsies living within their parish boundaries. There was thus a twofold pastoral concern side-by-side with each other – for the parish and for all individual persons;
  4. the marked community and friendship and the emotional religious experience of gypsies should be a source of inspiration for their pastoral care. Evangelization here might suitably be geared to small communities, while one could involve other movements within the Church and newly emerging groups, since these have a marked community dimension coming to the fore as a result of the renewal brought about by Vatican II;
  5. gypsy culture was also an invitation to dialogue to gadje culture. Both cultures should therefore exchange their characteristic gifts. Apostolic commitment to gypsies thus led to a transformation of the selfsame gadje pastoral Operators. The presence of gypsies, in other words, calls for a profound transformation of gadje society if dialogue is to proceed as between equals;
  6. the Christian witness of their lives was at all times important but took on a determining character where the apostolate was addressed to non-Christians. In circumstances such as these it would be advisable to address ethical values, improving social conditions and the like, since evangelization and human promotion go hand in hand; and
  7. mobile groups could suitably be constituted centrally for the pastoral care of gypsies, and audio-visual aids (video, CD, music cassettes, etc.) used in their work.

II. Proposals and recommendations

1. It was clear to all that priority must be accorded to education and training – given that evangelization and human promotion are linked by bonds of an anthropological, theological and ecclesiological nature, not to mention charity and solidarity, which is what our pastoral mission is about. There are large numbers – perhaps two million gypsy children of school age still not attending – among the younger generation, who have yet to find a place in the labour market. Accordingly, the appeal goes out to all, each according to his charism and ministry, that they place themselves at the service of education in favour of the gypsies. All concerned must understand the need to act without delay. Compulsory national education must be available for gypsies, too, yet it cannot be allowed to constitute a context of humiliation and marginalization, where only the negative aspects of the child’s origins are to be noted, but must, no less, seek to build on the culture represented by those origins, and respect the education received within the family, an education that must be recognized as basic in the gypsy child’s formation;

2. This first proposal/recommendation encompasses the second, concerning the special attention to be paid to the pastoral care of the family and the gypsy community. Pastoral charity and creativity need to reach out to them, take hold of them from within, compatibly with their specific cultural characteristics, in order to bring out the positive aspects, and gradually overcome limitations associated with them, e.g. as regards the fundamental equality of man and woman. The Paschal mystery of death and life imparts a character to Christian persons, and to their cultures no less. Something must die in these, too, for that passage of purification, elevation and transformation of the entire human person and of his or her culture in Christ and in the light of the Gospel. From this standpoint consideration must further be given to the individual’s personal Weltanschauung and that of his community. Here effort will be made to overcome the ghetto-like situations in which the gypsy family and community often find themselves. Gypsy culture, too, must gradually open up to values that are a positive constituent of the birthright of society at large;

3. Several times during the Congress emphasis was placed on the need to provide a valid response to the pastoral challenge occasioned by adaptations – legitimate adaptations – of the Sacred Liturgy, of the homily, and even of catechesis, to the gypsy mentality, customs, popular religiosity and propensity for festivities and pilgrimages. With due regard to the longer-term solutions, the Congress recommended that in communion with the Holy See and the local Hierarchy, action be taken, even now, where the creativity and popular and cultural genius of each and every people might be welcomed within the Latin Rite itself. Nor does this disregard the patrimony of the Eastern Catholic Churches. What is said here is equally applicable for the celebration of the Eucharist and also for the administration of the Sacraments;

4. Mention of the Liturgy raises the further question of language and of the need to have available the appropriate Biblical texts. The language(s) of the gypsies proved to be a difficult subject but the Congress in any case was concerned to remind everyone that this is a pastoral field still needing to be opened up, but one of a vital importance. In order to facilitate and co-ordinate efforts in connection with “translations” of Sacred Scripture, it was hoped that the Pontifical Council might be supplied with all data illustrating the present situation. With this in view the Congress asks National Commissions and Promoters, and even individuals present at the Congress in whose countries there are no such Commissions or Promoters, to inform the Pontifical Council as soon as possible about the status of publications so far produced, including publications of liturgical texts, projects for the future and, also, where possible, of publications put out by our Christian brethren, in gypsy language, again where the Scriptures are concerned. Literary efforts in this direction should also as far as possible be publicized;

5. In connection with this reference to various Christian churches and Communities the Congress recommended that ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue be extended to the gypsy world as well, in conformity with the relevant guidelines issued by the Holy See. The Congress, however, deplored the sectarian approach harking back to pentecostalism, adopted by certain groups professing to be Christians, and exhorts Catholic pastoral Operators to be aware of this danger. This is an appeal of concern most of all to their apostolic action, which might thus be adapted to ensure that the gypsy himself shall be the principal actor and be designed for his active participation, with profound faith, in the Liturgy, in evangelizing action, and in human promotion – all in keeping with communion of spirit, friendship and sense of community, which was what the Congress was primarily about.

6. The Congress discussed activities geared to specific forms adopted by the Church in her solicitude, – where pastoral Operators might even share the life of gypsy communities – i.e. going beyond “ordinary”, territorially circumscribed, pastoral action, and accordingly felt that something might also be done in the specific approaches advocated here, in the sense of setting up pastoral structures vested with the relevant jurisdiction, though without encroaching on the powers of the local Ordinaries (cf PO 10/l). Bishops should be involved more in this form of pastoral care, together with their Episcopal Conference. Comprehensive, lasting and surer solutions, with appropriate margins of autonomy, but at all times in coordination with Local Church authorities (collaboration between Chaplains to gypsies and Parish priests is fundamental here), could be sought within existing pastoral-cum-jurisdictional structures. The latter might also have the faculty to incardinate Priests and to welcome within their ranks various other pastoral Operators (desirably recruited from the gypsy community itself). In this way a “gypsy apostolate” could be brought into being to serve a given region, nation or continent, even. Given the particular nature of pastoral care for gypsies and the serious problems having to be faced (problems pointed up during the Congress, as well), it will nonetheless be necessary to establish an interdiocesan or national structure able to serve on an equitable sharing of resources – in their broadest connotation – on the preparation and training of pastoral Operators, on coordination with similar institutions in other countries, and so on. Here the role of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant People needs no underlining.

7. Another proposal envisaged involving Vatican Radio in the cause of gypsies and their pastoral care. The Congress desired that the Pontifical Council, as it thinks fit, might sound out possibilities here, and earnestly hoped that a favourable response might be forthcoming. A website could be created for the Catholic apostolate addressed to the gypsy world. Desirably, the Pontifical Council might take action here, since it has its own site within the Curia’s ( with a Migrant section well in evidence. (The Proceedings of the present Congress could, in time, be accessed on such a site.) If the Pontifical Council does not have sufficient staff – Personnel in any event serving the entire humanity in one way or another on the move - it could ask the Secretariat of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences to conduct a feasibility study here. In any event, the media field is important – decisive, even - not only to ensure that what is transmitted is a true image of the gypsy world but is also something in the interest of pastoral concerns. The attention of everybody is drawn to what is said here. In this connection, too, the suggestion was put forward that there might be an exchange of information and pastoral practices already described on the web. The Congress hoped that a list could be compiled of sites dedicated to the pastoral care of gypsies and to their culture. The request was also made that information be obtained on websites of pastoral Operators who are themselves of gypsy origin and, finally, that mobile pastoral media groups be set up at certain points.

8. The World Congress took a favourable view of the possibility, with due regard to the present situation, and in certain countries, of promoting gypsy candidates to the Permanent Deaconate. Thought would have to be given to the kind of training courses needed and how to provide them. Deacons will be preferred coming from the gypsy communities themselves, attention always being paid – as in the case of non-gypsies – to the individual’s Christian identity and spirituality and to the relevant cultural criteria.

9.  The sense of community and of the enlarged family characterizing gypsy culture would lead one to suppose that the Movements within the Church could well find place for expressing solicitude for our gypsy brothers and sisters – as envisaged by Vatican II, with its emphasis on community.

III. The Budapest appeal

l. The Fifth World Congress of the Pastoral Care of Gypsies (Roma, Sinti and itinerant people), noting that the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, (in particular article 14, which enshrines the principal asserting the right to their enjoyment, as recognized by the Convention, irrespective of any ethnic, social, religious or national affiliation), appeals for a prompt implementation of the relevant provisions, and stresses the fact that protection at law is the right of every gypsy residing in a European country.

2. Given the importance of citizenship where the enjoyment of social and political rights is concerned, the Congress emphasizes that every Roma must be recognized secure personal status (as also recommended by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, 22 February l983 and the Resolution of the European Parliament, 20 April 1984) and accordingly called for the elimination of cases of statelessness, for the issuance to Roma people of documents free from restrictions and identical with those for other citizens. The appeal is made to the spirit and letter of the two conventions of New York of 1954 and 1961, concerning the status of stateless persons and on reducing cases of statelessness.

3. Improving the living conditions of Roma people is a priority objective to which government efforts must be directed, and expressed the hope that such efforts be effectively deployed. For it is on improvement in people’s housing conditions that will cause improvement in health conditions for Roma people, of the raising of their children, of their school education and their economic and cultural development largely depend.

The Congress recalled in particular the general principals that the experts of the Council of Europe formulated concerning the right of abode (principal of non-discrimination, freedom to choose one’s place of residence, participation of Roma communities and associations in the devising and implementing of projects for improving housing) and called for vigilance to ensure that local Authorities carry out their obligations. Some purpose would be served in instituting legal aid services, free of charge, lest the formalities governing assistance in the Courts should seriously restrict Roma people’s scope in defending their rights.

4. On one particular point the Congress appealed to the relevant Authorities to consider the caravan (or mobile home) on a par with stable places of abode and refrain from any major discrimination here in the countries’ statutes of persons or social statutes where nomads are concerned. Any discrimination of the kind is all the more to be decried because it affects a fundamental human right, itself guaranteed under the European Convention, which under Article 8 proclaims the inviolability of the home.

The caravan or mobile home must be protected under criminal law by virtue of its being considered on a par with the dwelling house. Law enforcement visits to the home must therefore never be left to the discretion of the Police, and inspections must conform strictly to the regulations unless there is a serious or imminent danger to public order.

5. With reference to freedom of movement within the country of residence, the Congress appealed to the public Authorities to remove any obstacles to the unlimited circulation of Roma people. Among such obstacles, in particular, were those special documents which amount to internal passports. The Congress further hoped that camping land be opened up for such nomads as may wish to avail themselves of it, as conditions require (during the winter, for example), and that they permit gypsies to defend their individual rights in the Courts.

6. In the matter of circulation beyond national borders, of gypsies, citizens of third countries, the Congress expressed the hope that the regulations enforced in the respective countries might incorporate the provisions of the Resolutions of the European Parliament of 21 April 1994, on the situation of Roma people within the European community (A3-0124/R4), where Article 1, 1 expressly requests the Governments of the Member States to provide whereby all citizens of third countries who have legal residence in a Member State, in particular Roma people, shall have the same right as citizens of the Union to circulate throughout the European Union.

7. The Congress further appeals for the reception into national laws of the recommendation of the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe of 3 February 2000 [R (2000) 4], in particular as regards pre-school teaching which should be open to Roma children, whereby they might be guaranteed access later to the school curriculum, together with the recommendation to involve parents, so that a specific and professionally qualified career as cultural mediators may be opened to them. This implies that for all pupils the education received in school must respect pupils’ diversity and social situations.

8. The Congress laid stress in this appeal on the need to turn to good effect the human and cultural resources potentially represented by four million Roma children and adolescents of school age, and on the urgency that this implied for all European governments. Europe must realize what a loss it would suffer if it failed to allow for the presence within its confines of these four million Roma youth, half of their number never having had any schooling.

9. From its analysis of recent international documentation the Congress was convinced that there is an effective and mounting desire among Roma people to strive for integration (inclusion) – their inclusion at law – in the national communities within which their life and their work have created bonds with others. This attitude, generated by change in the Roma world, a change in progress for several years now, may prove decisive for the success of inclusion /integration processes. 

The Congress accordingly renews all previous expressions of this appeal, to the effect that the Authorities and the entire civil society shall take into account these novel forms of Roma dynamism in determining their future, a future by that token better for all.

10. The Congress participants, in conclusion, cannot but look with confidence also to the Church, Mater et Magistra, in an appeal that she lend her support in the hopes expressed here, hopes which they urgently place before those in authority in the nations and before the world at large. We therefore appeal to the Local Churches to have a prophetic spirit and denounce the injustices to which gypsy groups in their areas are subjected ‑ injustices indicative of selfish indifference, prejudice, discrimination.

The Church is called upon to sustain the pastoral commitment in favour of Roma people wherever in the world, conscious as she is of the links that bind evangelization and human promotion.

Even if this appeal has something of a European tinge about it ‑ since the overwhelming majority of Congress participants are from that continent – the Church will therefore look with maternal concern to all Roma people suffering any discrimination, even if Gypsies are non-violent, in Europe, as was especially the case in the last century, and will show them her solicitude for their spiritual welfare but also in the defence of the human rights they have seen trodden underfoot. May the Lord so grant.

Budapest, 5 July 2003.