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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move - Supp. N° 93,  December 2003, pp. 267-268

Czech Republic

Rev. Fr. Jiri ROUS

National Director

There are about 300 thousand Gypsies in the Czech Republic. They are divided into five groups. The pastoral work of the Catholic Church is done with the most numerous group, the so called Slovakian Gypsies (or Rumungre). All of them are settled and they stay mostly in cities. Their language situation differs. The first language of some communities is Gypsy, in other places it is Czech.

Our motivation: why do we do the pastoral work with Gypsies. 

Following the example of Jesus Christ we want to take care of the poorest. And Gypsies are at the bottom of the population regarding the socio-economic status as well as education. It makes them visible. Also, there is a serious gap between the Gypsies and the majority population. Gypsies feel themselves rejected and not loved. We feel the need to build bridges over this gap. It is also their ethnic culture and spontaneity that attracts us.

Their motivation: what does motivate Gypsies to participate in the Church?

  • They like to have a community where they feel well.
  • They are motivated by seeing immediately or at least soon the result of their effort.
  • They like to see that there is an easy way to reach the goal.
  • They need to feel that they are respected and accepted.
  • They are attracted by an emotional religiosity. It is difficult to say if the success of the Pentecostal movement is caused only by such emotional attraction or if it is God’s blessing. As far as I know there is just one place in Czech Republic where the effect of the Pentecostal mission is really long lasting, and one place, where the effect was of short duration.

Objectives of mission and dialogue

The main objective of mission is salvation.

There are many ways how to work for this objective. The choice of strategy depends on the number of pastoral workers and on their personal charisma.

Most of the Gypsies expect only baptism and a funeral from the Church. Under these conditions possibility of evangelization is very limited. Attempts to correct the Gypsy approach to the baptism are not successful. So evangelization based on the Sacraments does not lead to progress.

We consider prayer to be the cornerstone of the faith and of the relation to the God. Nevertheless, it must be said that the young generation does not pray, not even in their hearts. They do not know the common prayers. Older people pray only in an event of urgent personal or family need (crises). So on the one hand, the mission in our country cannot be based on a strong religious need of Gypsies. On the other hand, they are the only ones who fully acknowledge the existence of God in an atheist country.

There are several ways of mission among gypsies in Czech Republic

  • The Salesian wayis built upon establishments for children and youth. They offer leisure time activities, additional education, and gradual passing of responsibility on their clients. Gypsy children can find a friendly environment where they can observe and learn the Christian way of life. Nevertheless it is difficult to focus on the development of an individual person. This strategy is long-term and fails to involve adult Gypsies.
  • Care in prison. Half of all imprisoned people in Czech Republic are Gypsies. Spiritual care of them is successful at the places where it is going on. Real conversions of Gypsies emerge. Nevertheless after they leave the jail and return to the original environment, they mostly lose the effort.
  • Work of Charitas. This institution runs clubs for pre-school and school age children. Their objective is to prepare children for the school and further education. They reach this objective, but it has no evangelization effect. The statute of Charitas does not allow it to proclaim the Gospel.
  • Social way. Some parishes help Gypsies with housing, employment, paying their debts and so on. They show their goodness, but then the Gypsies are not interested in anything but the material service. It can bring fruit after longer period of such activity.
  • Direct evangelization. Proclaiming the Gospel directly is effective in small and internally united groups of Gypsies. Such group can be targeted by brief and intensive work of a priest or a mission group. It is necessary that a systematic spiritual care follows. It was put to practice at on place up to now and it is a big hope.
Generally there is a gap between what Gypsies expect from the Church and what we offer. To overcome this gap it will be necessary to work more intensively in a personal way directly with Gypsy families.