The Holy See
back up

 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 103, April 2007





i. the event

On 11 - 12 December 2006, a Study Meeting of the National Directors of the Pastoral Care of Gypsies, on the “Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of Gypsies, Careful Examination of the Document”, was held at Palazzo San Calisto in Rome. The event was attended by 27 delegates from 21 countries, representing three continents: Europe (Austria, Belgium, Croatia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine and Hungary), the Americas (the USA and, for the first time, Chile) and Asia (Bangladesh, the Philippines and Indonesia, who were also present for the first time), India.

The objective of the meeting – in line with its theme – was to carry out in-depth study of the Guidelines, in order to promote their appropriate application. This first document produced by the Church, in its universal dimension, dedicated to Gypsies was published by the Pontifical Council on 8 December 2005.

The meeting began with a concelebration of the Eucharist, led by His Eminence Renato Raffaele Cardinal Martino, President of the Dicastery, who pronounced the homily. Commenting on the day’s liturgical texts, after his words of welcome, the Cardinal affirmed that bringing the joyous message of salvation to Gypsies and helping them to recognise in Jesus Christ the Saviour who redeems the spirit and heals the body, is the heart of the pastoral care aimed at Gypsies, and should be carried out in a spirit of peace, with justice, truth, charity and freedom. Moreover, His Eminence recalled that, through his words and deeds, Jesus invites everyone to welcome him fully into their lives, and allow themselves to be shaped by heeding the Word, and through the Eucharist and personal prayer, in order to experience more intensely communion with God and one’s brothers and sisters. Communion is a gift with very real consequences, as it takes us out of solitude and being closed in on ourselves, in order to participate in the love of God and communicate it to Gypsies.

The opening of the working session continued with the reading by the President of the Dicastery of a brief message sent for the occasion by the Holy Father Benedict XVI, in which the Supreme Pontiff encouraged “continuation of the important apostolic commitment in favour of the Gypsy population” and invoked the heavenly protection of the Mother of Christ and the intercession of the Blessed Ceferino Jiménez Malla. The Cardinal continued with his welcoming speech, dwelling on various important aspects of the Guidelines, which are fundamental for specific and appropriate care of Gypsies. First of all, His Eminence stressed the need for a careful analysis, carried out from an objective viewpoint, which enables and at the same time obliges recognition of the values of Gypsy culture, and safeguards the dignity of Gypsies and respects their identity. Therefore, he expressed a wish that initiatives for the promotion and defence of their rights be encouraged.  He affirmed that it is vital for the Church to meet the expectations of Gypsies in their search for God, guiding their steps in accordance with the teaching of Christ. The Cardinal also deemed it indispensable to acknowledge the distressing history of this people, marked by reprehensible and deplorable acts, which are often still perpetrated against their human dignity. Referring in this respect to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Cardinal Martino recalled that the Church does not remain silent, but rather responds to current challenges, on the basis of a Christian anthropology that takes into account, amongst others, human dignity, social relations and human actions in the world. Indeed, this is concretely expressed in the Guidelines, which do not hesitate to condemn situations that are hostile towards Gypsies, nor fail to claim greater justice for them.

Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, Secretary of the Dicastery, introduced the participants to the study of the various aspects of the Guidelines, by illustrating the agenda of the meeting. In a brief digression on the history of the document, which was approved by Pope John Paul II, Msgr Marchetto recalled the love and concern of Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II for Gypsies, who were providential in the turning point imprinted on their ecclesial belonging. Referring to the words of Pope Paul VI who opened the doors of the Catholic community to Gypsies: “You are not on the margins, but, under some aspects, you are at the centre, you are at the heart of the Church”; the Archbishop commented that this call for solidarity and brotherly love towards Gypsies is still valid, urgent and topical. Subsequently, he recalled the words of the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II, on the need to pay due attention to the spiritual and cultural values of Gypsies by offering them concrete support in tackling the complex problems they meet along their way, such as the difficulty of mutual understanding with the surrounding environment, the lack of adequate reception facilities, impediments in the area of education and professional training and, finally, problems relating to the process of integration at the local level. Moving on to reflect on the various aspects of the document that examine the complex world of Gypsies, with its conditions of marginalisation and poverty that call out to the Church, the Archbishop noted that it does in fact recognise their right to “live together” and supports awareness-raising initiatives, with a view to achieving more justice for them, in mutual respect of cultures and laws. The Church, moreover, is committed to renewing its specific pastoral action, partly to prevent them resorting to “sects”, dispersion of their rich religious heritage or their turning in wards on themselves. There is a foundation of biblical reflection, in the light of which the nomadic milieu finds its Christian intelligence. Then, with reference to pastoral aspects, Msgr Marchetto dwelt, among other things, on the spirituality of pastoral workers, hoping that they be might animated by the “reciprocity of love”, as affirmed by Pope Benedict XVI in his Encyclical Deus caritas est. In addition, he called for a change of mentality in the surrounding society, which unfortunately is strongly stereotyped and conditioned by education taught in schools or information from the mass media. Msgr Marchetto therefore insisted on the need to establish attitudes of welcome and mutual trust, which are required if a process of effective integration ­Â– not to be confused with assimilation – is to take place.

The first report on the overall vision of the Document, was presented, on Monday 11 December, by Reverend Father René Bernard, S.I., formerly National Director in France. First of all, the speaker examined the process of the emergence of a Gypsy population at European level, with all its consequences. He referred to the attitude of rejection towards Gypsies, which has been manifested as unquestionable exclusion, perpetrated for centuries, and has generated discrimination and widespread injustice against them. In this context, the Catholic Church, which has remained silent for too long, appears to be the one of the gağé, and therefore it takes a long time for pastoral workers to be fully accepted by the Gypsy community. The speaker then stressed the need to take note of the “evocative” language of Gypsies, the acceptance of which, and subsequent understanding of its profound meaning, will allow for the exercise of mental insight and, perhaps, lead to purification of the culture, via proclamation of the Gospel. This proclamation is also mutual, as Gypsies have their own ways of sharing, as well as personal and collective initiatives that question the majority society. Subsequently, Fr Bernard spoke of the appropriateness of creating “bridge communities”, made up of Gypsies and gağé, whose mediation is indispensable in the face of the violence and rejection suffered by the former. Finally, Fr Bernard spoke about the sacrament of baptism as an encounter with and call from Christ, which then refers back to the active presence of a fraternal community that does not accept attitudes of rejection, and demonstrates this through concrete acts. The speaker concluded by emphasising, amongst others, the need for inculturation, which should be implemented in truth and reveals the diversity of the cultures and traditions and the itineraries and current conditions of Gypsies. 

His Eminence Albert Cardinal Vanhoye, S.I., Professor Emeritus of the Pontifical Biblical Institute, presented the second report, which dealt with the biblical foundations of the Guidelines. In his primary reflections the speaker concentrated on two claims made in the document: firstly, the evangelisation of Gypsies comes within the Church’s universal mission and, secondly, such evangelisation should be carried out in a specific way. After highlighting the innovation and intense dynamism of the New Testament in comparison with the Old one, which were already apparent in the public life of Jesus and then embraced its extension via the Paschal Mystery, the Cardinal emphasised how these two elements also have consequences for the pastoral care of Gypsies.  He pointed out  that, in a special way, they refer to the specific nature of this pastoral care, as it is called for as an internal requirement of the catholicity of the Church and its mission, as well as in fact being included in its missionary impetus. Regarding the specific aspects of the pastoral care of Gypsies, the speaker presented their negative side, namely what makes it more difficult, but also the positive side that can make it more fruitful. The first aspect is connected to their great mobility, whilst the second regards their lifestyle which makes it possible to have a deep spiritual life following the example of Abraham, a model of docility towards God and of great faith. Finally, in presenting the wandering life of the patriarchs as a splendid manifestation of faith and hope, the Cardinal defined wandering as “a great opportunity” for Gypsies.

The Reverend Philip Goyret, Professor of Ecclesiology at the University of the Holy Cross, dedicated his reflection to the ecclesiological dimension of the Guidelines, which he developed starting from the catholicity of the Church. Indeed, in the first part of his report, he widely illustrated the concept and the idea of the “catholicity” of the Church. In the second part, he presented catholicity in evangelisation, and subsequently pursued the line of argument with regard to the pastoral care of Gypsies. In this context, the professor observed that, in very timely fashion, the Guidelines point out the need to pay attention to “qualitative” catholicity (a necessary condition for quantitative or extensive catholicity), which enables better assumption of the prospect of the contribution made by Gypsies to the Church. In his conclusion, the speaker insisted that the study of the Church’s mission aimed at Gypsies highlights various specific requirements regarding the means of planning their evangelisation, with a view to making a real impact on their lives and their way of belonging to the Church. In summing up his speech, Professor Goyret stressed that the evangelisation of Gypsies should be simultaneously combined with the extensive, intensive and qualitative catholicity of the Church, thereby reassuring the pastoral workers that Jesus Christ is really present within it.

The presentation by Mr Léon Tambour on the European Roma and Travellers Forum, on which he is an observer for the Catholic Church, completed the first day’s speeches. The speaker emphasised the importance of this organisation for the lives of all the groups it represents: Roma, Sinti, Kalé, Travellers and other nomads. Considering the objectives of the Forum – namely, to promote effective respect of all the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the above-mentioned peoples as guaranteed by the Council of Europe; to promote the struggle against racism and discrimination; and to facilitate the integration of these populations into European societies and their participation in public life and in the decision-making process –, this organisation may be seen as an expression of specific attention paid by States to this minority. Therefore, having established that, within their limits, Europe and the Forum are taking on the challenge of bringing together diverse groups, Mr Tambour insisted that the Church must reflect and further extend its pastoral care to all nomad groups, whatever their origins and expressions of faith are, in accordance with the opportunities proposed in the Guidelines.

On Tuesday 12 December, two reports were presented, followed by accounts from chaplains who work with sea gypsies (in Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines).

In the first speech, made by the Reverend Professor Eduardo Baura from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, the legal aspects (of jus, from which justitia) regarding pastoral activities in favour of Gypsies were illustrated. At the beginning of his presentation, Rev. Baura reiterated that even though many legal aspects are covered by the organisational regulations of this specific pastoral care, a consideration of the legal aspects of the Church’s action for Gypsies cannot be reduced to merely organisational issues. Therefore, in order to have an overall and deep vision of the subject, one must examine certain legal principles that are present in the constitution of the Church, which are at the foundation of the legal implications of the pastoral care for Gypsies, and which enlighten the understanding of this pastoral sector’s specific organisational regulations. Regarding the administration of spiritual goods, the professor indicated the fundamental legal principle of equality: all of the faithful (not just some, nor the majority, but all of them) – therefore Gypsies too – have an equal right to receive spiritual assistance from the priests. This requirement gives rise to the need to organise appropriate pastoral action. Of the legal principles that regulate it, the speaker particularly called to mind relative territoriality and the principle of cooperation between priests. He then presented the regulations that govern the pastoral care of Gypsies contained in the Document, in particular, in Chapter VI entitled “Pastoral Structures and Workers”. In conclusion, professor Baura recalled that the organisational aspects he had considered should always be subjected to the principle of salus animarum as the supreme law of the Church, namely that everything in the Church has as its purpose the wellbeing of persons.

The last report, dedicated to the identity of chaplains in the pastoral care of Gypsies, with attention also paid to the point of view of the Oriental Catholic Churches, was presented by the Reverend Father Cyril Vasil’, S.I., Professor at the Pontifical Oriental Institute. At the beginning of his reflection, the speaker recalled the age-old lack of a specific and specialised approach by the Church, its priests and pastoral workers, to the Gypsy people. He then gave an overview of the structures for the pastoral care of Gypsies at various ecclesial levels, as they are presented in the Guidelines. Before offering certain specific characteristics of the approach of an oriental chaplain, Fr Vasil’ dwelt above all on illustrating the role of chaplain/missionary in the context of the principal canonical regulations. Summarising the principal characteristics, in the light of the Guidelines, Fr Vasil’ sketched the following image: a chaplain is a person who is able to get to know Gypsies and make them known to others, and is willing to share their joys and suffering. Starting from these assumptions, it is then possible to arrive at personal witness and direct proclamation of faith, the sharing of the bread of the Gospel and the Eucharist. Any application and use of relative canonical regulation – whether common or specific – to such commitment should always be of help and never of hindrance to the chaplain, given that salus animarum: suprema lex. Fr Vasil’ thus reiterated Professor Baura’s concept.

Accounts were then given by chaplains who work with nomads in Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines, countries that were present for the first time. They are known there as “sea gypsies”.

Mr Prodyut Prodip Mondol, the representative of a group of catechists who belong to Pastoral Care of Nomads in Bangladesh (PNB), spoke first. In giving information about his pastoral work, he referred to the Guidelines which are the basis for the service provided to the Gypsy groups, Jajabor (Bede), Mahali and Kowra. Mr Mondol briefly described the characteristics of these nomads, and went into greater detail about the formal and theological dialogue between Christians and Moslems that has been developed, despite tensions and, in some cases, actual “wars”. 

The situation of the nomads in the Philippines was illustrated by the Reverend Father Dennis G. Tamayo, CMF, who carries out his mission among the Bajaus, “the poorest of the poor”. Also known as “sea gypsies” they mainly live in the southwest of the Philippines, the northeast of Malaysia and northern Indonesia. The majority of the Bajaus – said Fr Tamayo – are fishermen and live off the generosity of the sea. Their basic belief in spirits has contributed to the formation of a serene and peaceful community, noteworthy for its upright social behaviour. Contrary to what is said about them by anthropologists, who call them “popular Islamists”, they are not Moslems and do not allow themselves to be influenced by them. Fr Tamayo briefly described two meetings of pastoral and social workers who live with the nomads, promoted by the local Church, which took place respectively on  8 April 2005 and from 27 to 29 April 2006 in Zamboanga City. Both meetings dealt with the main problems faced by the Bajaus: poverty, lack of education, marginalisation and discrimination which is expressed, amongst others, through exploitation by trade unions.

The pastoral care of migrants, itinerant people and sea people (nomads) in the diocese of Pangkalpinang, Indonesia, was presented by Reverend Bernardus Somi Balun. He talked about the work that benefits children, and above all prostitutes, victims of trafficking of human beeings, who represent one of the most urgent challenges faced by pastoral care in the diocese. Rev. Balun then described the Church’s commitment for the nomadic sea people called Suku Laut. This is carried out in the pastoral field regarding the life of communion and brotherly love, and also in the socioeconomic area with particular attention paid to education and healthcare.

The second day’s working session ended with a reading and general approval of the conclusions and recommendations, which are presented below.  

ii. conclusions

1.         An in-depth analysis of the anthropological, sociological, theological and ecclesial aspects of the Guidelines, including historical and legal and legislative ones, as well as the outcomes of study group discussions, led to the following considerations:

The National Directors acknowledged the importance of finally having a document (Guidelines) that bears witness to the efforts carried out by the Catholic Church in the pastoral care of Gypsies, which recognises their spirituality and aims to offer nomads the teaching of the Gospel in its entirety. This Document describes the pastoral care of Gypsies not merely as charity, but rather as a requirement of the catholicity of the Church.

2.       The Guidelines are the outcome of the pastoral commitment carried out so far and the sharing of experiences carried out. Therefore, they mark an important moment in the history of evangelisation and human promotion in favour of Gypsies. The declaration of Pope Paul VI in this regard: “You are at the heart of the Church” (Pomezia, 1965) and the statement by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council that the Church makes no distinction between men (cf. Gaudium et spes), put an end to the historical silence regarding this people.

3.       Two historic events in the 20th century fundamentally changed the vision of the world of Gypsies. The first was the beatification of Ceferino Jiménez Malla, a humble Spanish Gypsy, who was a martyr in the Civil War in 1936, whilst the second refers to the asking of God’s forgiveness for the sins committed against Gypsies by sons and daughters of the Church, requested by Pope John Paul II on 12 March 2000, as part of the liturgical celebrations for the Great Jubilee.

4.         Such sins – if not of action, undoubtedly of omission – include an age-old lukewarmness, even a lack, of a specific and specialised approach by the Church and its ministers, priests and pastoral workers to the mission among Gypsies. In this regard, the Guidelines urge all Christian people to change their mentality and attitudes, in order to establish a positive relationship with the Gypsy population.

5.         In its attitude towards Gypsies, the Church should not only “welcome” (welcoming already is characteristic of the Old Testament), but should also take on the risk of reaching out to others, especially those who are different, who are rejected and not appreciated, as occurs in the New Testament. It is the Christ of the Gospels who breaks cultural taboos.

6.         The Gospel – the mystery of salvation granted by Christ to the Church – should be preached to men and women of all cultures. In the work of evangelising Gypsies, the process of inculturation, understood as being the incarnation of the Gospel within cultures, together with the introduction of the life of the Church within them, should be accepted and given priority. In this context, the Guidelines list a series of opinions, but also demonstrate the possibility of achieving a desirable balance. Essential in this respect is the assertion that, in the wake of true catholicity, the Church must, in a certain sense, become a Gypsy Church among Gypsies, so that they may fully participate in ecclesial life.

7.         “Human promotion” and “evangelisation” are two complementary and inseparable elements for spreading the Kingdom of God, which is the kingdom of truth and of life, the kingdom of holiness and grace, the kingdom of justice, love and peace.  Therefore, in pastoral activity carried out for Gypsies, humanitarian aid and the truth of the Gospel must go together hand in hand, and the elements of justice, brotherly love and equality should be part of them.

8.         Regarding the “purification” of Gypsy culture, this process should take place through the Gospel and reach its fulfilment in Christ. Together with “acceptance” of Gypsy culture, the Guidelines emphasise that the Church should also aim its pastoral care at going beyond those aspects that cannot be shared by the Christian vision of life or which, in one way or another, constitute obstacles along the path to reconciliation and communion between Gypsies and gağé.

9.         Gypsies have a feeling of exclusion, and the desire to conserve their own mobility and their own families. Solidarity is at the centre of their mentality. Their religious concept and faith are based on the existent of a powerful Protector.

            Redemption – as the height of solidarity – not only regards the soul, but also the person as a whole including culture, type of relations, etc. Therefore, in transmitting the Gospel it is extremely important to consider the values and richness of Gypsy culture, learn its language and appreciate its traditions and customs. Indeed, the sharing of Gypsy life brings mutual enrichment.

10.       However, an exaggerated respect for Gypsy tradition may give rise to isolation or rejection. Gağé also have responsibilities in certain areas: education, professional training, equality before the law, human dignity, mutual forgiveness and interruption of a cycle of offences that are handed down from generation to generation. The above-mentioned act of confessing the guilt of the sons and daughters of the Church, with a view to a “purification of memory” also with regard to Gypsies, enables improved relations today. The first step in the dialogue is acceptance of being different.

11.       The lack or insufficiency of recognition of Gypsy identity by society and/or the Church entails a process of assimilation rather than integration. Therefore, it is praiseworthy that the Guidelines assert that only integration, understood as being harmonious insertion with full acceptance of diversity, leads towards the desired unity. However, welcoming Gypsies without assimilating them, and preferably helping them to preserve their own specific nature, seems to be a difficult balance to achieve.

12.       Gypsies have survived, and go on surviving, an age-old situation of rejection, with a reaction that has become a component of their culture. This cultural element makes them participate in Christ’s concern for breaking taboos and in his privileged love for the most vulnerable. Following on from Christ, the Church’s mission is to acknowledge and encourage this love. 

13.       However, the specific nature of the pastoral care of Gypsies cannot eliminate the universal territorial responsibility of the Church. Indeed, Gypsies call on the whole Church, which leads to a need to harmonize specific pastoral care with local territorial parochial levels. Bishops have responsibility for encouraging Gypsies to conserve their own identity and unity. They should feel welcome in the local Church and in the community to which they belong during their journay. This is clearly indicated in the Guidelines.

14.       In the current socio-political climate, new phenomena are raising issues for the Church:

- new Gypsy migrations concern States and frighten populations, giving rise to renewed racism and disturbing xenophobia, as they are the negation of the opening up of the heart desired by Christ;

- these new migrations create encounters between populations and groups who were previously unaware of each other;

- at the same time, Gypsies are striving to escape from welfare dependence and be successful in their own right;

- civil authorities are trying to give Gypsies a voice that enables them to be successful. 

iii.  recommendations

Taking into account the above, the participants made the following recommendations:

The Church should make Gypsies’ anxieties and hopes its own, so that the Gospel may be experienced and proclaimed in a way that it is appropriate to their mentality and traditions. This concern should have consequences in the liturgical and catechetic field.

- The Church should accept being enriched by Gypsy values, which have arisen from resistance to assimilation and persecutions, given that the Church’s own universality requires it.

- Priority should be given to the role of the Episcopal Promoter. His presence and attitude are vital for pastoral workers who require support and care, and attention to special needs.

- Greater commitment from Bishops should be requested, especially regarding welcome and the creation of spaces for listening to Gypsies, as well as in preventing discriminination. The appropriateness of employing ecclesial advocacy in defending their cause and their rights should be considered.

- Gypsy political and cultural associations should be promoted, even though this entails risks. It is a question of dignity, a condition of personal devotion to Jesus Christ.

- Gypsies should play a more central role and take on greater responsibility in the Church.

- Commitment and attention to ecclesial vocations should be stepped up, considering the importance of the presence of Gypsy priests, deacons and religious in this specific pastoral care.

- The number of places where Gypsies can express themselves and their faith should be increased. For example, by establishing Faith Schools, giving rise to a respectful dialogue in which Gypsies can express their faith.

- The “usual” program used in preparing for the sacraments should not be considered binding. The cultural and existential element of emotiveness (feelings) and the here and now, which are characteristic of Gypsies, should be taken into account. A pastoral “continuation” would be far more desirable than sporadic monitoring.

- Pilgrimages and meeting opportunities must be promoted in order to dispel the still too common image that the Church is for gağé and that it is necessary to renounce one’s Gypsy identity to be a “good Christian”. A Eucharist on the ground can mean the presence of Christ at the heart of Gypsy life.

- The Church’s solidarity with civil society’s objectives regarding justice for Gypsies should be manifested and the emergence of Gypsy culture should be encouraged in order to raise awareness of its faith dimension.

- The appropriateness of recognition by dioceses of the specific nature of the pastoral care of Gypsies must be observed.

- Consequently, religious authorities should be notified of the existence of the Guidelines, pointing out the particular significant expressions in order to create pastoral concern and responsibility.

- Efforts should be made to promote welcome and appropriate application of the Guidelines. Given the diversity and complexity of the situations in which Gypsies live in various countries, thought should be given to drawing up a kind of national Directory.

- Coordination of chaplains’ ministry for Gypsies with local parishes and at the local level must be improved.  Parish communities should open themselves up to welcome and acknowledge the positive things that specific pastoral agents do.

- Catechistic programmes must be planned in terms of particular local circumstances.

- Organised meetings between pastoral agents and responsible Gypsies should be promoted in order to establish authentic relations and foster “living together”. Action must be taken in accordance with the maxim “nothing for them, but everything with them”, namely, support and accompany Gypsies, but do not act in their place for fear of defeat; collaborate and refrain from moral judgements and start out with love.

- The temptation to interpret Gypsy nomadism too literally must be resisted. Many of the characteristics of nomadism are still valid for Gypsies. The earth belongs to everyone, so Gypsies also have the right to accommodation, the vote and to be considered as citizens with full rights.

- The challenge that new Gypsy migrations entail for pastoral care via the encounter with other religions and faiths should be frankly tackled, namely in an enriching spirit of adhesion to the Gospel and the Church, and with openness.

- More opportunities must be provided for improving mutual knowledge among pastoral leaders. They should assess together their relations with Gypsies, as well as those between Gypsies themselves, in order to give gradual rise to a common pastoral spirituality, adapted to new situations. This should be dynamic, and cannot be stereotyped.

- Stepping up collaboration with civil institutions has to be considered, so that they give Gypsies a voice, as well as the possibility of creating forums, within the Church, where Gypsies can present their problems, requests and any special need.

- With regard to sects, No. 77 of the Guidelines should be considered as the basis for our pastoral attitudes.