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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 103, April 2007






Archbishop Agostino Marchetto

Secretary of the Pontifical Council

for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People



Rt Reverend Professors,

Dear National Directors: 

I would like to join His Eminence, our President, in welcoming you and in expressing our gratitude to you all, both National Directors and Speakers. At the same time, I would like to express my joy for this opportunity to meet you here in our Dicastery.

It is my task today to give an introduction to our study of the Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of Gypsies, which we have eagerly been waiting for and which we can finally appreciate now in its entirety. Today's meeting offers me the occasion – as I was saying – to propose to you again this theme after three years of hard and dedicated work we had in Budapest, on the occasion of the 5th World Congress for the Pastoral Care of Gypsies. It was exactly in that City that this Document took form more decisively. At that time – I remember well – I presented to you the fundamental points of this specific pastoral care, from an ecclesial perspective.

In fact, before that meeting, the Document was still in the process of “embryonic” elaboration and I explicitly talked about this in the introduction to my reflections at that time. I also alluded to the stimulus we received from the Servant of God John Paul II, who, in one of his discourses, recognized the fact that nomadic people “extend the sense of hospitality and solidarity and, at the same time, grow stronger in the faith, hope and assistance of God. In drawing up principles and guidelines for the pastoral care of nomads, attention must therefore be paid to these spiritual and cultural values, thereby offering them concrete support in dealing with the complex problems that accompany them on their journeys in various parts of the world. I am thinking of, for example, the difficulty of mutual understanding between them and the world around them, and the lack of adequate reception facilities, education and integration within communities. Only careful and farsighted pastoral commitment can make a decisive contribution to provide adequate solutions to such problems”[1]. In Budapest, entering into the very heart of the matter, I offered the biblical and theological foundations of this pastoral care, up to the question of the appropriate ecclesial structures for Gypsies. All this was confirmed by the Document, which, after various events, was published at last on December 8th, 2005. Well, today we are setting out to know its content more deeply. Clearly we will do this – as His Eminence, our President, already mentioned – with the help of experts on the question, who will enlighten us on the various dimensions of the Guidelines.

It is superfluous to say that our work was hard and exacting, first of all because we aimed at the universal. It was, therefore, necessary to analyze more deeply the gypsy reality in its anthropological, sociological, theological and ecclesial dimensions, without neglecting the historical approach and an examination from the juridico-legislative perspective. For this last point, the presentation of Rev. Fr. Antonio Perotti, RIP, in Budapest helped us a lot. Second, due to the diversity of groups that compose it, with the relative problem of the terminology, the vast and complex reality of the gypsy world gave rise to many doubts and dilemmas.

In reality, we encountered difficulty already at the beginning, with the search for a term that would “embrace” all the groups in question, since – as you all know well – the word “gypsy” has always a rather strong negative connotation. We also knew that the name of a minority group is not only a question of finding some term to attribute to it or to use, but is above-all a question of identity. This is why many groups commonly called “Gypsies”, like for example the Sinti, the Kalés and the Manouches, do not identify themselves with the name “Rom/Roma” used by the Council of Europe and other international organizations[2]. However, as stated in the Guidelines, practical and linguistic reasons have persuaded us to use the term “Gypsies”, in spite of the anxiety that it might not be fitting for the nomads of India – the most numerous in the world[3]. Of course, we must also take into account the fact that, in concrete situations, it is opportune to refer to the name used by a specific group.

As you will have noticed in the program, the first talk will be given by Rev. Fr. René Bernard, SJ, who is well known to many of you since the time when he was National Director for the pastoral care of Gypsies in France. Given his long experience, Father Bernard has helped us considerably with his “Jalons” during the initial stage of writing this Document. He will discuss with us the specific characteristics of this pastoral care, in the light of the Guidelines. This is certainly due to the particular religious and cultural identity of Gypsies, but also to other factors, which he will surely discuss with us.

Let us proceed in reading the program.

The itinerant condition both in its objective state and in its vision of life is depicted as an ecclesial sign firmly rooted in biblical revelation (cfr. Heb 13:14), and finds various existential forms in the living substance of the Church. Thus «the way of evangelisation, of genuine recon-ciliation and communion between Gypsies and gağé – as we read in no. 21 of the Guidelines – can only stem from biblical reflection, in the light of which also the Gypsy world would find its own Christian insight. Careful reading of Holy Scriptures is therefore necessary to guide us towards the way of properly incorporating the pastoral care for Gypsies within the context of the Church’s mission». Guided therefore by this affirmation, we have requested Professor emeritus, now His Eminence card. Albert Vanhoye, of the Pontifical Biblical Institute of Rome, to help us in this task. He has already reviewed the original text from this point of view.

But how should the pastoral care of Gypsies be set up so that it may be fully incorporated in the mission of the Church and be found with an authentic ecclesiological dimension? To these questions Fr. Philip Goyret, Professor of Ecclesiology at the University of the Holy Cross and who had already helped us in the past in this regard, will try to find a precise and exhaustive response.

As some sort of an introduction, I would like to recall, at this point, one of the two big events, in the history of the gypsy people, that delineate its religious and cultural identity within the Catholic Church. I am referring to the visit of Pope Paul VI to a camping area of Gypsies who were gathered in Pomezia, on the occasion of their 1st international pilgrimage during the Holy Year of 1975. This happened at the time when the Second Vatican Council reminded all Christians of their universal vocation to sanctity, being sent, as Church, to all peoples of all times and places, without any distinction of race or culture. For the first time in the history of the gypsy people, therefore, a Pope was directly addressing its members with words that opened to them the doors of the Catholic community. Paul VI lovingly said: «You are marginalized, but under certain respects you are at the centre; you are the heart of the Church»! The Pauline exhortation to solidarity and brotherhood toward Gypsies has lost nothing of its validity, urgency and timeliness, as long as we witness episodes of violence, hatred, and racism toward the gypsy people[4].

Naturally within the realms of the apostolate among Gypsies, pastoral agents have a particularly important role and because of this no one should be surprised that the Guidelines dedicate a whole chapter to them. It is true that the Document concentrates on organizational and hierarchical aspects more than on the spiritual ones, which you can study more deeply here. That would be a good thing to do. However, we have requested Rev. Fr. Cyril Vasil’, Professor at the Faculty of Oriental Canon Law, to offer us a short reflection on the identity of chaplains for this specific pastoral care, in the light of the Guidelines and at the same time considering it from the point of view of  Code of Canons of the Catholic Oriental Churches. In the past, he had already given his valid help to let our Document go beyond the limits of the Latin Church, and it was necessary to do so.

I would just like to add at this point that the specificity of the pastoral care of  Gypsies – underscored in the beginning of chapter V of the Guidelines – requires that the direct protagonists have an exact and specific formation, and that the whole Catholic community possess an open and positive attitude towards them. I would like to repeat for you the words of Pope Benedict XVI. The pastoral agents of the Church – the Pope says, although he is referring particularly to those of charitable institutions – «must be distinguished by the fact that they do not merely meet the needs of the moment, but they dedicate themselves to others with heartfelt concern, enabling them to experience the richness of their humanity. Consequently, in addition to their necessary professional training, these charity workers need a “formation of the heart”: they need to be led to that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others. As a result, love of neighbour will no longer be for them a commandment imposed, so to speak, from without, but a consequence deriving from their faith, a faith which becomes active through love (cf. Gal 5:6)»[5].

Therefore – as regards spirituality – I hope that aside from what Rev. Professor Vasil’ will offer us, also the words of Pope Benedict XVI, which we have just cited, would accompany us in these study days, profoundly penetrate our minds and move our hearts, to render us, more and more, “shepherds” according to God's design – authentic, open and welcoming, always ready to commit ourselves for the «respect for the rights and needs of everyone, especially the poor, the lowly and the defenceless»[6]. Let us also allow ourselves to be guided, not only during these days, but also in our daily lives, by the law of reciprocity which the Pope himself speaks of in his encyclical, with these beautiful words: «Love grows through love» and «only if I serve my neighbour can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me. Love is “divine” because it comes from God and unites us to God; through this unifying process it makes us a “we” which transcends our divisions and makes us one, until in the end God is “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28)»[7].

Last but not the least, we will hear from Rev. Prof. Eduardo Baura, also from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (and this offers witness to the generosity of its professors in giving help). He will highlight some aspects of the Document from the juridical viewpoint. He, too, had given us his support in writing the Guidelines. As regards the norms and the faculties of chaplains, we find a short exposition about it in nos. 95-96. Therefore, we would be grateful to Professor Baura if he would explain more fully the discipline of the Church in this regard.

Before I give the floor to our speakers, I would like to draw your attention to one more aspect of our Document, which, unfortunately, could not be included in the program of our meeting. I am referring to the liturgical component, since in the Guidelines we find a long reflection on the sacramental aspect, with particular reference to the seven sacraments (nos. 62-69) and an indication of some devotional expressions highly appreciated by the Gypsies. Among these are pilgrimages, the “Way of the Cross” and the rosary. In there, various forms of approaching and communicating are mentioned, and ways of proclaiming the Word of God are proposed.

As we all know, the Eucharist and the sacramental life are fundamental for every man's spiritual growth and active participation in the life of Christ and of the Church, which «draws her life from the Eucharist», «the source and summit of the whole Christian life». John Paul II underlined this in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia[8]. His Successor further developed this idea and, therefore, I would like to cite for you a passage of the homily he delivered on the occasion of the official taking in possession of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, the seat of the Bishop of Rome. The Pope recalled that every single apostolic yearning in God's People is born and grows from the Eucharistic sacrifice, and he added: «In this mystery, Christ's love becomes permanently tangible among us. Here, again and again he gives himself. Here, again and again his heart is pierced; here he keeps his promise, the promise which, from the Cross, was to attract all things to himself ... Thanks to the Eucharist, the Church is reborn ever anew! The Church is none other than that network - the Eucharistic community! - within which all of us, receiving the same Lord, become one body and embrace all the world»[9].

What must we do, therefore, so that the Gypsies may fully enter into this communion, into this “network”, that is in the Eucharistic community? What itineraries of faith and of evangelization should we propose to the Gypsies, to make it easier for them to mature fully in the faith? What catechetical approach should we propose so as to prevent them from turning to sects or the dispersal of its own religious heritage (cfr. no. 33)? For now, these are the first questions that would later increase in number, seeking answers during our study and discussions, and which you will have the possibility and occasion to concentrate on particularly in your workshops (which are also provided for in the program).

Allow me still to briefly touch the theme of integration. In this regard, I would say that the Guidelines do not explain much, although in some parts of the text the need for it is mentioned. In no. 53, for example, we read: «Planning ways for development also requires an adequate understanding of the distinct notions of integration and assimilation. Indeed, the former should definitely be encouraged, as it is aimed at a complete inclusion of Gypsy life and traditions in harmony with the other cultures, in a context of respect for its own. On the contrary, any attempts at assimilation, which lead to the annihilation of Gypsy culture dissolving it in the majority culture, should be firmly rejected». The Instruction on migration Erga migrantes caritas Christi on the contrary, expands the theme further by dealing with it all throughout the text and presenting its various nuances. I hope you are already familiar with this document; otherwise I warmly exhort you to take a look at it and to concentrate at least on those aspects of the pastoral care of migrants that are similar to those of the one for Gypsies.

Regarding integration, in any case, the Guidelines (in no. 43) underscore the fact that, together with respect for and appreciation of the legitimate values of Gypsies, the process of their integration into the heart of the surrounding societies must likewise be strongly encouraged. Moreover, the latter are asked to have a welcoming attitude and a change in mentality. In this process, education offered at schools and the information spread through the mass media (which, in contrast – as we all know – rarely communicate the positive aspects of the gypsy culture) clearly play a decisive role.

From this, however, at least two questions arise spontaneously, namely: “Can we really expect a full integration of gypsy populations in the majority societies?” “How reliable are the ‘strategies’ to be used in such a process?”

I would now like to conclude my talk with an optimistic tone, referring to the discourse of His Eminence, our President, in which, within the European context, it is noted an ever increasing attention, on the part of both national and international Organisms, for the promotion of Gypsies. Thus, in order to improve the situation of Roma/Travellers in Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe invited the member States to respect the six conditions necessary for such an action[10]. All of these six conditions are, in some way, reflected in the premises included in the Guidelines. Therefore, I deem it useful to mention them at this point, underscoring the need (a) to recognize the juridical status of the Roma/Travellers as persons belonging to ethnic minorities; (b) to elaborate and actualize specific programs apt to improve the integration of these populations in society, by guaranteeing their participation in decision-making processes at the local, regional, national and European levels; (c) to guarantee them a treatment corresponding with their status as a minority group in the field of education, employment, medical aid, public service and housing scheme; (d) to develop and actualize positive actions in their favour in the fields of education, employment and housing; (e) to make precise provisions and create special institutions that would protect the language, culture, traditions and identity of the Roma/Travellers; and, lastly, (f) to fight racism, xenophobia, and intolerance, guaranteeing a non discriminatory treatment of the Roma/Travellers at the local, regional, national and international levels.

Even if this is a question of duties of international Organizations, the Church – as we have already stated – cannot stay out of this milieu. What, then, is our commitment?

We must recognize that there are already positive signs of a strengthening of the Church's role in this area. I shall cite a well known example, and that is a fact related to the creation, in 2004, of the European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF), as a consultative organ at the Committee of Ministers and of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, as well as in the Institutions of the European Union[11]. Well, the Church, the Holy See, has an observer there, in the person of Mr. Léon Tambour, who has gladly accepted the invitation to share with us his experience. Welcome!  

Dear National Directors,

In my present introduction I made use above all of the ideas and thoughts contained in the Guidelines. They have certainly become mine after working on them for many years. Needless to say, therefore, this seems to me to be the best way to encourage you in carrying out the task that awaits you during these two days of intense work. I am sure that you will continually consult and reread this Document in its entirety, today and tomorrow, and I hope even after that. I mean that even in the future, you will try to verify and develop what will emerge from studying the Guidelines during these days, in order to continue with new force and hope your arduous apostolate among, for and with the Gypsies.

I thank you for your attention and entrust our work to the motherly intercession of Mary, “Amari Develeskeridai”, and of Blessed Ceferino Jiménez Malla.  

Thank you!


[1]    John Paul II, Discourse to the Participants of the International Meeting of National Directors and Experts for the Pastoral Care of Nomads, 1 December 2001, in  L'Osservatore Romano (2 December 2001), p. 5.

[2]    The term used by the Council of Europe has considerably changed since the outset of the 1970's: "Gypsies and other nomads", "nomads", "populations of nomadic origin", "Gypsies", "Roma/Gypsies", "Roma", "Rom(s)/Tsiganes et Gens du voyage", "Roma and Travellers". In this regard, cfr. a study by Claire Pedotti (Service de la traduction française), Michael Guet (DGIII Division des Roms et des Gens du voyage) in consultation with English and French translation services, and Aurora Ailincai (DGIV Projet Education des enfants Roms en Europe) with the collaboration of Prof. Marcel Courthiade of INALCO, entitled Glossaire sur les Roms et les Gens du voyage. It explains that the usage of the term "Roma" on the part of the Council of Europe and of other International Organizations refers also to Sinti, "travellers", Gypsies and other groups related to Roma (cfr. Glossaireroms.doc).

[3]    During my recent visit to Bhopal for the annual meeting for the Pastoral Care of the Nomads in India (PACNI), two figures were repeatedly given to me. The nomads at present are around 18 million, whereas 100 million Indians would be of nomadic origin. Furthermore, Rev. Don Rosso has informed me that the term "Gypsies" can also be used in India, as proven by its usage for over a hundred years now.

[4]    Cfr. pontifical council for the pastoral care of migrants and itinerant people, Proceedings of the 4th International Meeting for the Pastoral Care of Gypsies, Introduction, Vatican City 1995. The second event was the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII, which remembered the great extermination of the Gypsy people. In the Nazi camps, hundreds of thousands of Gypsies met death in tragic conditions. The history and destiny of Gypsies are marked by rejection, marginalization and discrimination both toward individuals and entire populations, and this still requires an examination of conscience and serious commitment. This is also because to forget what happened in the past may pave the way to new forms of rejection and aggressiveness.

[5]    Benedict XVI, Encyclical Deus caritas est, no. 31a: AAS  98 (2006) 244.

[6]    John paul II, Encyclical Ut unum sint, no. 43: AAS  87 (1995) 946.

[7]    Benedict XVI, cit. Enc., no. 18: AAS  98 (2006) 232.

[8]    John paul II, Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, nos. 1 and 13: AAS 95 (2003) 433, 442.

[9]    Benedict XVI, Homily during the Mass of Possession of the Chair of the Bishop of Rome, 7 May 2005: AAS 97 (2005) 752.

[10]   Cfr. Recommendation no. 1557 (2002), adopted on 25 April 2002.

[11]   The Forum has its website: