The Holy See
back up

 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move - N° 84, December 2000


Visit to Slovak Romanies - Gypsies[1]


Msgr. Anthony CHIRAYATH, 
Co-ordinator for the Pastoral Care of Nomads

The Slovak Republic is little bigger than Holland and almost the same size of Bosnia-Herzegovina in area and has a population of 5,3 million as of December 31, 1999. Although the ethnic composition is 85,65% Slovaks, 10.55% Hungarians and 1.63% (87.800) Romanies-Gypsies, pastoral workers are of the opinion that about 5% (269.400) of the population is composed of Romanies-Gypsies. They belong mainly to the Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic Churches.

From 5 to 7 August 2000 Msgr. Anthony Chirayath, co-ordinator of the Pastoral Care of Nomads in the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, made a visit to some of the Gypsy communities. Msgr. Piero Gabella, the Italian National Director for Nomad Apostolate and Fr. Claude Dumas, a French Gypsy priest working amongst his people in Southern France, accompanied Msgr. Chirayath during this visit.

On Saturday 5 August Fr. Peter Besenyi sdb, National Director for the Pastoral Care of Gypsies in the Slovak Republic, welcomed the visiting team to the newly built Church in Bardejov, dedicated to Bl.Ceferino, the Spanish Gypsy martyr beatified by Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square in Rome on May 4, 1997.

Though the Church of Bl.Ceferino is not a parish church in the canonical sense, for all practical purposes it is. The church is catering mainly to the Gypsy population (1.000 c.) who live around the church. The Gypsies in this area live in flats. Since there is no resident priest in this church, Sr. Atanasia, a Basilian nun working full time amongst the Gypsies take care of the church and its premises.

What impresses visitors to this church is the tidiness of the place. There is a beautiful wall painting of Bl.Ceferino behind the main altar done by a local artist. When Msgr. Chirayath celebrated the holy Mass on Sunday morning, he was assisted by a group of well-attired Gypsy altar boys and the church choir sang to rhythmic music accompanied by organ, guitar and violin played by Gypsy children. Sr. Atanasia has formed a Gypsy choir in this place with the help of a young music teacher.

Attached to the church there are rooms for catechism and meetings, a kitchen where Sr. Atanasia teaches Gypsy girls the culinary art and another place for young Gypsy boys to learn carpentry and photo-framing under the supervision of instructors. Close to the church there is also a small football field, which was crowded with children during our visit.

The main purpose of our visit to the Slovak Republic was to participate in the Jubilee celebrations of Gypsies in the famous Marian Shrine of Gaboltov in the afternoon of Sunday April 6. The celebrations began with a musical concert of Gypsy children who had come from different parishes of the diocese. About twenty priests heard confessions during this time. Three thousand Gypsies and others had come for the celebration. There were also some Gypsy nuns among the pilgrims.

About 30 priests, among whom some Gypsy priests, concelebrated with Bishop Bernard Bober, Episcopal Promoter for the pastoral care of nomads in the Slovak Republic. In his homily Bishop Bober asked the Gypsies to send their children to schools and to catechism. He also warned them of the growing danger of racism among the Gypsy population. Msgr. Chirayath addressed the congregation at the end of the Holy Mass.

On the following day on our way back to Rome we stopped in a village where some Gypsy children were being prepared for their First Communion by a priest who had come from the Czech Republic. We also visited another Gypsy town called Jarnovic where some 3000 Gypsies and 1000 non-Gypsies are living. Last year about 40 Gypsies died in a landslide in this place. Here the Gypsies are building their own church which is nearing completion. The interest and concern of the Slovak Church for the human promotion and the pastoral care of Gypsies are really praise worthy.  

[1]Visita tenutasi dal 5 al 7 agosto 2000