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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move - N° 84, December 2000


Message to the National Conference on the Pastoral Care of Nomadic People[1]


Archbishop Stephen Fumio HAMAO, 
President of the Pontifical Council

First of all I would like to thank Archbishop Paschal Topno of Bhopal and Mr. Praveen Fernandes and all other organisers of this National Conference on the Pastoral Care of Nomadic People in India for their kind invitation to Msgr. Anthony Chirayath and to myself to attend this meeting. I am very happy to address you, pastoral workers and well wishers of nomadic people, coming from the various parts of this great Indian sub-continent. As the President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, it is my duty to see to the promotion and coordination of the pastoral care of nomadic people in the universal Church. The mandate given to my Council by the Holy Father is quite clear on this point. From the time of its creation in 1970 by Pope Paul VI until today the reigning Pontiffs have shown great interest and concern in the pastoral and human promotion of nomadic peoples. From time to time both Pope Paul VI and John Paul II have received the nomadic peoples and their pastoral workers in the Apostolic Palace and encouraged them in their work. I am happy to see that also the Church in India is in the forefront in assisting these people.

It is estimated that there are about 17 million Gypsies, or rather Rom which is the new name given to this category of nomadic people, though it is difficult to say their exact number because of the nomadic nature of their life. It is believed that India is the motherland of these people. About 8 million of these people live in India. The rest are scattered throughout the world especially in Europe. There must have been different waves of emigration of these people from India in the course of centuries. Historians have noted that such an emigration took place almost a thousand years ago from the Sind Province of the present Pakistan and they reached western Europe in the fifteenth century. From that time there is historical evidence of their presence and participation in the social life of the European society. On the occasion of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, noted historians have prepared a book on the history of the Gypsies and the Church, which will be presented by the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in the coming months. The book will be published in several European languages.    

Gypsies have always demonstrated a strong sense of the sacred, as can be seen by their religious traditions. Unfortunately the scarcity of priests and pastoral workers willing to assist them prevents them from receiving religious formation. The itinerant dimension of the life of Gypsies is a testimony of their inner freedom from the phenomenon of consumerism in todayÂ’s society and a permanent reminder that life is an ongoing pilgrimage towards another homeland, our heavenly home. With their lifestyle they unconsciously challenge a cold, rationalistic religion, marked by too much legalism.

Pope John Paul II encourages everyone to welcome them as brothers and sisters. He said: “Despite the clear teaching of the Gospel…it often happens that Gypsies find themselves rejected and despised. The world, to a great extent, marked by avidity for profit and disdain for the weaker ones, must change its attitude and welcome our nomad brothers and sisters no longer with simple tolerance but in a spirit of brotherhood” (9-11-1989).On March 12 the Pope asked pardon for the offences committed in actions against love, peace, the rights of people and respect for cultures and religions. He prayed that Christians will be able to repent for their enmity towards the weakest members of other religions and towards the weakest groups in society, such as immigrants and nomadic people.

Again during the general audience on April 5th the Holy Father appealed to the world to respect the human dignity of nomadic people. He was speaking on the occasion of the International Day of Gypsies, which is celebrated every year on April 8.

In conclusion I thank you once again for inviting me and Msgr. Anthony Chirayath to this National Conference and I hope our presence will help to strengthen the bonds uniting the Church in India and the Holy See. I wish you every success in this important work among nomadic people. God bless you.

[1] Chennai, 11 September 2000