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Stop showing ‘contempt’ for Gypsies, urges Pope Francis

A Gypsy child at St Paul Outside the Walls Basilica, in Rome (AP)

People should stop showing “contempt” for Gypsies, Pope Francis has said.

Gypsies “sometimes are seen with hostility and suspicion”, the Pope said during a meeting with bishops and national directors of ministry to Gypsy communities. “I remember many times here in Rome when some Gypsies would get on the bus, the driver would say: ‘Watch your wallets!’ This is contempt. It might be true, but it is contempt.”

Like all residents, he said, Gypsies are called “to contribute to the common good”, but that will occur only if members of the community receive encouragement, a welcome and an education in their responsibilities, obligations and rights.

In fidelity to the Christ and convinced that they, too, deserve to hear the Gospel, the Catholic Church must continue to seek out, welcome and assist Gypsy communities and to lobby governments to do more to ensure they have access to education, health care and decent housing, the pope told those who minister in the Roma, Sinti and other Gypsy communities.

The participants, who came from 26 countries, were meeting with the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travellers to evaluate current programmes, share ideas for improvements and discuss plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s visit to a Gypsy camp near Pomezia, Italy, in 1965. The papal visit was seen as the beginning of what Pope Francis described as “a journey to get to know each other, to meet each other”.

The lack of schools and job training, a lack of access to health care, discrimination in the job market and a lack of adequate housing are problems for every poor community around the world, Pope Francis said. Those problems make the poorest of the poor, communities like Gypsies, particularly vulnerable, he said.

“They fall into the trap of exploitation, forced begging and various forms of abuse,” the Pope said. The Church and governments must do more to identify ways to help Gypsies and to educate other citizens to recognise their rights and dignity.

The Pope prayed that Gypsies would find in Catholics “brothers and sisters who love them with the same love Christ loved the most marginalised people”.

Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglio, president of the pontifical council, told Pope Francis that not only does the Church minister to the Gypsy people with well-organised national pastoral teams in 26 countries, but the Church also is served by 170 Gypsy priests, nuns and permanent deacons.

Many communities, he said, are living through a difficult transition from an itinerant to a stable lifestyle. Many young Gypsies see the value and importance of cooperating with local governments for the good of their people, he said. “However, frequently they seek support and help, but instead find hostility and rejection,” he added.

Bishop Joseph Kalathiparambil, secretary of the pontifical council, told the meeting participants that among the Gypsy communities, as with other disadvantaged groups, “many times material poverty is accompanied by spiritual poverty and the search for surrogates for well being and serenity”.

The Church must welcome Gypsies, but also challenge them to be responsible members of society, he said. It also must work with civil authorities to ensure that “Gypsies are not forced to spend the majority of the time in idleness and inactivity,” the bishop explained.