Vatican City, 26 October 2015 (VIS) – This morning, in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall, Pope Francis received in audience the participants in the World Pilgrimage of Gypsy People, which gathered together Roma, Sinti and other itinerant peoples, organised by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples in collaboration with the “Migrantes” Foundation of the Italian Episcopal Conference and the “Migrantes” Office of the diocese of Rome and the Sant'Egidio Community. This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Blessed Paul VI's visit to the nomad camp of Pomezia, Italy, on 26 September 1965.
Francis mentioned the great changes that have taken place in the Gypsy community since that historic visit, both in the field of evangelisation and in that of human, social and cultural development. “A strong sign of faith and spiritual growth in your ethnic groups is the increasing number of vocations to priestly life, the diaconate and consecrated life”, he said. He described the latter as “a bridge between two cultures” and remarked that they are therefore “called upon always to be witnesses of evangelical transparency to favour the birth, growth and nurturing of new vocations. You must know how to be companions not only on a spiritual journey, but also in everyday life, with its hardships, joys and worries”.
He acknowledged the difficulties faced by these peoples, and commented that he had seen the precarious conditions in which they live during his pastoral visits, emphasising that this situation is in contrast with the right of every person to a dignified life, dignified work, education and healthcare. “I would like to see the beginning of a new history for your people. The time has come to eradicate the deep-rooted prejudices, preconceptions and mutual distrust that are often at the basis of discrimination, racism and xenophobia. No-one should feel isolated, and no-one should be authorised to trample the dignity and rights of others. … Let us therefore allow the Gospel to awaken our consciences and to open our hearts and hands to the neediest and most marginalised, starting from those closest to us”.
Francis encouraged them to be the first to make efforts to construct more human peripheries and to build bonds of fraternity and exchange. “You can do this if you are, first and foremost, good Christians, avoiding all that which is unworthy of the name: falseness, fraud, cheating and quarrels”, and encouraged them to follow the example of blessed Ceferino Gimenez Malla. The Pope urged them not to give the media or public opinion the opportunity to speak badly of them. “You are the agents of your own present and future. Like all citizens, you can contribute to the well-being and the progress of society by respecting the law, fulfilling your duties and integrating also through the emancipation of the new generations”.
With regard to children and the young, “your most valuable treasure”, he stated that “education is without doubt the foundation for the healthy development of the person. It is well known that the limited scholastic level of many of your young people currently represents the main obstacle to access to the world of work. Your children have the right to go to school: do not prevent them from doing so!”. He also commented on the need for effort on the part of civil institutions in “guaranteeing adequate education for young gypsies, also offering families who live in the most disadvantaged conditions the opportunity to benefit from adequate integration in schools and in work”.
The Pope concluded by echoing the words of Blessed Paul VI fifty years ago, when he affirmed that itinerant populations were not at the margins of the Church, but rather, in some respects, at her very heart.