Conference on the Pastoral Care of Gypsies opens today in Hungary with the theme “The Church and Gypsies: for a spirituality of communion”. The Conference, which will last until 7 July, is organised by the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant Peoples in collaboration with the Hungarian Bishops’ Conference. The event will be opened by Archbishop Stephen Fumio Hamao, president of the Council which, among other things, promotes pastoral care of 18 million gypsies who roam the world.
The Conference is attended by 150 participants representing 25 Bishops’ Conferences which have their respective structures for the pastoral care of gypsy peoples. The participants include National Directors, priests, men and women religious and lay pastoral workers as well as priests and religious belonging to gypsy peoples.
Fides Service spoke with Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant Peoples.
The Budapest Conference is part of series of initiatives in favour of gypsies. Can you illustrate a few?
Recently a series of initiatives in favour of gypsies have been undertaken at both church and civil level. The Council of Europe for example is promoting reflection on respect for the human rights of gypsies; in March in Rome a meeting was held for human rights experts and the Catholic Church was invited to take part.
There are between 17 and 18 million gypsies in the world, in large numbers in Mexico, Brazil, United States and eastern Europe, with a movement towards the European Union, precisely thanks to the new opportunities offered by what will one day be the extended EU. While building the new Europe we cannot forget that gypsies have been part of Europe’s history since the early 15th century. Chronicles of the time narrate that gypsies lived at the court of the King of Hungary.
At the same time we must take into account that there are also another 17/18 million gypsies living in India from where these peoples originate.
On what themes will the Conference reflect?
For the theme of the Conference “ The Church and Gypsies: for a spirituality of communion” we are grateful to the Holy Father’s apostolic Letter Novo Millennio ineunte which affirms the need to promote a spirituality of communion. This means being able to share the joys and sufferings of others, caring for their needs and offering sincere friendship. We wish to reflect on the condition of these brothers and sisters first of all from the spiritual point of view, but we also wish to verify how the faith is incarnated in their concrete situation of life. This is why we have invited priests and religious of gypsy origin: about twenty of them and this demonstrates that gypsies can be apostles to their own people.
What about gypsies and their relation with the faith?
One of the difficulties we face is the fact that gypsies tend to be conditioned in their faith by the place in which they live: if there are in an Orthodox country, they are Orthodox; if they live in a Catholic country they are Catholics; if they are in a Muslim country they are Muslims and so forth. It is clear that although with respect for individual consciences, coherence to the Gospel must be emphasised. This does not mean we must distance them from their culture, their sense of journeying and pilgrimage. We have a whole history of grievances in relations with these peoples. There is then a desire to make reparation for all the wrongs they have suffered, taking into account the culture of these brothers and sisters who have, like all of us, their good and bad points.
Why did you choose to hold the Conference in Hungary?
Hitherto these International Conferences on Gypsies have always been held in the Vatican. This time we chose Hungary where there are millions of gypsies, as a concrete sign of the Church’s concern for this reality.
What can Europe do to help Gypsies integrate while respecting their culture.
Integration, which is a problem for all migrants, is a radical question with regard to gypsies. European life style tends to reject people who live as nomads. In recent times however we have seen more settling of gypsies, albeit a little under force at the beginning. But gypsies themselves are beginning to realise that if they want a future for their children they must send them to school and this means staying in one place.
The important thing is to respect their culture, not so much materially, but in the sense of understanding life as a pilgrimage, a searching. In this sense integration must not be absorption, it must be interaction between different cultures, in which each retains its own peculiarities.
LM (Fides Service 30/6/2003 EM lines 74 Words: 826)