I. The event
From 1 to 4 September 2008, at the Bildungszentrum Kardinal-Döpfner-Haus in Freising, Germany, the Sixth World Congress for the Pastoral Care of Gypsies took place. This event was organised by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People in collaboration with the German Bishops’ Conference. The 150 delegates (including archbishops, bishops, priests, deacons, religious, lay pastoral workers and Gypsy representatives), from 26 European countries, as well as from Latin America and Asia, explored the theme “Young Gypsies in the Church and Society”.
With this the Congress wished to highlight the role that the young generation of Gypsies may play in the human and Christian promotion of its people. During the four days of study the participants considered the spiritual and material needs of young Gypsies, partly with a view to condemning the unfavourable situations that actually burden them and also to foster genuine integration and their increased participation in the projects, decisions and activities that concern them. Moreover, an attempt was made to identify more adequate means for supporting their human, professional and religious formation.
The opening of the Congress, on Monday 1 September, was preceded by a press conference at which the theme of the meeting was presented by Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, Secretary of the Pontifical Council, and Bishop Norbert Trelle, the Episcopal Promoter of the Pastoral Care of Gypsies in Germany.
The opening session, during which the ecclesiastical and civil authorities presented their warm and hospitable greetings, was chaired by Msgr Norbert Trelle. Archbishop Marchetto had previously read the telegram sent by the Holy Father for the occasion, in which the Pontiff hoped that the meeting “would give rise to renewed commitment and support for the integration of young Gypsies within the Church and society”. A speech was then given by H.E. Msgr Jean-Claude Périsset, the Apostolic Nuncio to Germany, who reminded the participants that the work they were getting ready to carry out should be based on recognition of the dignity of mankind. He then recalled the pre-eminent place that Christ has in the lives of all believers and the pastoral care of the Church.
The welcoming speech to the participants from Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, President of the German Bishops’ Conference, who was unable to attend, was read by Bishop Norbert Trelle. Greetings from Dr Wolfgang Schäuble, MdB, Minister of the Interior of the Federal Republic of Germany, were read out by his representative. Then, Mr Bernd Sibler, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Education and Worship in Bavaria, greeted the participants. Finally, Mr Dieter Thalhammer, the Mayor of Freising, hoped that the special nature of the place chosen to hold the Congress might contribute to the success of its proceedings.
Then Msgr Marchetto read the welcoming speech to the participants from His Eminence Renato Raffaele Cardinal Martino, President of the Vatican Dicastery that is responsible for the pastoral care of Gypsies. After expressing his sincere gratitude to the authorities and participants for attending in large numbers, the Cardinal addressed a message of encouragement to the young people, reminding them that they are an asset for the Church and society. At the same time, he pointed out that due to their precarious living conditions and scarce educational and employment opportunities, they feel uprooted and unfairly treated, losing confidence in themselves and the family, as well as in political, legal, educational, social and ecclesial institutions. Therefore, continued the Cardinal, the Church calls on all men and women, and especially Christians, to assume their responsibilities, in the service of society or in political commitment, in order to guarantee the full respect of the dignity and rights of every human being, with love, peace, justice and solidarity. Regarding Governments ¬– emphasised the Cardinal – they are called on to provide support to educational bodies and Gypsy groups, to the various clans, schools and associations, where in accordance with rules and regulations of civil coexistence, balanced and responsible personalities may develop, and which give rise to people who are fit to participate fully in community life. Finally, Cardinal Martino recalled that during previous Congresses the need for a centralized service of the Church had been highlighted. Such a service would promote cooperation and dialogue with national and international organisations and with the various Christian denominations, in order to eliminate any form of discrimination and violence against Gypsies.
Once the letter of greeting from Cardinal Martino, who was unable to attend the Congress, had been read out, Archbishop Agostino Marchetto gave his opening speech on “Young Gypsies, a Resource for Civil and Ecclesial Community”. Before going into the core of the argument, the Archbishop briefly explained his use of the term “Gypsies” which, in a world context, is more appropriate than the terms “Roma” and “Sinti” that are widely used in parts of Europe to indicate these populations. After a brief introduction on the Church’s teaching regarding young people, the Archbishop presented the five key points of his speech: formative background; modern-day challenges for Gypsy youth; factors/norms for effective inclusion within society; the initiatives of organisations and institutions in favour of Gypsies; and relations between the Church and young Gypsies. Msgr Marchetto particularly emphasised the difficulties that young Gypsies have to deal with in the fields of education and employment, often due to a lack of anti-discrimination laws and regulations. He then condemned discrimination regarding issues of housing and access to healthcare, which unfortunately Gypsies are often still subjected to. Amongst the challenges that the younger generation must face, the Archbishop also mentioned the lack of objectivity of the mass media, to whom he made an appeal to offer an awareness-raising service to combat prejudices and negative stereotypes rooted in society. Regarding the relations between the Church and young Gypsies, Msgr Marchetto mentioned a series of initiatives already underway, and also put forward proposals to encourage greater integration of young people in the life of the Church and society. In conclusion, he reminded the participants of their duty to undertake the pastoral care of the new generation of Gypsy Christians.
At the end of the opening session, the 14 Archbishops and Bishops, the more than 70 priests and the many participants at the Congress, took part in a procession to the Cathedral of Freising, where a solemn Eucharistic Concelebration was held, led by H.E. Msgr Reinhardt Marx, Archbishop of Munich-Freising.
The first day concluded with a “friendship evening”, a real opportunity for cultural and social sharing, in an amicable and very warm atmosphere.
On Tuesday 2 and Wednesday 3 September the sessions were divided into two main parts. In the mornings speeches were given, and then discussed by the whole assembly, whilst in the afternoons two round tables were held, one for National Directors and the other for young Gypsies, coordinated, respectively, by two experts in youth issues: H.E. Msgr Josef Clemens, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and H.E. Msgr Domenico Sigalini, the Assistant General Chaplain of Italian Catholic Action.
During the morning of 2 September the religious and socio-political situations of young Gypsies were illustrated. Rev. Denis Membrey, the former National Director of the Pastoral Care of Gypsies in France, in dealing with “The Religious Situation of Gypsy Youth and Related Challenges for the Church”, highlighted how multi-facetted the situation of Gypsy youth is. Young people ask pastoral workers many questions about faith, religion and the Church, and their desire and thirst for faith – Fr Membrey emphasised – is striking. Therefore, the pastoral response requires knowledge of the Gypsy environment as a whole, including its history and the various characteristics of its culture and mentality. The speaker asked the participants to reflect on the need and the means for building a Church communion together.
Dr Eva Rizzin, a young Sinti and member of the Roma and Sinti Together Federation and the Research centre for action against discrimination towards Roma and Sinti – OsservAzione, referred to the “The Socio-political Situation of Gypsy Youth, with Particular Reference to Europe, and Prospects for the Future”. The speaker began by condemning acts of violence, instigation of racial hatred and other forms of abuse against Roma and Sinti. However, acting as a spokesperson for the majority of young Gypsies, she strongly maintained that awareness, educational training and a will to participate in politics are now part of their experience. Nevertheless, according to Dr Rizzin, training for Roma and Sinti activists and mediators is required. The speaker also pointed out the vital importance of education for young people and schooling as a tool for improving their self-representation and increasing their emancipation. She also drew attention to the recognition of the minority status of Gypsy people, whilst, with reference to strategies in favour of these populations, she pointed out that they should be integrated, participatory and cultural.
In the afternoon a round table of National Directors took place, coordinated by H.E. Msgr Josef Clemens. Six National Directors, representing three continents, discussed the theme “Evangelisation and Human Promotion of Young Gypsies in front of the Challenges of Religious, Cultural and Ethical Pluralism”. Rev. Wallace do Carmo Zanon illustrated the situation in Brazil for Latin America, whilst Dr Jaya Peter presented the situation in India, in the context of Asia. The other four National Directors, Sr Karolina Miljak (Croatia), Fr Jozef Lančarič, SDB (Germany), Rev. Federico Schiavon, SDB (Italy) and Fr Francisco Sales Diniz, OFM (Portugal), referred to problems and prospects regarding the theme in the context of Europe, from the viewpoint of their respective countries.
In the evening the participants were received by the Deputy Mayor of Freising at the historic Asamtheater. In the beautiful setting of the “Asam-Saal”, Dr Rudolf Schwaiger briefly introduced the participants to the history of the town, which is known as the “heart of old Bavaria”, as well as to its cultural, social and spiritual treasures.
On the morning of 3 September Mr Nicolae Gheorghe, formerly OSCE-ODIHR consultant on Roma and Sinti issues, and Sr Mª Belén Carreras Maya, a Spanish missionary, spoke about “Opportunities for Gypsies to Associate in Structures with Educational, Professional and Political Aims: Collaboration between Church and Civil Institutions”. Mr Gheorghe illustrated these opportunities from a political point of view, whilst Sr Carreras Maya highlighted the value of education and the need for professional qualifications as indispensable conditions for achieving a dignified quality of life. Sr Carreras Maya then pointed to the Church as an expert in humanity and tireless defender of the dignity of the human person, which is therefore capable of having open and constructive dialogue with Gypsies, of necessity conducted using the same language.
The afternoon was dedicated to young Gypsies, with a round table facilitated by H.E. Msgr Domenico Sigalini. The theme, “Young Gypsies as Protagonists: Motivations and Aims, Expectations and Needs”, was discussed by Ange Garcy (France), Remo Allgäuer (Germany), Gyözö Balogh (Hungary), Savic Branislav (Italy) and Mădălina Burtea (Romania). Their accounts, which are particularly moving as they reveal painful past moments and experiences, present certainties and future hopes, generated many questions and expectations regarding the Church and society. Amongst others, emerged the “dream of a world without barriers between people, and without discrimination between races”, and the desire “to be able to go into church through the main door”, “to have the same educational and employment opportunities as gağé” and to be no longer considered as “different”. Moreover, the hopes of young people rest on being able to obtain adequate training, on a change in the perception of Gypsies by the majority community and on the desire of young Gypsies to be able to overcome mistrust and fear in their relations with gağé. Regarding the Church, the youngsters have opted for a greater religious awareness which, at the co-operative level, enables the safeguarding of their rights and active participation in ecclesial life.
The work carried out at the Congress was supported by prayer, especially the early morning Holy Mass concelebrated every day in the Bildungszentrum chapel. The principal celebrant on 2 September was Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, whilst on the following day the Eucharistic Concelebration was led by H.E. Msgr José Edson Santana Oliveira, the Episcopal Promoter of Brazil. On 4 September the Holy Mass was led by H.E. Mons. Leo Cornelio, Archbishop of Bhopal and President of the Pastoral Care of Nomads in India (PACNI). Each Bishop also gave a homily.
The Congress offered the participants a wide range of opportunities to discuss the various aspects of the problems of young Gypsies, including study groups, debates and discussions, the results of which were gathered together in a series of conclusions and recommendations. On Thursday 4 September, the final day of the Congress, the following conclusions and recommendations were read out and unanimously approved.
An obvious fact: the future lies with young people. Whether Gypsy or gağé, they should be considered in their dignity and given an opportunity to be a resource for the Church and society. Young Gypsies, although undergoing great change, bear values that we should discover to enrich ourselves.
1. When speaking about young Gypsies, we easily resort to generalisations that are in fact improper. On the one hand, our image of them often depends on our own representations; young people are seldom considered in themselves, in their originality and fullness. On the other hand, their situations are very different: some are nomadic and others are settled, the degrees of marginalisation are different and sociological and cultural groups vary greatly, as do family situations (some young people are already married and are fathers and mothers).
Young people are confronted with a dual conflict:
- generational conflict, which are resolved in accordance with customs (for example, shortening of the period of adolescence in the case of early marriage);
- cultural conflict, exacerbated by modernity.
Like young gağé they are subject to the demands of a society in the face of which they are vulnerable and ill prepared.
2. This perspective gives rise to “two golden rules”, suggested by young people themselves:
- know how to listen: take time to understand them in order to know them better;
- act “for them, but above all with them”.
3. As for young gağé, God has a plan for all young Gypsies which must be discovered and responded to, despite their unstable situations and possible marginalisation.
Young people represent “the hope of the Church”, and the hope of the world. They are “prophets of hope”, and “artisans of renewal”. For the Church, “Acting for them, but above all with them” means encouraging them to develop the implementation of pilot programmes, initiatives and projects aimed at strengthening their participation in evangelisation and the human promotion of their brothers and sisters.
4. Whatever opinion one might have about it, secularisation is a reality in many countries today. The current transnational mobility of Gypsies leads to completely new encounters between young people with different religions and cultures; family behaviour is changing. These circumstances pose young people new questions and challenges that their parents never knew. God was an obvious fact for them, which is no longer always the case for young people. Hence the pressing need for a new accompaniment, and a pastoral care that is more directly in touch with situations, current affairs and diversity.
5. A specific pastoral care that should be considered as normal and not sporadic in the Church presupposes the training of pastoral agents, both Gypsy and gağé. They should exploit the possibilities already provided for by the adaptation of the Liturgy to Gypsy culture: something that is alive should not be standardised! Moreover, the Church is reflecting on how to make pastoral structures evolve to have them more intimate and personal.
6. Parish communities should also be deeply concerned about the local situations of Gypsies. They should have the prophetic evangelical boldness to offer young Gypsies a warm welcome as sons and daughters of God. These encounters should eliminate obstacles, prejudices and racist attitudes and allow young Gypsies and gağé to recognise that they are brothers and sisters, to become builders of peace and reconciliation together in a meeting of cultures and thus ward off the unsuitable behaviours that generate violence.
7. The Gypsy issue is increasingly institutionalised, especially at the level of European authorities. This institutionalisation also affects educational and employment issues, and equally concerns young people. Therefore, it has the advantage of leading to greater awareness and responsibility amongst governments and encourages the development of overall projects. But it runs the risk of becoming merely administrative and neglecting the warmth of human relations, generating decisions that are unsuited to concrete situations and tending towards assimilation of Gypsies without taking their specificity into account.
8. A process of inclusion within society should be set in motion so that young people may play a role in decision making and responsibility, achieve a good level of education and take part in social and political activities, with joint responsibility and active solidarity.
9. Without a changeover period, young Gypsies go from family tradition into a world dominated by technology. They too are not protected from certain by-products of society, such as drugs and alcohol.
10. Today young Gypsies are also the victims of prejudices and social stereotypes. They belong to a social group that has fewer opportunities and must face problems of discrimination and inequality regarding the educational system, employment, housing and healthcare. According to recent studies conducted in Europe, they belong to the group that is “least desirable as neighbours”. They are subjected to segregation, especially territorial. Discrimination, xenophobia and even racism sometimes lead to acts of violence that particularly affect the most vulnerable, children, young people and women, and have repercussions on social structures.
1. The situation of young Gypsies differs according to the countries where they live. Therefore, a degree of flexibility is needed in approaching the means for encouraging a process of genuine integration. Certain principles should be taken into account in this process.
2. Above all, the responsibilisation of everyone is vital for the integration of young Gypsies in accordance with anti-discrimination standards and regulations in order to ensure equality of opportunity. Governments should guarantee rights of full participation in society, facilitate access to nationality for foreigners and stateless persons and create opportunities for learning and mastering the national language. The question of a clear status for minorities should be envisaged.
3. Moreover, young people have to be guaranteed the necessary support, resources and opportunities to enable them to lead an independent and autonomous life, and have the possibility of full social and political participation. Lack of access to basic services, such as welfare protection, healthcare and safe and healthy living conditions is a factor that can deprive young people of their necessary autonomy and thereby of effective responsibility.
4. Education is a fundamental process for fulfilling personal potential and is necessary for integration within society. This is why sending Gypsies to “special schools” that engender humiliation should be forbidden, although certain special beneficial projects should continue to be encouraged. Special importance must be given to preparatory initiatives.
Education is a pre-condition for participation in political, social and economic life, on an equal footing with other people. It should also encourage rightly critical thinking and responsibility which, in turn, are necessary for building an ever more human society, based on the principles of justice, equality and fraternity.
5. Work is one of the keys to full integration within society. Consequently, young people must be guaranteed the possibility to work in decent conditions. Occupational training is a major concern insofar as young people must overcome barriers, partly due to the shortcomings of the educational system, which hinder their access to employment.
6. Access to various fundamental rights (decent housing, employment, education and healthcare) can be assisted by the training and deployment of Gypsy socio-cultural mediators.
7. The mass media bear a great responsibility in informing public opinion without drawing on stereotypes and generalisations regarding Gypsies. They should play a role in raising awareness and training in order to combat prejudices against Gypsies. Moreover, the training of young Gypsy journalists must be encouraged in order to promote freedom of expression. Finally, conferences and round tables involving media representatives and Gypsies should be organised.
8. Regarding women, forced sterilisations and campaigns that tend to destabilise Gypsies’ perception of the family should be condemned. The education of women regarding fundamental rights should be guaranteed, as well as intercultural dialogue, the participation of young people in democratic citizenship, social cohesion and the development of policies for young people.
9. The Church has many things to say to young people and young people also have many things to say to the Church. This mutual dialogue, which must be conducted with great friendliness, clarity and courage, will encourage meetings between generations and exchanges, and will be a source of richness and youth for the Church and civil society.
10. Given the mentality of young Gypsies, pastoral action will be more incisive if it takes place in the context of small groups, where it is easier to personalise and share experiences of faith and individual encounters with the Lord. In such groups young Gypsies meet together in their own cultural context. However, it should not be forgotten that pilgrimages have a special importance and value as opportunities for different groups to meet each other.
11. In this specific pastoral care, a special role could be played by the ecclesial movements and new communities that the Holy Spirit gives rise to in the Church. With the deep feeling of the community aspect, and with openness, willingness and friendliness, they too can be a specific place where the “emotional” religiosity of young Gypsies can be expressed.
Likewise, it would be useful if grassroots religious congregations, Catholic associations and ecclesial communities became involved in the specific pastoral care of young Gypsies.
12. Excluded, relegated to the margins of humanity and humiliated in their dignity, Gypsies need a living Church, a Church-communion (cf. Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of Gypsies, nos. 96-98), which is capable of training and helping them to overcome the difficulties that high politics has been unable to get beyond. However, introducing oneself with love and the desire to proclaim the Good News is not enough to create a trusting relationship between Gypsies and gağé, given the weight of history and after all the wrongs that Gypsies have endured. Therefore, Gypsies remain wary of initiatives proposed by anyone who tries to penetrate their world. It is only possible to overcome this initial attitude by starting with concrete gestures of solidarity, and also via a sharing of experiences, and the development of projects on a human scale that encourage the participation and support of young Gypsies.
13. The Church, as Christ so wished, with its preferential option for the poor, should know how to offer young people the Word of Truth and Life on which they can build their faith. As no. 65 of the Guidelines says: “Pastoral care regarding confirmation, a sacrament that is almost unknown among the Gypsy community, is important, especially for young people. Preparation for confirmation allows for educating members of the Gypsy population towards a free and informed belonging to the Church. Whilst introducing the baptised person to full participation in the life of the Spirit, the experience of God and witness to the faith, confirmation also enables him to discover the meaning of his Church membership and missionary responsibility. It is also vital to give importance to the community, the other ‘subject’ of the sacrament. This should be included in the catechesis, in an intergenerational manner, so that on the occasion of celebrating ‘its confirmed members’, the community itself may experience the grace of a new Pentecost, itself being confirmed by the breath of the Holy Spirit in its Christian vocation and evangelising mission.”
14. “The Word of God proclaimed to Gypsies in the various fields of pastoral action is more likely to be well received if it is proclaimed by someone who has concretely shown solidarity with them in everyday situations. Moreover, in the specific area of catechesis, it is important always to include dialogue that allows Gypsies to express how they perceive and live their relationship with God” (Guidelines no. 60). For young people, in particular, certain significant people are very important: through their acquired trust, these people should serve as a model.
15. Young people have all the qualities to tackle all the challenges that a new evangelisation – linked to human promotion – pose for the Gypsy world at the cutting edge. Young people are capable of innovation and often manage to associate new solutions with traditional systems, by taking advantage of and benefiting from the experience and wisdom of their culture which, even though it is not “written down in books”, is not any less eloquent for that. So let’s take advantage of their virtues!
16. We must manage to create a larger number of centres – especially ecclesial ones – which provide opportunities for leisure, study and professional training. Another suggestion regards the promotion of cultural exchange activities amongst young Gypsies, so that they can discover the values of their milieu. To this end, short study visits (if and where possible) should be promoted, as well as meetings between youngsters from different regions and countries, in order to encourage them to acquire greater awareness of other cultures and to consider common subjects (history, news, perception of identity, etc.) from a new perspective. “Youth actions” should be promoted, including meetings during pilgrimages and faith schools for young people, as well as their integration within wider humanitarian solidarity projects.
17. Finally, youngsters should be offered activities (voluntary work, associations, sports groups) and prevention initiatives to “drag them away” from inertia, lack of interest, drugs, alcohol, etc. Identifying and training leaders within their communities is very important.
18. It would also be useful to ask humanitarian organisations, such as Caritas, to issue and subsequently monitor micro-loans for families and communities that are most capable of using such funds on behalf of their ethnic group.
A young Gypsy said
We must fight racism, not with weapons, but with love, work and humility, by proving that beyond our shortcomings we also have values.