Here is a translation of the Pope’s address to those present.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
On the occasion of the World Meeting of Episcopal Promoters and National Directors of the pastoral of gypsies, I give you my welcome and greet everyone cordially. I thank Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglio for his words of introduction. Your congress has as its theme “The Church and Gypsies: To Proclaim the Gospel in the Fringes.” In this topic there is first of all the memory of a relation between the ecclesial community and the gypsy people, the history of a journey to know one another, to encounter each other. And then there is the challenge for today, a challenge that concerns be it ordinary pastoral care be it the New Evangelization.
Gypsies often find themselves on the margins of society, and sometimes are regarded with hostility and suspicion -- I remember so many times here in Rome, when some gypsies got on the bus, the driver said: “Watch your wallets!” This is contempt. Perhaps it’s true, but it is contempt ... They are hardly involved in the political, economic and social dynamics of the territory. We know it is a complex reality, but surely the gypsy people are also called to contribute to the common good, and this is possible with appropriate itineraries of co-responsibility, in the observance of duties and in the promotion of each one’s rights.
Among the causes that today create situations of poverty in a part of the population, we can single out the lack of educational structures for cultural and professional formation, difficult access to health care, discrimination in the job market and the lack of fitting dwellings. If these scourges of the social fabric strike all indistinctly, the weaker groups are those that become victims more easily of the new forms of slavery. It is, in fact, people who are less protected who fall into the trap of exploitation, of forced begging and of different forms of abuse. Gypsies are among the most vulnerable, especially when assistance is lacking for the integration and promotion of the person in the different dimensions of civil living. Inserted here is the solicitude of the Church and your specific contribution. The Gospel, in fact, is the proclamation of joy for all and in a special way for the weakest and the marginalized. We are called to assure them our closeness and our solidarity, on the example of Jesus Christ who witnessed to them the predilection of the Father.
It is necessary that, beside this solidaristic action in favor of the gypsy people, there is the commitment of local and national institutions and the support of the international community, to identify projects and interventions geared to the improvement of the quality of life. In face of the difficulties and the hardships of brothers, everyone must feel interpellated to put at the center of their attention the dignity of every human person. In regard to the situation of gypsies in the whole world, today it is all the more necessary to elaborate new approaches in the civil, cultural and social realm, as well as in the pastoral strategy of the Church, to address the challenges that emerge of modern forms of persecution, of oppression and, sometimes, also of slavery.
I encourage you to continue your important work with generosity, not to be discouraged, but to continue to commit yourselves in favor of those who live largely in conditions of need and marginalization, on the human fringes. May gypsies be able to find in you brothers and sisters who love them with the same love with which Christ loved the most marginalized. Be for them the welcoming and joyful face of the Church.
I invoke upon you and your work the maternal protection of the Virgin Mary. Thank you so much and pray for me.
[Original text: Italian]
[Translation by ZENIT]