28 October 2015 Gypsy, Roma, Sinti and Traveller Pilgrimage to Rome
and Special Audience with Pope Francis
The Gypsy, Roma, Traveller and Sinti Pilgrimage to Rome took place 22 – 27 October 2015. Organised by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, it included visits to holy places, Sunday Mass at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Divine Love, a Concert on Sunday evening and a Papal Audience on Monday attended by some 8,000 pilgrims from all over the world.
Thousands gathered on Monday for an audience with Pope Francis. Following a celebration of their history and culture, the Holy Father called for better treatment of Travelling People and an acceptance of customs and lifestyles different from our own. He said:
"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" . (Vatican Information Service)
Pope Francis highlighted the importance of education: ‘Your children have the right to go to school: do not prevent them from doing so". He went on to stress the importance of society "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." (Vatican Information Service)
There were a number of diocesan groups that made the pilgrimage. The Priests and Sisters responsible for the event in their respective dioceses included a number from the CARJ Traveller Support Network. Some of these give their impressions and reflections below.
Impressions and reflections This pilgrimage for me was blessed. I feel so so privileged to be part of it. The highlight of it for our group was the Sunday Mass at our Lady of Divine Love. There was no standing room in the magnificent church and the banners and the Travellers’ music was something you could not buy. Then the appetising lunch, the signed photo of Pope Francis and the rosary were very much appreciated by everyone of us. The Stations of the cross was very moving and prayerful but I found the rough ground with the uneven flagstones a penance. The audience with Pope Francis was very special. His Holiness looked tired and a wee bit weary but his gracious smile light up the whole hall. We are so lucky to have such a good man our Pope Francis as our leader. May God bless, protect and reward His Holiness. I wish to say a sincere thank you to all our fellow travellers who attended from all over the world. Language was no barrier to any of us as we all had our country on our badge. I pray and hope that the graces of this special pilgrimage will stay with us forever. (Sr Philomena Purcell, Brentwood Diocese)
On Friday we visited Saint Peters Basilica, the tombs of the Popes, the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. On Saturday morning, we visited two Basilicas Saint Mary of the Angels and Saint Mary Major. Both were very beautiful churches. At Saint Mary Major the group were very happy as they had the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation in English, light candles, have Mass offerings said, leave petitions and attend Mass. Celebration of the Way of the Cross was a very reflective celebration in candlelight. The atmosphere was very joyful and people from across the world were beginning to bond with one another.
On Sunday morning we went for Mass to the Shrine of our Lady of Divine Love Rome. This was a lovely shrine out in the country and a miracle had taken place there. As we entered the Bascilica it was full of colour, children, young people, families, older people, those with disabilities and the sick who were given special attention. One of the women from our group represented England reading the first reading at Mass . She was very moved and honoured to be asked and to read in front of such a large congregation. She read very clearly and with meaning.
After lunch we were entertained in a large tent to a Circus Show. That evening we went along to the Basilica of Saint Mary in Trastevere for a Concert of Gypsy music which again was very relaxing and joyful.
On Monday we gathered at Paul V1 Hall in Saint Peter’s Square for the Papal Audience. The atmosphere was one of joy and celebration. When we were all in the hall there were 7000 people. While we were waiting there was singing and music from different cultures which set the scene.
When the Holy Father made his way up the hall there were shouts of acclamation and joy. Different groups presented dance and song to greet the Holy Father. There was some disappointment from the English and Irish groups when the pope spoke in Italian and moments of fear not knowing what the message was. During his address the pope looked very tired and seemed frail. After his address he moved among the people to greet everyone and bless the children , the sick and those with disabilities. All were very excited and deeply moved, moments of tears, awe and wonder. The more the Holy Father moved among the people the more energy he seemed to get. He seemed very relaxed and at ease. He was very compassionate , gentle and had a lovely smile. Everyone was calling aloud ‘Papa Papa’. It was a very touching and memorable moment meant for all - a God experience.
Later in the day at 4.00 pm lots of Travellers from England met together at Saint Peters Square and prayed the rosary in thanksgiving for the wonderful and blessed time they had. They attended Mass together in Saint Peter's Basilica. Later in the evening when we returned to our hotel we sat and relaxed together for a few hours. We looked again at the audience on You Tube and shared the message in English with the group. We spent time discussing the whole experience. Everyone seemed very moved by it. We ended the day by sharing some food together.
It was nice at different times meeting people from other groups in England and in the midst of such a beautiful group seeing Sisters Petronia., Philomena, Margaret, Bridgetta, Fr Dan, Fr Kevin and Mgr John. The organisation of the pilgrimage by the Pontifical Council was excellent. Teams of people were at hand all the time and ready to support very generously with any need requested. (Sr Bernadette Healy, Nottingham Diocese)
Finally, in her reflection on the Pilgrimage, Sister Petronia Williams who was responsible for the large group from Westminster Diocese, pointed out that the lead up to the event had highlighted the necessity of having a National Co-ordinator for the pastoral care of Travelling Communities in England and Wales. The process of organisation and registration for the whole country ended up falling on whoever was available and willing. The Travellers need someone at a national level for such events that they attend around the country, such as fairs and pilgrimages.
____________________ The Catholoic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ) is an independent charity and an Agency of the Bishops Conference. CARJ works with people of diverse backgrounds to create a more just, more equal, more cooperative society. CARJ, 9 Henry Rd, London N4 2LH. 020 8802 8080. firstname.lastname@example.org. CARJ services a Traveller Support Network, which includes Catholics and others who work with or support Travellers across England & Wales.