Rom beatified by the Roman Catholic Church

15 July 1997

Thousands of Roma gathered in the Vatican on Sunday, May 4, to hear Pope John Paul II lead the ceremonies for beatification of Ceferino Jiménez Malla, the first Rom ever to achieve the status.

Jiménez Malla, a Spanish Gypsy known as "El Pelé", was born into a poor Roma family in the region of Aragon and lived most of his life around the town of Barbastro, approximately 200 kilo metres west of Barcelona. As he became more successful in trade, he gained the reputation of being an honest man who tried to improve relations between the area's Gypsies and gadje (non Gypsies). In July 1936, Jiménez Malla, aged 75 at the time, was arrested by anticlerical Republican militia during the Spanish Civil War after he publicly defended a priest. According to local legend, when asked if he had any weapons, Jiménez Malla extracted a rosary from his pocket. He was executed by faring squad with twelve others in early August 1936.

Jiménez Malla was one of five persons beatified in an open-sir ceremony in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on May 4, 1997, becoming the first Rom to attain the highest Catholic spiritual honour before sainthood. Thousands of Roma from around Europe were among the 40,000 people in attendance at a mass in which the usual rituals were suspended so that Gypsy violinists and Spanish guitarists could join the liturgical choirs of the Latin church. A prayer was read in Romanes (the Romany language) by a woman wearing a flamboyant blue dress, and even the Pope adorned himself in bright orange, yellow and red for the event. Portraits of alt five of the newly beatified hung in front of St. Peter's, including one of Jiménez Malla holding the bridle of a white horse.

During the beatification ceremonies, Pope John Paul II told the crowd that, "Jiménez ... died for the faith that he lived out. His life shows how Christ is present in various people and races and that alt people are called to holiness." The Pope also said that today's Gypsies should look to Jiménez as a model because he tried to sow harmony among diverse people. At the end of the mass, the Pope addressed the Roma pilgrims in a dialect of Romanes, saying, "May you have luck, health and live in peace."

At a Vatican news conference earlier in the week, the Reverend Mario Riboldi told reporters that the church had committed a serious sin by waiting "too long" to beatify a Rom. He went on to say that, "Priests have sinned when it comes to the Roma. The sin is ours because priests never evangelised the Roma, even though they have been present in Italy for six centuries. We have never committed ourselves to getting close to these strange types of populations because we feared them."

Some Italian Roma told the New York Times that their attachment to Catholicism had grown stronger in recent generations, since Roma started to enrol their children in catechism classes. A Romani woman named Bruna di Gaudi told the New York Times, "It is better now — I remember when gadje would clutch their children whenever Gypsies walked by." (New York Times, Roma National Congress)


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