Romani (Gypsy) culture and social issues.

Ceferino Jimenez Malla:
First Rom Beatified by the Pope

Blessed Ceferino Jimenez Malla

On Sunday, May 4, 1997, Pope John Paul beatified a Spanish Gypsy martyred during that country’s civil war, admirable for his seriousness and the wisdom of his life as a man and a Christian. The Holy Father beatified Ceferino Jimenez Malla, also known as El Pele, making him the first Gypsy elevated to beatification. Beatification is the penultimate step before sainthood and is bestowed on people who showed heroic virtue in their lives. 

Jimenez Malla was born in 1861 in Benavent de Segria, in Lérida Province, Catalonia, and was known for helping the poor in his small village. El Pele lived in Barbastro, and although he was nearly illiterate, his natural intelligence was enough to bring him to prominence. He became a member of the city council, and the bishop regularly consulted him for advice. At a time when the Republican militia was hunting down priests, Pele was arrested for harboring a young cleric. He was offered his freedom if he would refrain from openly professing his faith and get rid of his rosary. He refused and was martyred for the faith in August 1936 at the age of 75 when he was shot by a firing squad. He was buried in an unmarked grave.

Some 40,000 people attended Sunday's ceremony in which the 76-year-old Pontiff beatified Jimenez. Jimenez, a deeply religious man, tried to improve relations between Gypsies and non-Gypsies. "The blessed Ceferino Jimenez Malla sowed harmony and solidarity among the Gypsies, mediating in conflicts that plagued relations between non-Gypsies and Gypsies," the pope said in his homily. 

The Nervi, the Vatican audience hall often known as the Paul VI hall, echoed with music as Gypsy musicians entertained Pope John Paul and celebrated the beatification of Ceferino Jimenez Malla. The first beatification of a Gypsy should help end discrimination against one of Europe's most marginalized peoples. The cause of Ceferino moved especially quickly through Vatican channels, as Church officials saw an unusual opportunity to recognize and encourage the world's Gypsies. The Pope told thousands of Gypsies at Sunday's beatification ceremony that recognition of Ceferino Jimenez Malla from the Roman Catholic church was a step towards ending intolerance.

"It is necessary to overcome ancient prejudices that lead you to suffer forms of discrimination and at times undesirable marginalisation of the Gypsy population," said the Pontiff.

"El Pele in his path towards sainthood must be for you an example and an incentive for the full integration of your culture in the social environment around you," he added. Ceferino Jimenez Malla showed that "the charity of Christ knows no limits of race or culture."

The beatification of a Gypsy is an indication of the Church's pastoral care for a people who have been, as one bishop put it, "baptized but never evangelized." Gypsies have suffered through numerous persecutions in Europe, most recently under the Nazi regime, and when Pope John Paul visited Auschwitz in 1995 he alluded to the "tragic end of our Gypsy brothers and sisters" there.

With the beatification of Ceferino Jimenez Malla the Church has now recognized 219 martyrs from the Spanish Civil War. Pope John Paul has encouraged the recognition of martyrs of the 20th century, especially in Tertio Millennio Adveniente.

Archbishop Giovanni Cheli, president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, under whose auspices falls the ministry for Gypsies, said that Ceferino is "the first son of the Gypsy people recognized in a solemn way by the Church for the holiness of his life, the heroic nature of his virtues, his martyrdom for the faith."

"He had the wisdom and knowledge of things that God hides from the proud and the wise of this world," said the archbishop, "and reveals instead to the small ones, to the humble ... even the bishop of his diocese of Barbastro, Florentino Asensio Barroso, turned frequently to him for advice and counsel." Bishop Asensio was also beatified Sunday. He was martyred only hours after El Pele.

Archbishop Cheli remarked that "Ceferino was illiterate ... and poor, but rich in charity which he used to help others ... poor, but rich in virtue. Humble, but great in the faith." He frequented Mass and communion and loved the rosary, said the council president, "and it was with rosary in hand ... that he underwent martyrdom."

Brother Mario Riboldi, promoter of the cause for beatification and author of the official biography of Ceferino Jimenez Malla, announced that the book "A True Kalo" had just been published. Meaning black, "Kalo" is the word that Spanish Gypsies use to identify themselves.

In addition to Kalos, there are also Roma and Sinti Gypsies, who live in Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania and several countries of Latin America. The Manush reside principally in France, and the Kalderash in Italy and in countries of Eastern Europe.

After the Mass and before praying the Regina Coeli, the Pope, speaking in Spanish and Italian, told those present that he hoped the examples of the new Blesseds "shine in your countries and that their intercession sustain in your duties." He addressed a cordial greeting in the Romani language to the members of the Kalos, Rom, Sinti, and Manush communities. The Gypsies in attendance later presented the Pope with an ebony stick, as a symbol of honour.



Related links:

Pope to beatify Gypsy martyr of Spain's civil war

For The Holy See at the Vatican and the Vatican Information Service (VIS), visit http://www.vatican.va.

Posted 01 June 1997.



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