We work with Travellers to build a just, inclusive and welcoming community in and through faith

International Traveller and Roma Day 2019

On the 8th April, International Traveller and Roma Day is celebrated. In 2019, this event arises in the context of preparation for European Union parliamentary elections on 23rd to 26th May; but what does the day mean to the ordinary person on the street?

What is the significance of the date, 8th April?

PuxonGrattan Puxon is probably the best source to tell of the origins of the significance of the 8th April for International Traveller and Roma Day. He is a founder of the Gypsy Council UK in 1966 which followed a period of his work in Dublin a few years earlier. Before “activism” was a popular word, Grattan struggled to improve the lives of Irish Travellers and Gypsies in Britain by his work as an ally in developing a movement to achieve their civil rights. In an interview in the Roma Archive website, he recalls the first World Romani Congress. Thomas Acton has provided the context in his article, Beginnings and Growth of transnational Movements of Roma to achieve Civil Rights after the Holocaust, which provides further detail.


After World War II and the subsequent establishment of the State of Israel, Vajda Voevod and other Romani intellectuals, who were living in Paris, worked to seek reparation for crimes against their people and to work for a better future. In 1961, together with Vanko and Léulea Rouda, they founded the Communauté Mondiale Gitane (CMG), probably the first international Romani organisation. In 1964, Voevod visited London and the Irish Traveller struggle in Dublin led by Joe Donoghue and Grattan Puxon and recruited them to the CMG. However, on 26th February 1965, the French government dissolved the CMG. Following a dispute with Voevod, Vanko and Léulea Rouda started a new organisation, the Comité International Tzigane (CIT) and began to reach out to Roma cultural organisations in Eastern Europe. After a couple of years, the name was changed to the Comité International Rom (CIR).

The leadership of the CIR was in Paris and Vanko Rouda was focussed on the organisation being recognised by the Council of Europe and UNESCO but he was making very little progress. Meanwhile the members were focussing on their local situations. Grattan Puxon had persuaded the U.K. Gypsy Council that hosting a Congress would be in their interests. He organised a large cultural festival for Easter Monday on Hampstead Heath. Then he invited the Paris committee members and affiliated organisations to hold a preparatory meeting on a World Romani Congress immediately before, at Chelsfield School. Vanko Rouda accepted the invitation. Then, Grattan announced that given the response so great with representatives coming from Czechoslovakia, Finland, Norway, France, Great Britain, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Spain and Yugoslavia that there was no alternative but to declare this event the First World Romani Congress. The CIR committee agreed and the open-air musical festival on Hampstead Heath on Easter Monday became an event in world history on 8th April 1971.

Who are these Gypsies?

Romanis historical distributionThe members of the Congress adopted the term “Roma” for the diverse groups who attended the first meeting. The map indicates the distribution of Romani people throughout Europe.

The Romanichal Gypsies or Travellers in England, South Wales and Scottish Borders, Lowland Scottish Gypsies or Travellers constitute more than one group, known as “gypsies”, who are recorded in Britain as early as the 12th century and in the 16th century. Welsh Kale are extremely closely related to the communities above and to Norwegian & Swedish Romanisæl (Tater) Gypsies or Travellers and Finnish Kale.

European Roma are descended from the same people as British Romany Gypsies and from Central and Eastern Europe. Many of these people have, and continue, to experience persecution and they are refugees and asylum seekers. They are distinct from the UK’s Gypsy community and there is limited interaction between the two.

However, there are other groups who are not shown on the map who are not Roma; Dutch Travellers in Holland, indigenous Norwegian Travellers whose language is “Rodi”and the Minceir in Ireland among others. These are not to be confused with Romani groups in these countries.

Irish Travellers have been involved in the development of the“Roma” struggle but they are not Roma or Romani Gypsies. They are of Celtic descent and speak Cant/Gammon. There is a large established Irish Traveller community living permanently in the UK, some travel from or back to Ireland for part of the year. There is no evidence to support that the origins of the Irish Travellers as displaced settled people during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland in the 1650’s or during the Famines of 1741 or the 1840’s. These theories underpinned the predominant view that they were impoverished settled people who were reduced to an itinerant way of life. The members of the Traveller community know themselves as ‘Pavee’ or ‘Minceir’ or the ‘Travelling People’ ((Irish: an lucht siúil).

The Roma and Sinti were the main targets of genocide by the Nazis during World War II.

What is the purpose of International Traveller and Roma Day?

As on the occasion of the first congress meeting, the day is a celebration of Traveller and Roma culture as the struggle for the civil rights continues. The International Day for Travellers and Roma is about celebrating the culture of these people, our neighbours but it is an opportunity to recognise our neighbours for who they really are and the contribution they make to our wider societies.

Settela Steinbach (1934-1944). Her father was a trader and violinist, her mother ran the household in their wagon. The ‘girl with the headscarf’ became a symbol of the persecution of the Jews. In the early 1990s, a Dutch journalist discovered that she was not Jewish but Sinti.
Jeannie Robertson (1908-1975) was a Scottish Traveller although born in the city, spent much of her youth travelling with her people, and learned many of her songs at their camp-fires.

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Contemporary stories are to be celebrated too. According to the Census 2016, there are 31,000 Travellers in the Republic of Ireland. Thomas McCarthy describes himself as “Irish Traveller, Singer, Story teller” on his website. Also with approximately 5000 Roma living in in the Republic of Ireland. Pavee Point published a Needs Analysis in January 2018 which gives stark information alongside some personal profiles which introduces this community to the wider Irish society.

Are you prepared for the forthcoming elections?

In a recent speech the launch of the Jean Monnet Centre , President Higgins welcomed the Centre’s mission statement is “to re-engage the street and advance a critical debate on the future of Europe”. He added,

A new mind for Europe is required, which requires a casting aside of failing assumptions within inadequate models. It requires new symmetries between the social, the economic, the cultural and the ethical.

This statement applies to more than a new political economy. The election for the presidency was marred by “old thinking” and what the European Parliament has identified as “antigypsyism”. Commenting on a reference paper that aims to build an alliance against antigypsyism , Zeljko Jovanovic, director of the Roma Initiatives Office of Open Society Foundations continues the struggle for civil rights saying,

This paper continues the decades-long attempt to describe the centuries-long problem of antigypsyism. It emphasizes the institutional neglect of responsibility to fight it. A next step would be to explore how institutions enforce and grow antigypsyism. Now, when the xenophobic populists threatening the EU are clearly using antigypsyism for electoral gains, the rest of the European politicians cannot afford to keep ignoring it. They must confront it once and for all.

As the elections for local government and the European parliament approach, the International Traveller and Roma Day is an opportunity to get to know our neighbour and learn to become an ally.

I am a baptised person

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Throughout Lent, the archbishop is calling us to live as baptised people and to prepare to renew our baptismal promises at Easter. Therefore, it was a great privilege to have Archbishop Diarmuid Martin baptise one of our youngest members of the Traveller community last week in St Peter’s Church in Phibsborough, Dublin 7. The family really appreciated the hospitality of the local parish priest, Fr. Aiden CM.

As the family gathered, we acknowledge that baptism is a very important time for the whole extended family, in particular the grandparents and great grandparent, who are eager to have the child baptised very soon after being born. The occasion was one of many Traveller baptisms happening throughout Lent, when the average age to have our babies baptised is between two weeks and two months.

Archbishop Martin wants us, as a Christian community, to have a “living sense of being a baptised people”; and to prompt others to re-awaken Baptism in their lives:
“I hope this Lent many of us will move from thinking that “I was baptised” to realising that “I am baptised”.
Along with others throughout the diocese, the Parish of the Travelling People encourages its parishioners to take some time to reflect on your baptism this Lent. In this way, our community and the members of all of our families can prepare to renew our Baptismal promises this Easter.
 

Reflecting on Welfare (Lent 2019)

Lent

I pray for those who believe in and have reverence for God. Some of them may happen to inspect or come upon this writing which Patrick, a sinner without learning, wrote in Ireland. May none of them ever say that whatever little I did or made known to please God was done through ignorance. Instead, you can judge and believe in all truth that it was a gift of God. This is my confession before I die.

For all that Patrick is renowned for, his final words of his time among the Irish are recorded in his own hand. His statement is the fruit of a long life of a person who grew in wisdom as the Spirit of God guided him to overcome the many hardships he experienced. His feast day is celebrated on 17th March which occurs during Lent. In the Christian calendar, Lent is described as a period of 40 days for prayer, fasting and almsgiving that precedes Easter. On Saint Patrick’s day though, it is a time in Ireland where we can see the whole country, and indeed much of the world, take time out to celebrate the feast day of its patron saint. These days, Saint Patrick is probably better known for being responsible for turning the world green than for being the apostle to the Irish who in turn were missionaries throughout the world. It is in this context that I stumbled upon the words above of Patrick from his Confessions and then the Testimony of Yoska.

Who is Yoska?
In the 1970s, the French priest Youschka Bartolémy and a Belgian couple, Elisa and Léon Tambour promoted and developed an international debate on the gypsy communities and their human and spiritual welfare. They have contributed significantly to the Church’s ministry to nomadic communities among us that we often refer to as Gypsies. The term Gypsies is used to refer to Roma, Sinti, Manouches, Kalé, Gitans, Yéniches, among others. Irish Travellers too are among those ethnic groups. The Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of Gypsies (PG) are to be adapted to the circumstances, needs and requirements of each group (PG, 5).

For example, the Guidelines published by the Vatican in 2016 refer to welfare. The need for education, training, access to healthcare and decent accommodation are readily recognised but there is a tendency to approach these needs as “a question of dealing with social deviancy” while overlooking widespread social prejudices that supports discrimination. True social inclusion remains elusive when approaches “systematically relegate Gypsies to the status of welfare beneficiaries” (PG, 52). Yoska had understood this for decades beforehand. His friends wrote an article that follows below. It reflected his approach in his ministry to a people in our midst who are readily dismissed and overlooked. I wish to add my gratitude to theirs and to share this story with you (which is translated from French).

Yoska! Thank you!
(Nevi Yag, No. 34, December 2003, 5-6.)

Twelve years ago - exactly on October 23, 1991 - Yoska, founder of the CCIT, was at the end of a life devoted to the Gypsies and the Church, but also to friendship for all those he had guided to the Gypsies.

We pay homage to him by thinking of all that he represents, even today, for those who have had the grace and joy of knowing him. May those who have not had this joy know that the vigour of his commitment has been prophetic in the opening of the Church to Gypsies. Present in our hearts, let him be present in our prayers and in our own commitment for Gypsies.

How to define Yoska, if not by asserting that he was a man of heart. Because he knew the Gypsies well, he was lucid; because he was a man of God, he was full of an unfailing love for them. He spoke to them with his heart, they answered him with their heart, and the true dialogue established itself in a striking way.Alms

A little memory illustrates this relationship that went to the basics and gave dignity to Gypsies. After a meeting in Rome, we were waiting for the train back to the Termini station. A gypsy beggar approached us. However, it was not Yoska’s habit to give her the coins he had; but at once he handed them to this young woman with a language which she understood and felt. Suddenly, she is no longer the humiliated beggar and Yoska is no longer the "Gadjo" to exploit: an affection was exchanged, true to the size of Yoska’s heart; after a few minutes, the dazzled gypsy wanted to return the money he had given, which he did not accept, but for this woman, the "generosity" had become derisory in comparison with what she had received, in those words from Yoska. This is only a small incident; it seems to us that it reveals the quality of a love.

Until his death, Yoska wrote a column in Nevi Yag. In February 1985, he had been immobilized by a heart attack, which led to a period of prayer and reflection for him, and he wrote in No. 2 of our little magazine,

Have not I run too much, across the frontiers and the oceans? What seems obvious to me is in any case the urgency of our missionary task. Perhaps I will soon be gone, but death will not separate me from Gypsies and their friends. After so many years of fraternal sharing, we are bound for eternity. We will all be at the end of our task. What will we have done? And especially what will we have been? What will have animated our life? With what heart, will we have responded to so many calls, to so much distress? What generosity will we put to the task? Time hurries us and more, the Charity of Christ urges us...

On September 24, 1991, a month before his death, he wrote in his "Testament":

With you who love me, I give thanks to God for the immense riches he has given me and entrusted to this earth ... Do not forget me too quickly! I will need you all. I will see everything in grace with the mercy of the Lord.

We do not forget you, Yoska! We remain, with you on, the path you have opened.

A Roma District in APALINA Romania (Nevi Yag 2018)

X-ray testCCIT2018 Christian Paris

by Christian Paris (Belgium) 

(Nevi Yag Magazine, 2018 Article translated from French)

Apalina is a district of the city of Reghin which is located about 2 km from the city centre. It consists of almost 90% of Roma non Vlax, about 3,000. They are sometimes called "Hungrike Roma" (Hungarian Rom). This community consists of two very distinct groups that have little, or no contacts between them. The first group was established very a long time ago in the neighbourhood. The other group settled down, following serious flooding of the Mures River in 1978. Their homes had been destroyed and the city relocated them to Apalina. All speak Romani, Hungarian and, of course, Romanian.

Social and economic situationCCIT2018 Roads
As everywhere, clichés abound and are stubborn. "Lazy, thieves, drunkards, brawlers, without culture and of lower intellectual level than Romanians" (sic). Even if sometimes there is a certain empathy, one always remains on the defensive ... In such a context, integration, "living together", is more than difficult, often times impossible.

Construction, paving and road work are the traditional occupations of these Rom. A significant part of this work is done in the black and without social security cover or pension rights. In recent years, many Roma have gone abroad to work, especially in Germany, for quite long periods. This has consequences, as we will see later, on family situations. They are also very present in unskilled work such as garbage collection, cleaning of streets, the maintenance of green spaces, the collection of medicinal plants for pharmaceutical companies, etc. We count also men and women among them, as seasonal workers for picking strawberries, harvesting asparagus (in Germany), slicing in slaughterhouses. Finally, main concern first of these Roma is to find a job whatever it is. Their few qualifications keep them in a situation that is often more precarious and the obliges them to accept the most painful and least paid work.

School situation
The situation is close to squaring the circle. Initially, there is already a handicap at the level of Romanian language proficiency: at home, we speak Romani and Hungarian.

Second difficulty: in mixed classes (Rom-Gadje), the teacher, often unconsciously, favours little Romanians because of prejudices.
Third difficulty: precariousness. The child may miss school because he has nothing to eat in the morning, because the clothes washed the day before are not yet dry, because the only pair of shoes gave up, because the child did not could not do his homework, electricity was cut off ... Some Roma prefer send their children to a school in the city and not to that of Apalina, populated almost exclusively by small Roma.

One last point: many children have the ability to continue studies but they cannot, either because they have to work for improve the family situation, either because the family is not able to cope with school fees, either because they are pressured to gain their independence...

Family situation
There is great instability of couples due in part to young age - from 14 or 15 years of couples are made and unmade - and also the absence of the spouse due to work. For example, my godchild found work in Germany for 3 months, so he will remain away from home all this time. Contrary to what we usually see, the arrival of children does not always seem to reinforce the couple's relationship. Quite often, when couples with children burst, it is the grandparents who take back the children. But there are still some stable and harmonious unions!
In such a context, children often have a great deal of freedom with its advantages, but also the disadvantages. Very early, they are able to stand alone, make decisions, take charge of their lives. But, without parents' control, young people are exposed to bad habits.
Drugs have appeared and are starting to create a new and real problem in which parents are completely overwhelmed.
Older people stay in the family and are always respected but this also seems to change little by little.

Health situation
Not being a doctor, I can only give impressions that are not very optimistic. Heart problems, diabetes, hypertension and some cases of tuberculosis are to report. These diseases seem to me to be related to life and precariousness. Of course, smoking is there for some to choose. Moreover, the mode of feeding also leaves much desire. We eat when we are hungry or when the food is ready, and that is every hour of the day and even sometimes late at night. The consumption of sugary drinks has also exploded. About meat, not necessarily every day, you only eat pork and poultry. In general we eat very fast and large quantities at a time, men first, then women. We are therefore surprised reciprocally: the Roma, surprised that I eat so little and so slowly, and I am always amazed that they can eat so much and so quickly. Many people, young and younger, also suffer from dental problems. It is not unusual to see twenty-year-olds no longer having complete set of teeth.
Another big problem is self-medication. It is well known that "which make me well cannot harm you!" And television gives cover to this as more than half of the commercials are devoted to the virtues of drugs of any kind. How to resist? Despite all this, this young population is full of life and above all joy of life despite the conditions of existence being often very difficult.

Urban situation and habitatCCIT2018 Houses
All the houses, most often on one level, are built on a street front and perpendicular to it. Apart from the main street, paved for 3 or 4 years, all streets and alleys are in earth. Living rooms are usually small (4m x 4) and most often in number 2 or 3. There is no bedroom, the beds are made and undone every day. There are still some adobe houses.


It is at the level of the dwellings that the change is the most flagrant. Thanks to money earned abroad, important work is being done: insulation of walls, double-glazed windows, new roofs ... More and more houses have a bathroom and an indoor toilet. But it is far from being the case for everyone! As all street front lots are built and often is there is still land at the back of these houses available, that's the only news houses being built according to the expansion of families. To my knowledge, these "wild" constructions, these transformations are built without any authorization or urban control. Little by little, the house becomes for some a way to express their success and affirm their social rank, but we are far, very far from the much-maligned "castles" by some Roma.

Religious situation
The Roma are, in their own way, profoundly religious. In this the churches are not deceived! To my knowledge, 9 Churches share this flock! The traditional churches in order of importance: Greek Catholic, Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Reformed. Note that the Roma of Apalina were, there are a little over thirty, all Roman Catholics. Then come the new Churches: Adventist, Free Evangelical, Baptist, Pentecostal, Jehovah Witnesses...

More than half of Roma officially declare themselves Greek Catholic, but the religious practice among the latter is limited to major holidays - Christmas, Easter, New Year and baptisms, marriages and funerals. In the "new churches", the practice seems more important. So the Pentecostals meet on Tuesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and we certainly cannot say that the pastors preach in the desert, so much the assembly is important and gathered. This situation is a source of tension among Roma because of the proselytism of the "new churches". My friend Nanos is a Pentecostal. He has to call his father, who remains Greek Catholic, "my brother in Jesus Christ "what annoys him to the extreme:" I am not his brother, I am his father!"

It must be recognized that these "new churches" are much closer the sensibilities of the Roma and that, unfortunately, the traditional churches have not known how to adapt to these exuberant and disturbing believers

Conclusion
In view of this rather negative "x-ray", one might think that the future of this community is very bleek. It's not counting on the extraordinary capacity Roma to live and survive in more than difficult conditions. The sense of celebration, the mutual help and the social cohesion with the problems remain very strong and it's better this way!

The World Day of the Sick 2019

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Parish of the Travelling People, St Laurence House, 6 New Cabra Road, Phibsborough, Dublin 7 D07 AE82

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