Bishops speak up for rights of Gypsies and Travellers

Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue, speaking on behalf of all the Bishops of the Department for Christian Responsibility & Citizenship of the Bishops Conference, has called on Catholics to reach out to Gypsies and Travellers in their neighbourhoods.

The Bishops' call follows Pope Benedict XVI's address last week (7 December) in St Peter's Square in which, commenting on Psalm 137, he said that all leaders, governments and citizens must use their power to come to the aid of the poor and oppressed.

"God makes the choice to align himself in defense of the weak, the victims. We, too, must know which side to choose… that of the humble, the last, the poor and the weak," said the Pope.

Bishop O'Donoghue, backing the work of the Department for Christian Responsibility & Citizenship within the Bishops Conference, said the plight of Gypsies and travellers was worse than most other groups in our society. "It is the Church's responsibility to be the voice of the poor. If we do not, who will?" he said. "Among gypsies and travellers there is even greater poverty now than before. The more sophisticated society becomes, the more vulnerable travellers become. There are vulnerable people across the world, but we must also be conscious of those in our midst."

The Bishops endorse the view of the Catholic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ) that issues relating to adequate site provision must be urgently addressed.

A Report from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (July 2003) estimated that there would be a need for between 1,000 and 2,000 new residential pitches and between 2,000 and 2,500 pitches on transit sites or stopping places by 2007.

The ODPM Report recognises that Gypsies and Travellers currently have licences and that many argue that they should have tenancies. However, the Report suggests a third option, comparable to the rights enjoyed by mobile home owners who are protected by the Mobile Homes Act 1983 which gives them, among other things, the right to sell, gift or will their mobile homes on site.

The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) has pointed out that Gypsies and Travellers experience disadvantage and discrimination in almost every walk of life. They single out lack of suitable accommodation, due to a shortage of public sites and difficulties obtaining planning permission for private sites, as the most critical problem they face.

The Bishops consider it a priority for themselves to provide more support for those in the Church who are already working with Gypsies and Travellers. They call on every Catholic parish and school to find ways of reaching out to Gypsies and Travellers in their area. It is also appropriate for Catholics to stand in solidarity with them in their struggle to obtain adequate accommodation and a decent life for their families, the Bishops say.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia

I would just like to congratulate the journalist with the Ekklesia newspaper/magazine/online publication to his/her spelling. He/she appears to be one of the few journalists that are aware of the fact that Gypsy is a term for an ethnic group, that of the Romani, and not a lifestyle, and should, therefore, as he/she has done, be written with an uppercase "G". Many thanks! There aren't many that seem to know this.
On the subject of the "outreach": please, Church people, leave the Romani People alone as regards to their beliefs and do not try to evangelize and proselytize them. So of us have their own belief system as the Romani do, despite of what the experts claim, have a Religion of their own and a very ancient one at that. Our People do not need saving for the Lord and such. So please go away! Folks, I am trying to be polite here…