Gypsies: in the Old World, and New

I recently saw this April 2014 article from Vatican Radio concerning a world meeting promoted by Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People to discuss renewing pastoral care initiatives for Gypsies. The meeting already took place earlier this month, but I haven’t seen any updated reporting on it.

Good tour guides, guidebooks and anecdotes will relate that travelers should be wary of Gypsies in European capitals, because they are known for things like artful pickpocketing and petty theft in touristy places like St. Peter’s Square, sometimes involving small but highly adept children who have been trained at operating undetected.

As a common term, Gypsies refer to an ethnic group originating from Romania, also called Romani or Travelers. They are nomadic and prefer to move around rather than settling in one place.

If you go to Rome or another large European city, you’ll likely see a few Gypsies.

At Easter, our small northern California parish was visited by a young woman who appeared to be Hispanic, sitting outside the church with a cardboard sign identifying her as a single mom in need and asking for money. She returned the following week, and our pastor spoke to her and asked the coordinator of our food pantry to open up the parish hall to get her a few bags of groceries, which she declined, saying that she couldn’t carry food because she was on her way to Los Angeles.

When Father spoke to her, he realized she wasn’t Hispanic at all, though she was speaking a broken Spanish, but a Gypsy who had come into the United States from Mexico.

The following week, a new family was stationed outside the church with another cardboard sign seeking money, and they also appeared to be Hispanic, but in fact were Gypsies who had traveled up from Mexico, and who also declined the offer of groceries, preferring cash.

According to the Radio Vatican article, there are some 36 million Gypsies in the world today located mostly in Europe, the Americas and in some Asian countries. 18 million of them are estimated to be living in India, the land of origin of this population. Bangladesh counts over 500 thousand Sea Gypsies. In the United States there are almost 1 million Gypsies; in Brazil over 900 thousand. Official figures provided by the Council of Europe estimate between 10 and 12 million Gypsies living in Europe, most of them in Eastern countries.

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One thought on “Gypsies: in the Old World, and New

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