Two men who lived in different times and countries, but who shared a deep faith, a strong spirit of fraternity and attention to the nomadic world: Blessed Zeferino Giménez Malla, whose liturgical memorial is celebrated on August 2, and Father Marco Riboldi, who died on June 8. The former, who was shot in Spain in 1936, during the civil war, for trying to save a priest, was the first Gypsy to be beatified, on May 4, 1997, under the pontificate of St. John Paul II. The latter, for his part, directed the Pastorale dei Nomadi for the Archdiocese of Milan for 47 years, from 1971 to 2018, and also contributed to Zeferino's beatification. Cardinal Peter Appiah Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development of the Holy See, remembers these two important figures in a message sent to Father Claude Dumas, president of the International Catholic Committee for Gypsies.
Zeferino and his faith
Of Zeferino, also known as "Pelé", the Cardinal highlights not only the "deep religious faith", but also the attention to the "traditional values of the Gypsy culture, such as the promotion of life, the centrality of the family, unconditional welcome and the joy of living". In addition, Cardinal Turkson recalled two important aspects of the Blessed: his love for animals, "similar to that of St. Francis of Assisi," and his "spirit of fraternity," which led him to "mediate in disputes and conflicts that arose both between families in Gypsy communities and between Gypsies and non-Roma." Ethnicity and social status were of no importance to him," the cardinal explains, "what counted was the fundamental recognition of the value of every human being, always, in all circumstances.
Moreover, the prefect of the Vatican dicastery reiterated that "Pele was born into a culture that cares for the young and the old". Remembering Blessed Zeferino, therefore, is also an opportunity to "discover the richness that each one has, valuing what unites and seeing differences as an opportunity for growth." At the same time, the Cardinal stressed that "the Gypsies are experts in fraternity," because "the difficulties they have had to face collectively over the centuries have created in them a strong sense of belonging and group solidarity." In this regard, the Vatican prefect cites the numerous "extended Gypsy families" that, in times of the Covid-19 pandemic, have made it possible to establish "mechanisms of mutual aid, mitigating the impact of the health crisis on the most vulnerable people."
(Full and original TEXT in Italian published in Vatican News