First national gathering of Catholic Gypsy and Traveller support network
On 23-24 March, some 26 priests, religious and lay people met with Bishops Patrick O'Donoghue and Bernard Longley to discuss a variety of concerns relating to the travelling communities. The gathering took place at Wistatston Hall, an Oblate retreat centre in Crewe. Joe and Bridie Jones, a Romany Gypsy and an Irish Traveller who are tireless campaigners for Travellers rights, addressed the gathering speaking about their own experiences. Fr Joe Browne outlined the Vatican Guidelines for the pastoral care of Gypsies. Caroline Keightley, from the government's Gypsy and Traveller Unit, described government policy for improved site provision. Fr Ged Barry and Moira Baldwin spoke of their experiences as a chaplain and probation officer in a high security prison. Rev Michael Hore reflected on his experience in Cottenham, where tensions between Travellers and the local community were gradually transformed by dialogue. Sr Petronia Williams and Br Louis Maggiore helped participants consider what they want from the Network.
This was the first national meeting of a support Network that has gradually been established over the past two years by the Bishops Conference of England & Wales. The Network includes some 40 participants from 12 dioceses. Some are priests, sisters and lay people involved in pastoral work with Travellers. Others are representatives from Catholic agencies that have projects to support Travellers (eg Westminster Children's Society has an after-school project for traveller children on a site under the Westway in London). The Network has met previously in smaller regional meetings and working groups, but this is the first national meeting. An occasional newsletter Pilgrim Catholic enables members of the Network to keep in touch with one another.
Bishop Bernard Longley will be taking over from Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue as the Bishop responsible for work with Travelling people.
The Bishops Conference is in the process of trying to raise funds to establish a National Chaplaincy for work with Gypsies and Travellers. One of the tasks of a new National Chaplaincy would be to facilitate the training and development of people in the new Network.