Pope to see Romani pilgrims on 75th anniversary of first beatified Rom's martyrdom
This Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI will see approximately 1 500 Romani pilgrims on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the martrydom of the first-ever beatified Rom, Ceferino Giménez Malla of Spain. The Vatican announced today that the meeting will be the first of its kind in history.
The Romani pilgrims, two-thirds of whom will be from Italy, will arrive in Rome to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Ceferino, better known as "El Pelé" ("the brave one"). Pope John Paul II beatified him on 4 May 1997. More than 40 000 believers followed the ceremony.
"El Pelé's path to canonization must be an example to you all and motivation for the full inclusion of your culture into the societal space around you. Ceferino Giménez Malla showed everyone that love for Christ does not depend on either culture or race," John Paul II said to those Romani people present during the beatification.
The visit will probably take place on the top floor of the Papal Basilica of St Peter, in the Hall of Blessings. On this occasion the Pope will be introduced to a Catholic Romani woman from Austria, Ceija Stojka, who was transported by Nazis to the concentration camps at the age of nine and was one of only six members of her 200-member clan to survive the Nazi rampage. Stojka will also be one of the main speakers granted an audience with the Pope.
Gabriele Bentoglio, undersecretary for the Papal Council, said the meeting would essentially have a pastoral nature apart from political context. "This is an historical moment and a symbolic gesture of the Church toward Romani people," Bentoglio said.
Professor Marco Impagliazzo is the chair of the Community of Sant'Egidio. In an interview for Vatican Radio, he said, "This is the first time in history that a Pope has welcomed representatives of the Roma and Sinti to the Vatican, the shrine of St. Peter."
Ceferino Giménez Malla was born in 1861 in the Catalonian province of Lérida in the village of Benavent de Segria, where he was famous for his aid to the poor in the small village. He spent his life in the town of Barbastro, and even though he was all but illiterate, he gained an important position thanks to his natural intelligence. He became a member of the town council and the local bishop regularly consulted him. When the army was persecuting the clergy, El Pelé was arrested and imprisoned for having hidden and protected a young priest in his home. Soldiers offered to release him from prison if he would publicly recant his faith and throw away his rosary, but El Pelé refused. He was executed by firing squad in August 1936 at the age of 75. His body was cremated and the remains buried in an unmarked grave.