Pope Francis met with Rome's Romani, or Gypsies, on Monday, asking them to take a new direction and embolden their efforts towards a life of inclusion, dignity, and responsibility. "Time has come to uproot secular prejudice, preconceived ideas and the reciprocal diffidence that are often at the base of discrimination, racism and xenophobia," Pope Francis stated Oct. 26. The Pope addressed thousands of Romani in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall, saying the nomadic ethnic group should "turn the page" and begin to build bridges of "peaceful co-habitation" with other peoples and cultures. The Holy Father spoke these words on the 50th anniversary of Blessed Paul VI's meeting with Romani in a camp near Rome. The Romani people originated in northwestern India, and emigrated to Europe by the twelfth century. Their itinerant lifestyle meant they traditionally lived in wagons, and they have long been persecuted in Europe, and pressured to assimilate to the wider culture. Pope Francis told the community that “no one must feel isolated, no one is entitled to trample on the dignity and the rights of others," saying this attitude of respect also applies to the education of Romani children. "Your children have the right to go to school, do not stop them from doing so!" he urged, calling children the "most precious treasure." The Romani people have a responsibility to provide education for their children, the Pope continued, saying their youth must be given the proper tools to become fully integrated within society. The Romani are often not fully formed in education, holding them back from careers within the local economy. In addition, Pope Francis also encouraged local civil institutions to welcome these children so that they may be incorporated into the social and economic life of the country, giving them an opportunity to partake of education, healthcare, and dignified work. "We do not want to have to witness any more family tragedies in which children die from cold or are burnt in fires," the Holy Father noted, saying that youth depravity, drugs, and human trafficking must also come to an end. The Roman Pontiff encouraged the Romani toward an attitude of openness, ready for dialogue and integration with the people around them. He said they must responsibly hold themselves accountable for their present and future, and urged them to be examples of fraternity rather than individualism. "You can do this if you are good Christians, avoiding all that is not worthy of this name: lies, frauds, swindles, altercations," Pope Francis stated, saying they should ward off any occasions for the media to speak poorly about the Romani people. The Pope also pointed to Blessed Ceferino Giménez Malla, a Spaniard who is regarded at the patron saint of the Romani. He was born into a Catholic Romani family in the 1860s, and was a catechist. During the Spanish Civil War he was arrested together with a priest by Republican forces, who executed him Aug. 8, 1936. Blessed Giménez should be a role model for the Romani, Pope Francis said, believing that his example of faith and virtue could inspire the group to a life of inclusion, fraternity, and faith.
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