France: Who?s afraid of the baby-snatchers?

While Europeans tend to get indignant about the growing forms of discrimination (HL00208), they often fail to include the biggest ethnic minority in Europe, which has neither a homeland nor even a single name to be identified: Gypsies, Travellers, Romanies. Pilloried as ?baby snatchers? in the popular imagination, who are they really? In France they number more than 300,000, a third of them nomads, a third semi-nomadic, a third settled more because of poverty than by choice, concentrated around certain large cities and belonging to different religious faiths. Compared with the past, their conditions, organisation and material life have improved, but a growing rift of prejudice and suspicion separates them from the rest of the population. To bridge the gap, it is essential to understand what they are saying and help give them voice. In the early 1960s René Bernard SJ began as a chaplain in a house in Avignon, gathering Gypsies as well as North Africans and refugees from south-eastern Asia. Out of Bernard?s pioneering pastoral work with the Romanies came several initiatives for their integration into society and into the Church. In France about eighty priests are involved in this ministry. Fr Bernard, as responsable of the French national team, supported Fr Henry Barthélemy in the foundation of the ?Comité Catholique International pour les Tsiganes? (CCIT — International Catholic Committee for the Gypsies). Particularly active in Eastern Europe, where intolerance has grown in recent post-communist years, the CCIT organises international meetings on Gypsy themes or concerns, publishes a bulletin ?Nevi Yag? (New Fire) and tries to support those in this ministry who are working in isolation. [HL10304]