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Pope says nomads have 'a place in the heart of the Church'

John Paul II has praised the typical values of nomad populations, particularly gypsies, which he said often stand in marked contrast to the empty ideals of consumeristic societies.

"Nomads are poor in human securities; every day they are obliged to deal with the precariousness and uncertainty of the future," the Pope said. "Precisely because of this, they deepen their sense of hospitality and solidarity, reinforced at the same time with faith and hope in God's help."

The Holy Father spoke these words on Saturday when he met with the participants in the international study meeting of the Catholic Church's Worldwide National Directors and Experts on the Pastoral Care of Nomads.

The meeting was organised by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Travellers.

Although the Catholic Church had not always been attentive to these people and their special situation, the Holy Father said that since the time of Paul VI "they have found a place in the heart of the Church."

Until the 1970s, gypsies in Europe often felt isolated because they were not in touch with parishes. Many joined Protestant denominations. Since then, the Church has taken initiatives for the spiritual and material assistance of these people, including pilgrimages to Marian shrines.

The Pope appealed to the participants of the meeting to elaborate "principles and guidelines for the pastoral care of nomads," keeping in mind their "spiritual and cultural values" and "offering them concrete support in addressing the complex problems that accompany them on the way in different parts of the world."

As a model for the world's nomads, John Paul II offered the example of the first beatified gypsy, Spaniard Ceferino Giménez Malla, better known as "El Pelé."

Beatified in 1997, Pelé "reminds us that we must always work in favor of peaceful coexistence among peoples differing in ethnic origin and culture," the Pope concluded.