Celebration as gypsy honoured

Elizabeth Nash
Sunday 04 May 1997 23:02

Thousands of gypsies danced and sang flamenco in St Peter's Square in Rome yesterday to honour Ceferino Jimenez Malla, the first gypsy to be beatified by the Catholic church.

"He died for his faith", the Pope said in a ceremony broadcast yesterday on Spanish television. The gypsies then presented the Pope with an ebony stick, as a symbol of honour.

Jimenez Malla, known as El Pele, was shot dead at the age of 75 during the Spanish Civil War in Huesca, Aragon, in August 1936. He refused to renounce his faith in exchange for the promise of freedom from a friendly anarchist captor, said Monsignor Giovanni Cheli, president of the Pastoral Commission for Migrants and Itinerants.

"Ceferino rejected the offer, knowing the price he would have to pay. With his rosary in his hand, he shouted `Long live Christ the King' and faced his martyrdom."

The gypsy community has mixed feelings about El Pele's progress to sainthood. Whilst proud that one of their number has at last been honoured, some regard yesterday's gesture as a long overdue atonement for past injustices many gypsies feel they have suffered at the hands of the church.

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