On this day: Bl. Ceferino GimÈnez Malla

On this day we celebrate the feast of Blessed Ceferino Giménez Malla, Patron Saint of the Rom and Sinti.

He was born 150 years ago this month. In the early days of the Spanish Civil War, 75 years ago this month, he was shot to death while trying to protect a priest.

"Zefferino Giménez Malla (1861-1936), known as 'El Pelé', was born of a Catholic gypsy family. He lived like a nomad for forty years and then settled in Barbastro (Spain). He married but had no children. Although he was illiterate, he taught the gypsy and non-gypsy children the first elements of Christianity, using the Bible above all, and he trained them to pray daily.

"He made peace among the Kalòs (Spanish nomads) and resolved their disputes with others. He was honest in his work as an animal trader. In 1926 he became a member of the Franciscan Third Order. He belonged to Conference of St. Vincent De Paul. In 1931 he began participating in 'Night Adoration'.

"During the religious persecution, he defended a priest who was being brought to jail. He too was arrested and then killed in Barbastro together with many priests, brothers and lay persons. He died shouting, 'Long live Christ the King!', holding a rosary in his hands. His body was thrown into a common grave and never found again. In 1997 John Paul II proclaimed him Blessed."

--Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.

“. . . . the Gypsy Ceferino Giménez Malla, known as 'El Pelé' died for the faith in which he had lived. His life shows how Christ is present in the various peoples and races, and that all are called to holiness which is attained by keeping his commandments and remaining in his love (cf. Jn 15:11). El Pelé was generous and welcoming to the poor, despite his own poverty; honest in his activities, faithful to his people and his Gypsy race, endowed with an extraordinary natural intelligence and the gift of counsel. He was above all a man of deep religious beliefs.

"His frequent participation at Mass, devotion to the Bessed Virgin with the recitation of the rosary, and his membership in various Catholic associations helped him to firmly love God and his neighbour. Thus even at the risk of his own life, he did not hesitate to defend a priest who was about to be arrested, and for doing so he was put in prison where he never ceased to pray and was later shot, as he clutched his Rosary in his hands. Bl. Ceferino Giménez Malla knew how to sow peace and solidarity among his own, often mediating in the conflicts that relations between Gypsies and farmers sometimes involve, showing that Christ’s love is not limited by race or culture. Today 'El Pelé' intercedes for all before our common Father, and the Church proposes him as a model to follow and a significant example of the universal vocation to holiness, especially for Gypsies, who have close cultural and ethnic ties with him."

--from the Homily of Pope John Paul II at the Eucharistic Celebration for the Beatification of Five New Blesseds, May 4, 1997.

Click here for the story of "Bl. Ceferino Jimenez," by Father Robert F. McNamara. From that:

"Ceferino was a Gitano, a Spanish Gypsy. Little is known about his background, except that like a true Gypsy, he moved about a good bit and left little record. That may also be why he was baptized only as an adult. At the age of 51 he married his childhood Gitana sweetheart, Teresa Jimenez Castro, according to the rites of the Church and Gypsy ceremonials. They had no children, but they adopted his niece Pepita, whom they fondly trained in horsemanship and Gypsy culture. Theirs was the typical Gitano expertise with animals, and the passion for bullfighting. Ceferino was proud of his heritage and spoke the Gypsy language whenever the occasion offered."

Click here for the Wikipedia article on Ceferino Giménez Malla.

Click here for images of Blessed Ceferino Giménez Malla.

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