Since September 2016, there has been a faith school for Roma people and travelling people, organised up by Brother Daniel of the Toulouse Community.
By our tastes, the faith of the Roma people may be rather too demonstrative and attached to overt signs which are loaded with emotions. It is the fruit of a popular piety, and it has all the values of popular piety which Pope Francis praised in his encyclical The Joy of the Gospel in paragraph 123, where he says, “Popular piety expresses a thirst for God which only the simple and the poor can know. Such popular piety is not devoid of substance; it is a legitimate way of living the faith, a way of feeling that one belongs to the Church as one having a mission; the fact of walking together to the sanctuaries or taking part in other manifestations of popular piety, bringing the children and inviting others to join you, is in itself an act of evangelisation. Let us not constrain or try to control this missionary force”.
The richness of this popular piety, however, should not make the priests, religious and laity working with the Roma people feel it is unnecessary to look for suitable ways to help them make their faith more rational and reasoned. Indeed for some years now, the Roma people and Catholic travellers, who see that their community is under pressure and even split by the numerous evangelical churches, have spoken very strongly about the need they have of some education to enable them to justify their faith and to have no fear of affirming their catholicity.
Our faith school is for young people and for adults. It aims to give those who attend it the opportunity to get to know better the basis of their faith through looking at the history of the Church, the word of God and the sacraments. The programme includes taught lessons, video documents, discussions and celebrations, and there are four sessions per year which take place either in the Maison Gitanie in Toulouse or in the “Chemin du Niglo” in Lourdes.
It is a three-year programme which will include the following elements.
The first year is centred on church history and is based on three themes: Pentecost, the first Christian communities, the expansion of the Church over the centuries.
The second year will be based on the creed and the sacraments of initiation.
The third year will consider the meaning of the call by Pope Francis for us to be “missionary disciples”.
During this first year, the fifteen participants from Toulouse, Montauban, Lourdes, Tarbes and Pau followed the sessions with great interest. In June, each of them was given a USB drive containing the whole course (lessons, scripture texts, films, powerpoints). This enabled them to share the material with others at home or in the caravan site who might also be interested in knowing “something about God”.
To encourage participation by the Roma people, the Association for the Diffusion and Promotion of Gypsy Cultures (created by the Gypsy Community in 2005) bears the costs of journeys and hopefully will give other forms of financial assistance. Three of the dioceses in the region already provide financial aid. All the bishops of the region have been informed about the existence of the faith school and they are given regular reports. Publicity is made by word of mouth and by social networks. There is also an internet website which allows people to follow the development of the project. www.formadismis.weebly.com
In the course of the year 2017-2018, the school of faith will also roll out in the diocese of Perpignan where the Brothers have for many years carried out a mission to Roma people and travelling people.