They were among an audience of an estimated 7,000 Irish and international gypsies, Travellers, and Roma as part of a pilgrimate to Rome. In the front row at the Pope Paul VI Hall in the Vatican were relatives of the Connors family, whose funerals took place last Friday — and those of the Lynch and Gilbert families — to hear a message from the Pontiff expressing his sadness at the deaths.
Dan Connors and his mother Biddy, and Bill Connors and his mother Mag, were blessed by the Pope after he spoke in Italian to the international gathering. Alison Nevin from Lissenhall in Swords, Co Dublin, was first to receive his blessing, according to Ronnie Fay from Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre.
In his speech, Pope Francis spoke about the poor living conditions of gypsies which he had seen in parishes on the outskirts of Rome. These, he said, were due to neglect and lack of work, and contrasted with the right of every person to a dignified life, decent work, education and health care.
The Pope said it is possible to build a peaceful co-existence, where different cultures and traditions preserve their values and attitudes without confrontation, but dialogue and integration are needed.
“We no longer want to attend family tragedies where children die of cold or in fires, or become objects in the hands of depraved people,” he said.
“Young people and women are involved in drug trafficking or human trafficking. This is because we often fall into indifference and inability to accept the customs and ways of life different from ours.”
The 15 people left homeless by the October 9 fire were rehoused in a temporary site by Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council at the weekend. Ms Fay said the Connors family were really pleased to have had the opportunity to be part of the pilgrimage.
“Throughout our time here, we’ve been very conscious of the bereaved families and have been praying and getting special Masses and lighting candles for those families here,” she told RTÉ News.
“And we hope the Irish Government listens to the Pope’s words, and not just the Government, it’s a whole of society issue. Travellers need to be accepted and included and not to have to experience racism and discrimination in Ireland today.”
The Pope said low levels of education among many young Travellers are the main obstacle to accessing employment and parents should not stop their children from taking up their right to go to school.