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Respected Spanish Gypsy Martyr
By Mary Jo Dangel

Q U I C K S C A N

Killed for His Faith
Role Model
'Faithful to His People'
Blessed Ceferino Giménez Malla

When Pope John Paul II beatified Ceferino Giménez Malla, 4,000 Gypsies crowded St. Peter’s Square. Known as “El Pelé,” Blessed Ceferino is the first Gypsy to be beatified.

“It is necessary to overcome ancient prejudices that lead you to suffer forms of discrimination and at times undesirable marginalization of the Gypsy population,” the pope said, referring to the persecutions Gypsies have suffered, including imprisonment and death during the Holocaust. In March 2000, the pope asked God’s forgiveness for the sins committed against Gypsies by the Church.

El Pelé was a reputable horse trader and a city councilman in Barbastro, Spain. He treated both friends and strangers with respect, never using sharp words, even when he disagreed with people. Ceferino’s friends included lawyers, politicians, doctors and other important men in town. The local bishop often asked him for advice.

Ceferino was often enlisted to resolve conflicts among Gypsies, and he worked to improve relations between Gypsies and non-Gypsies. He treated children with respect, often bringing Gypsy and Spanish children together.

Ceferino and his Gypsy wife, Teresa Giménez Castro, had no children, but they adopted a niece and raised her in the faith. They also cared for Ceferino’s siblings after his mother died, since his father had abandoned the family.

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Killed for His Faith

Ceferino was a Catholic convert who gave generously to the poor and developed a reputation for holiness. When people were around him, they were on their best behavior.

In July 1936, during the early days of the Spanish Civil War, the 75-year-old Ceferino was arrested for protesting the arrest of a priest. He angered his guards by reciting the Rosary. Offered freedom if he would stop, he refused. Ceferino was shot on August 2, 1936 (some accounts say August 8) with his rosary in hand, crying, “Long live Christ the King.”

Ceferino was killed because he was Catholic and is one of 219 martyrs the Church has recognized from the Spanish Civil War. Pope John Paul II said that this Gypsy martyr “knew how to sow peace and solidarity among his own,” referring to his gift as a mediator.

August 26, 1861
Born in Catalonia, Spain

1903
Baptized a Roman Catholic

1912
Had his marriage to Teresa Giménez Castro recognized in the Church, widowed in 1922

August 2, 1936
Martyred in Barbastro, Spain

May 4, 1997
Beatified by Pope John Paul II

It’s easy to understand why Gypsies admire Blessed Ceferino. But the rest of us can also learn much from his example.

He reminds us not to typecast people: Ceferino was known as an “honest Gypsy,” two words that many people wrongly consider contradictory. He earned a reputation for being wise, even though he was illiterate. In our times, wisdom is often associated with education. Sometimes, we fail to respect self-taught people with lots of common sense.

Blessed Ceferino was a peacemaker. But he didn’t compromise his faith: When he was challenged to stop praying the Rosary or die, he refused to back down.

He sets an example of getting along with others, even when we disagree. But he also shows us that there are times when we must express our beliefs and accept the consequences.

Next: Peter To Rot

 

“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 Blessed Virgin with the recitation of the Rosary, and his membership in various Catholic associations helped him to firmly love God and his neighbor.”

—Homily from the Mass of beatification

 

Mary Jo Dangel is assistant managing editor of this publication.


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