As Italy’s gypsies struggle with stigma, Pope’s outreach stands alone

Article by Claire Giangravè on CRUX

Few things unite the people of the relatively young country of Italy like an unreasonable obsession for soccer, a reverential love for food, and a shared, unabashed hatred for gypsies.
It’s no wonder then that Pope Francis’s yearly appointment with the Roma and Sinti peoples, commonly known as gypsies or “zingari” in Italian, has raised more than a few eyebrows and drawn considerable criticism in the bel paese.
“There are second-class citizens, it is true. But the real second-class citizens are those who discard people: these people are second-class, because they do not know how to embrace” Francis said during the May 9 audience at the Vatican.

“It used to be better before, now things are getting worse,” said Anna, a Roma woman born in Rome who did not wish to reveal her real name, in a May 17 interview with Crux.
Anna’s impressions derive from the rhetoric she hears used by media and the way gypsies are treated on the street.
“They say gypsies are all the same, but it’s not true, just as Italians are not all the same. There are those who are criminals and those who are not. Same thing with gypsies,” she added.

“It really hurts the heart to read so many bad stories in the paper,” said Paola Armandola, a volunteer at Sant’Egidio with 25 years of experience assisting Roma people. “The community has always decided to look at people, and especially children, with love and through the hope of mothers who try and do their best for the future of their children.”

Armandola explained that despite more and more Roma people becoming integrated and finishing their education, the stigma remains the same. “The biggest problem is that they cannot say they are Roma,” she said, adding that especially for those who are integrated, and would serve as a good example, there is a greater risk by saying they are Roma because of their work environment or their children’s school might resent it. “Being with Roma people you become aware of this very persistent prejudice, which is also unfortunately coming back into fashion,” she added.

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