Blessed Ceferino Jimenez Malla
On Sunday, May 4, 1997, Pope John Paul beatified Ceferino Jimenez Malla, also known as El Pele, a Spanish Gypsy martyred during that country’s civil war, admirable for his seriousness and the wisdom of his life as a man and a Christian. He is the first Gypsy elevated to beatification.
Jimenez Malla was born in 1861 in Benavent de Segria, in Lérida Province, Catalonia, and was known for helping the poor in his small village. El Pele lived in Barbastro, and although he was nearly illiterate, his natural intelligence was enough to bring him to prominence. He became a member of the city council, and the bishop regularly consulted him for advice. At a time when the Republican militia was hunting down priests, Pele was arrested for harboring a you ng cleric. He was offered his freedom if he would refrain from openly professing his faith and get rid of his rosary. He refused and was martyred for the faith in August 1936 at the age of 75 when he was shot by a firing squad. He was buried in an unmarked grave.
Jimenez, a deeply religious man, tried to improve relations between Gypsies and non-Gypsies. “The blessed Ceferino Jimenez Malla sowed harmony and solidarity among the Gypsies, mediating in conflicts that plagued relations between non-Gypsies and Gypsies,” the pope said in his homily during the beatification.
The first beatification of a Gypsy should help end discrimination against one of Europe’s most marginalized peoples. The cause of Ceferino moved especially quickly through Vatican channels, as Church officials saw an unusual opportunity to recognize and encourage the world’s Gypsies.
The Pope addressed these words during the beatification: “It is necessary to overcome ancient prejudices that lead you to suffer forms of discrimination and at times undesirable marginalisation of the Gypsy population. El Pele in his path towards sainthood must be for you an example and an incentive for the full integration of your culture in the social environment around you. Ceferino Jimenez Malla showed that ‘the charity of Christ knows no limits of race or culture’.”
Archbishop Giovanni Cheli, president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, under whose auspices falls the ministry for Gypsies, said that Ceferino is “the first son of the Gypsy people recognized in a solemn way by the Church for the holiness of his life, the heroic nature of his virtues, his martyrdom for the faith.”
“He had the wisdom and knowledge of things that God hides from the proud and the wise of this world,” said the archbishop, “and reveals instead to the small ones, to the humble … even the bishop of his diocese of Barbastro, Florentino Asensio Barroso, turned frequently to him for advice and counsel.” Bishop Asensio was also beatified. He was martyred only hours after El Pele.
Archbishop Cheli remarked that “Ceferino was illiterate … and poor, but rich in charity which he used to help others … poor, but rich in virtue. Humble, but great in the faith.” He frequented Mass and communion and loved the rosary, said the council president, “and it was with rosary in hand … that he underwent martyrdom.”
The beatification of a Gypsy is an indication of the Church’s pastoral care for a people who have been, as one bishop put it, “baptized but never evangelized.” Gypsies have suffered through numerous persecutions in Europe, most recently under the Nazi regime, and when Pope John Paul visited Auschwitz in 1995 he alluded to the “tragic end of our Gypsy brothers and sisters” there.