Irish Traveller community speaks out at WMoF

The itinerant Irish Traveller community today is strong, Missy Collins told the World Meeting of Families (WMoF) on Saturday.

Speaking at the WMoF event in Dublin on Saturday, Collins said Travellers are “a people who have experienced injustice and persecution and are forced often out onto the margins of society, who found their strength in God as well as their families.”

“We are proud of our heritage and culture. And proud to be Travellers,” she said.

Collins went on to ask Pope Francis, who was at the event, to pray for young Traveller people in Ireland.

The majority of Travellers are Catholic. Margaret McDonagh, a member of the pastoral council for the Parish of the Travelling People, says “In their faith lives, Travellers place an emphasis on the importance of pilgrimages as well as a belief in cures.”

Endorsing Collins’s statements about family life, McDonagh says Travellers’ families stay together and keep each other strong.

“In times of need, they will band together and stick by each other,” she says.

The nomadic lifestyle of the Travellers presents interesting challenges for sacraments, says Paul O’Driscoll, parish priest for the Parish of the Travelling People.

Rather than having a set church for Mass, they borrow churches throughout the Archdiocese of Dublin for liturgical celebrations.

“Our parish actually has the same footprint as the Dublin diocese,” he says.

Marriage preparation classes occur in central offices, but “otherwise, we’re on the move.”

While Travellers, like people of any other ethnicity, are free to belong to their geographical parish, many prefer to worship among other Travellers, O’Driscoll says.

This is due in part to discrimination, or the families just feeling unwelcome among the “settled” people.

Although discrimination is not true of all Irish parishes, “sometimes attitudes are passed on from generation to generation without much understanding” according to O’Driscoll.

“Discrimination against Travellers in Ireland today is the last form of accepted discrimination,” McDonagh says.

O’Driscoll believes the discrimination which Travellers experience has lent itself to a deepening of their faith lives.

“Education, accommodation, employment. These are the elephants in the room for a lot of young traveller people,” he says.

Travellers who attempt to “better themselves” in these areas often face prejudice, as well as internalised cultural oppression.

This vulnerability, he says, leaves Travellers with a “greater openness to the faith dimension.”


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