Friday 9 December 2022

The Gypsy Saint 'El Pele' Cerefino Jimenez Malla - Jean Olwen Maynard - CTS 20th Century Martyrs

The Gypsy Saint 'El Pele' Cerefino Jimenez Malla
Jean Olwen Maynard
Catholic Truth Society
CTS Booklet B656

It took me a while to track down this volume, this booklet is part of the CTS 20th Century Martyrs Series. To date I have read 328 volumes from the Catholic Truth Society, and this is the eleventh in this specific series. I believe I only have 2 left to track down in the series, Isidore Bankanja and Pedro Poveda. Reading about Martyrs is not an easy thing. But I believe it is an important thing for us to do. I am thankful for this book, the series, and the many other books in the CTS Biographies for they are amongst my favourite reads over the last few years. The version I tracked down was a first edition published in 1999. Jean Olwen Maynard has written a number of books published by the Catholic Truth Society. But back to this volume.

The description of this volume is:

“In August 1936 the bloody corpse of Ceferino Jimenez Malla, a 75 year old gypsy, was tipped into a mass grave, covered with quicklime and buried. What was the story of this man, “El Pele”? Just another victim of the countless atrocities on each other by the left-wing Republicans and right-wing Falangists meted out in the Spanish Civil War? Unable to read or write, a respected gypsy horse-dealer, good husband and father, his is a compelling story of goodness and faith in Christ. In 1997 he was beatified by John Paul II in St Peter’s, Rome as the first gypsy martyr.”.”

The chapters and sections in the volume are:

Early Years 
     The Gypsies in Europe 
     The Gypsies in Spain 
     Ceferino's Birth 
     Ceforino's Childhood 
     A house in Barbastro 
     Spain's economic problems 
     Pele and Teresa adopt a child 
     Pele befriends Nicolas Santos de Otto 

Pele's return to the Church 
     An act of charity repaid 
     Catholicism in Spain 
     Charity and generosity 
     Pele becomes a gypsy leader 
     Pele's care for local children 
     Teresa dies 
     Pele becomes more involved in the Church 
     Political problems in Spain 
     The Republicans legislate against the Church 
     A new bishop in Barbastro 

The Spanish Civil War 
     Arrested for the Rosary 
     Pele's final journey 
     The victims of the Civil War 
     El Pele, martyr for the Faith 

I am well completely unaware of this story. And I only stumbled upon the booklet by chance when doing research for a different review. I had thought I had a complete list of the volumes in the series and this one was a surprise. As is the story contained within this volume. Once I started reading this story I had a very hard time putting it down. I read it in 2 sittings over two consecutive days. And to be honest I plan to go back and read it again. I highlighted numerous passages while I was reading the book, some of them are:

“But the gypsy horse-dealer was a well-known character in the city, and his intense piety was accepted and respected by his neighbours – backed up as it was by the integrity of his life.”

“State after state passed law ordering the nomads ~ deported. In Britain and elsewhere a man or woman could be brutally flogged, branded or hanged for no other reason than being "'a wandering gypsy”.

“Defined out of existence, the cale were forbidden to wear distinctive clothing, speak their own language, maintain a nomadic lifestyle or even practice their preferred occupations of horse -dealing and blacksmithing. Ordered to settle in specified owns, they were not to be allowed to live together in large groups: various measures were passed attempting to disperse them across the country and even to enforce intermarriage with non-gypsies.”

“But a generation later politicians were asking again why the gypsies could not be deported to penal colonies, or dumped in South America? King Carlos III wanted gypsy children removed from their parents at birth. Even after 1783, when the government finally threw in the towel and passed a law granting equal rights to gypsies, harassment and restrictive surveillance continued.”

“Nevertheless, as he grew older and his friendship with Don Nicolas deepened, the liturgy and sacraments of the Church became increasingly precious to him. His natural and spontaneous relationship with God was not something he saw as opposed to institutional structures. He quickly discovered a fruitful mutuality between the inner wellsprings of his own faith, and the outward sacramental signs which nourished that of his friend.”

“He prayed the rosary all through the liturgy, as pious people so often did in those days when it was in Latin, and received Holy Communion with great reverence. He was always praying the rosary: at least once a day with his family, and often at other times, even when he was walking along the street. Someone gave him a little picturebook version of the Stations of the Cross, and he prayed this too with great devotion.”

“To Pele, a human being was a human being. Gypsy or payo, rich or poor didn’t matter. So he became a bridge between the different races and social groups. The Santos de Otto. Jordan and other middle-class families came to be accepted by the gypsy community in Barbastro, because they were friends of Pele.”

“Pele was gradually drawn into the activist core of the Catholic community. Whenever there was a public procession, especially on Good Friday and Corpus Christi, he was there - usually up near the front, holding a lighted candle. He loved to accompany the priest taking the Viaticum to someone who was dying.”

“Even now, when he himself was actually quite poor, Pele still tried to help those in need in whatever ways he could.”

“Tears came to Pele’s eyes when he heard of the fall of the monarchy. He was sure it meant trouble for Spain. A month later came an outbreak of anti-clerical riots in Madrid, Seville and several other cities. Over a hundred churches and other Catholic institutions were burned clown. The Republican government refused to take any action, on the grounds that protecting church buildings was not worth risking the safety of' even one policeman.”

“From the day of his death, El Pele was regarded in Barbastro as a Christian martyr, killed for his faith. Everyone talked about how this gypsy had gone to his death carrying his rosary and shouting “Viva Cristo Rey!” .”

“Ferruchon's families used to pray in front of his picture, both for him and to him. Other local gypsies also regarded him as a saint and asked for his intercession when they needed anything. From the 1960s researchers began interviewing people in and around Barbastro, collecting material about his life and martyrdom. By the 1980 his fame among the gypsy people had spread even to eastern Europe.”

“In 1993 another process was opened for the beatification of the Servant of God
Ceferino Jimenez Malla. It went through with lightning speed. El Pele was beatified together with the bishop on Sunday 4th May 1997 in a ceremony in St Peter’s Square, attended by thousands or gypsies. He was the first gypsy ever to be beatified.”

I hope those quotes will give you a sense of this volume. It is well worth tracking down. This is an amazing story and it is well worth the read.  It is an excellent volume in an important series. I highly recommend it, and encourage you to track it down and give it a read. I was completely taken with this man’s faith. He was arrested because he was carrying a rosary, he was executed with it still in his hands. He lived his faith and would not give it up even in the face of certain death. And the political groups that lead to this death are similar to those on the rise today. Churches are being burned and looted in Europe, Canada, the United states. His faith can give us courage in the light of what is happening in the world today.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2022 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

Oscar Romero: Martyr for Faith - Ashley Beck
Pedro Poveda - Bernadette Lally

Published work by Jean Olwen Maynard:
Privately published by religious orders/parishes:
Greyfriars Convent, Elgin (2006)
A History of St Mary and St Michael’s Parish, Commercial Road, East London (2007)
Sisters of Mercy Bristol (2008)
150 Years of Mercy: A History of the Sisters of Mercy Commercial Road East London (2009)
The Saint of Hoxton (2011)
Saint Monica’s Church Hoxton Square (2018) 
150th anniversary history brochure for Parish of Guardian Angels, Mile End (2018)
150th anniversary history brochure for Parish of Our Lady and St Catherine of Sienna, Bow (2020) 
Immaculate Heart of Mary and St Dominic, Homerton 1873-2023 – 150 Years: A History of the Parish (2023)

CTS Booklets:
Isidore Bakanja 
Joseph Vaz

Between Christendom and Islam, The Martyr Mystic Christian de Chergé and the Atlas Cistercians in Algeria, in: Catholic in Religious Dialogue: Monasticism, Theology and Spirituality, ed Anthony O’Mahoney and Peter Bowe OSB, Gracewing, 2006
Campaign for the Catholic Workhouse Children, in: British Catholic History, Vol 31: Issue 4 Oct 2015

No comments: