“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength…Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.” -1 Cor 1:25, 27-29.
Often, in church, I see old men in the back of church or some nondescript pew clinging to their Rosary and constantly praying in silence. Constantly. Wisdom in action. I want to grow up to be like them. Ps 84:11a
Ceferino Giménez Malla was born into a gypsy family of the Romani (a nomadic people in Spain). Born at Benevent de Lérida. The family moved consistently throughout his childhood, generally supporting themselves through selling baskets they weaved. While he never received formal education, and was possibly illiterate, Ceferino’s intelligence, wisdom, and sound judgment was obvious to all he encountered. He was valued by his community as a peacemaker and wise arbiter, settling disputes and disagreements. He also demonstrated a consistent faith, practicing charitable works, modeling the love and patience of Christ. His nickname was “El Pele” = “strong/brave one”. He loved nature.
In accordance with custom and tradition, Ceferino married at a young age in a “gypsy” ceremony. In order to normalize his marriage in the eyes of the Church, he was baptized as an adult, in 1912 married Teresa Jimenez Castro in a Catholic ceremony at age 51, and together with his wife continued the nomadic life. He worked as a horse trader, and was recognized by all for his honesty and fair practices and was financially quite successful at this business. The couple never had children, but took in a niece and assumed responsibility for raising her. Ceferino attended Mass every day, and received the Holy Eucharist as frequently as possible. On many days, Ceferino would gather the local children he encountered—gypsy and non-gypsy together—and teach them the Bible through stories and basic prayers – a catechist.
Ceferino’s wife died in 1922, and his niece married, leaving him in solitude. At this time, Ceferino grew in his contemplation and love of the Lord, and entered the Franciscan Order as a tertiary. He spent most evenings in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and eventually became a member of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul.
When the Spanish Civil War broke out, there was much anti-Catholic sentiment, and many were being persecuted. Ceferino defended a priest who was being taken to prison and was being dragged through the streets of Barbastro, He was arrested and imprisoned alongside him. Asked by the soldiers if he had any weapons, he said, “Yes. Here it is.” And showed them his Rosary. While in prison, Ceferino clung to his Rosary, praying constantly. Offered freedom if he would renounce his faith and give up his Rosary, he declined and was eventually taken to a cemetery and executed by firing squad with other believers and priests. Even in death, he maintained his prayer, holding his Rosary aloft and proclaiming, “Viva Cristo Rey!” (“Long live Christ the King!”). His body was buried in a common, unmarked grave. His body has never been found.
O God our Father, great and good,
through the light and power of Your Spirit
the gypsy Ceferino,
the proto-martyr of his people,
was united to the sufferings of Jesus.
We thank You that You have thus in Your love
honored all the traveling people of the world.
We pray that You will raise up holy missionaries
among these people and in the whole Church.
Help us to follow the example of this true believer
who loved You intensely and was a good Samaritan to others.