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Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of the Migrants and Itinerant People

VII  International Congress for the Pastoral Care of Circus and Travelling Show People

 Rome, Italy, 12-16 December 2004

  Final Document

I. The event

The Seventh International Congress for the Pastoral Care of Circus and Travelling Show People, workers in the field of popular shows and participants in American car racing was promoted by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People and was held in Rome from 12th to 16th December 2004. The theme of the Congress was “Welcoming Circus and Travelling Show People – From Diversity to a Friendly Coexistence of Differences”. The first part of the theme was agreed on unanimously by the National Directors responsible for this particular kind of pastoral work at their meeting in Rome from 12th to 13th December 2003; they considered it particularly relevant in view of the present situation in the world of the circus and carnival. The second part of the theme was taken instead from Pope John Paul II’s Message for this year’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees. Moreover “welcome” is one of the key words in the recent Instruction of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi (Part II, Nos. 34-69).

Some ninety participants – Episcopal Promoters, chaplains, religious and laity, including some circus artists and workers in the travelling show business, coming from nearly all European countries as well as the United States of America, Chile and Mexico – took part in the four days of reflection and dialogue on living together of differences in welcome. The atmosphere was brotherly and open.

The Congress opened with an address by His Eminence Cardinal Stephen Fumio Hamao, the President of the Dicastery of the Roman Curia that is also specifically entrusted, within the context of human mobility, with the pastoral care of persons belonging to the circus, the carnival and the travelling show. This was followed by an address by Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, the Secretary of the same Dicastery, who spoke on the theme of the Congress and its planned programme. He stressed the importance of dialogue, a key word and fundamental Christian attitude, and a basic concept that underlies in many ways the recent documents of the Pontifical Council (need for dialogue; dialogue in pastoral work; dialogue and mission; training for dialogue; a school to educate for dialogue; dialogue with indigenous populations; dialogue against every form of prejudice, racism, and xenophobia; dialogue with a view to integration (not assimilation); dialogue aimed at inculturation, dialogue implying reciprocity; the dialogue of life; dialogue and new evangelisation; dialogue, liturgy, prayer and places of worship; dialogue and matrimony; dialogue leading to communion in diversity; and dialogue and Church discipline).

The Congress members were then greeted by the representatives of the Forum of Christian Organizations for the Pastoral Care of Circus and Carnival Workers, the Union of European Showmen’s Unionand by the representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury (the Anglican Communion) to the Holy See.

These opening greetings were followed by a biblical talk entitled “The Sacredness of Welcome in the Holy Scriptures”, given by Mgr. Bruno Maggioni, followed in turn by Bishop Lino Belotti on “The Welcome of Circus and Travelling Show People in Catholic Communities”.

On the second day of the Congress the Rev. Fr Dominique Joly, OFM spoke of the situation of young persons in circuses and carnivals as protagonists of the meeting between faith and culture. The Rev. Dr Sergio Ferrero Varela spoke of the families of circus and carnival people as communities that transmit human and Christian values.

In the afternoons of the 13th and 14th December there were two round-table discussions. The first was for the National Directors of the sector, who discussed the hospitality that the local Church should offer to persons belonging to the circus, the carnival, the travelling show business and participants in American car racing. The second round-table discussion was for a group of young persons who themselves come from the world of the circus and carnival. They told their experiences in life and their expectations with regard to Catholic communities. These experiences told by persons actually living in circuses and carnivals, a race car driver in America and a married couple bearing the name of “Magicians Without Borders” were particularly moving and stimulating for all present.

Naturally such a Congress could not be without a few moments of entertainment given by the circus and carnival people. The Congress participants were also welcomed by the Sacred Heart Missionaries in their church in the Piazza Navona in Rome, which already breathed a Christmas atmosphere, and by the travelling show people exhibiting their wares and skills there at this time of the year.

The Congress ended with an audience with the Holy Father, in which he addressed the participants with words of welcome and encouragement. Two famous acrobats entertained the Pope and those present for a few minutes with their spectacle.

 II. Conclusions

These are summarized here under the four principal sub-themes of the Congress.

1. The welcome of circus and carnival people by ecclesial communities

In Holy Scripture welcome and hospitality are essential characteristics of the man of faith: to welcome a stranger is to welcome the Lord. “He (Abraham) looked up, and there he saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them he ran … to meet them, and bowed to the ground. ‘My Lord’, he said, ‘I beg you … kindly do not pass your servant by’” (Gen 18,2-3). We meet the same sacred duty to welcome in the New Testament too: “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (Mt 10,40), says the Lord. In St Luke’s gospel (10,42) welcome is shown not only as “service” but also as “attention” to be paid to the guest, and this is the kind of hospitality that our Lord Himself, as an itinerant preacher, asks for.

Finally St Paul in chapter 15 of his letter to the Romans outlines the salient features of welcome using a series of adjectives. It should be Christian and profound and come from the heart (“…may [God] … grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus”: verse 5); it must be generous and gratuitous, disinterested and not possessive (“Christ did not please himself”, but became a servant: cf. verses 3 and 8); it must be benevolent and edifying (“let each of us please our neighbour for the good, for building up”: v. 2); it should pay attention to the weakest (“We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves”: v. 1). It can all be summed up in the appeal: “Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rm 15,7).

The Instruction of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi, speaks in No. 39 of a real “culture of welcome” that Christians should be the promoters of, that is a culture of welcoming that appreciates the authentically human values of others beyond all the difficulties that arise when we live together with those who are different from us (cf. Pastores Gregis of Pope John Paul II, No. 65).

The Pope’s teaching also makes clear:

a) the right of the faithful to free integration within the Church, and thus to that of maintaining their own identity, including their way of expressing their faith, with progressive integration in the purely territorial structures of the local Church;

b) the respect due to each individual and the banning of discrimination that humiliates the dignity of the human person;

c) the openness towards migrants and itinerant persons enabling them to participate in the life of the Church.

 2. Young persons of the circus and carnival as protagonists of a meeting between faith and culture

Though of different origin, denomination and religion, not to speak of social background, these young persons can be said to belong to the culture of the environment they come from, that is of travelling show families with a long tradition behind them, people both itinerant and sedentary. The environments of carnival and circus people have always favoured a mixture of these different cultures which, in the end, blend into the typical mark of the travelling show world. 

Obviously young artisans of the circus and carnival are also influenced by modern life, and not always positively. At times, though not often, through a witness who has won their confidence, they find precious help and light in the faith.

Relations are admittedly paradoxical. On the one hand they are marked by individualism – the predominant feature today – because each one wants to be “free” with respect to the others and sometimes defends his own interests against the others. On the other hand relations in this environment are at the same time profoundly communitarian in that each one shares the joys and sorrows of the others. The following characteristics were seen as typical of young persons in this sector:

The itinerant life.If young people from the circus and carnival accept the itinerant dimension of their life, they are fully in tune with God’s call and the gospel message, because God accompanies his people in itinere.

Festivals.These are an anticipation of the Kingdom. It is important for young circus people to create a festive spirit, with artistic performances, and above all to perceive the prophetic dimension of their profession and vocation.

Joy.The clown is made fun of and derided, the image of Christ, as it were, who was mocked and humiliated. He represents fallen humanity. But laughter is here also seen as resurrection in daily life, which helps us to accept our limits and imperfections; we must be able to laugh at ourselves.

Beauty.One of the things in this world that inspire us to raise our gaze on high is beauty. It lives in the infinite wonders of nature. Man is aware of receiving all this beauty even if through his actions he helps bring it forth, but he can only really discover it and admire it fully if he recognizes its origin, the transcendent beauty of God.

Overcoming oneself. Circus artists – acrobats, trapeze performers, animal trainers, etc. – always aim farther ahead and want to surpass their own limits. In this they are responding to the desire placed by God in the heart of man, to launch out beyond.

Gratuitousness. This is seen in their giving the best of themselves in the service of joy for others by way of hard work and also a certain kind of solitude and suffering. This generosity does not exempt us from exercising social justice in respect of circus and carnival people as people who work for a living.

Community life. In a circus or a carnival people always live alongside one another. The quality of life in society is not restricted to Christians alone, but for them it has its roots in God and is a sharing in the divine life of Christ.

3. The family

- Human beings have always sought protection in a house, a place to live and take root in, a hearth. In the circus and carnival, on the contrary, the point of reference is the family, overall relationships within the family, which is where one’s identity lies, the place where one loves and from where one sets out. The caravan is the hearth, the focal point, and the family is one of the most precious human values in the circus and carnival, though we must beware of making a myth out of it, because the crisis of the family is today manifest everywhere (there was even talk of an ambivalent value of the family). Moreover the traditional patriarchal family is changing into a nuclear family. When the “paterfamilias” dies, his sons are quite likely to divide and even to pursue different activities, dispersing their combined energy and traditions.

- In this environment the Christian family stands out as the privileged place for the first proclamation of the gospel and is witness of a living faith. Parents and grandparents are the ones who pass on human values and faith and help in preparing for the sacraments. It is also important for families to meet together with one another.

- An itinerarnt life, being and living en route, helps to better understand the story of salvation as God’s setting out to meet man and the human family and to see our Lord in his itinerant life as the bringer of joy and love, the master, friend and brother who seeks us and fascinates us, but above all saves us.

4. The situation of the circus and carnival with respect to society and the Church

- We live in a world that is rapidly changing. Our way of thinking, our social and religious life and politics are influenced especially by economic factors, new means of education that are more and more globalized, technology and wellbeing for many in the midst of an ocean of world-wide poverty.

- Their itinerant life in itself is sufficient to make society look on circus and carnival people as being “different”, somewhat marginal. Their work is not generally recognized as a form of culture nor is it appreciated as their means of earning their livelihood. The consequence is that circus and carnival people meet with numerous difficulties not only because of their hard lives, being always on the move, but also because of the obstacles various public authorities put in their path.

- Their difference in educational standards, their more natural rhythm of life, their social and family structures, their ethnic multiplicity and, at bottom, their great degree of forbearance make it hard for circus and carnival people to understand certain elements of life in today’s society (bureaucracy, social welfare, politics, trade unions, etc.).

- In this context the education of their children and their progress in schooling is one of the greatest difficulties for these families in a pluralistic society with its growing means of instruction and interchange. In some countries, however, circus people have solved the problem of schooling rather well. They can generally rely on teachers belonging to the public or private education system to give lessons as they move from place to place, which enables their children to complete their schooling.

- Among the various experiences related, particular interest was attached to a project for the cultural training of teachers and helpers to enable the children and young persons of travelling shows to participate in normal compulsory schooling. The project is being worked out with the collaboration of local authorities, Church bodies and the travelling show people themselves.

- But urban development is more and more pushing to the periphery the structures that sustain travelling shows, forcing them use unsuitable places, at times downright rubbish dumps. Moreover reciprocal prejudice on both sides intensifies their marginalisation. 

- Then again the serious economic difficulties generally confronting contemporary society are having negative repercussions on the work of circuses and carnivals which, aimed as it is at amusement, is not considered a prime necessity.

- Again whereas the parish helps the sedentary Christian population to feel that it belongs to a community where it can celebrate and deepen its faith, it is practically impossible for carnival people and even more so for circus people to feel that they belong to a local parish or traditional Church community.

- Nevertheless such values as the family, the fundamentals of life, sobriety, a serious attitude to work and a certain basic popular religiosity have long remained intact, though they are now being weakened. At all events the world of these itinerant people has its own contribution to make to the Church and society, namely a sense of Providence and solidarity.

- Finally, since ecumenism is today part of the Church’s being, the circus and carnival have justly been described as “a front-line laboratory for Christian progress in universal fraternity, in ecumenism and in meeting other religions”.

III. Pastoral proposals

1. During the Congress it was pointed out that circus and carnival families live and work in the same place and that it would be a good thing to bolster this up from a pastoral point of view in order to:

- maintain this tradition from one generation to the next (grandparents, children, grandchildren);

- see the family as a little Church with the parents acting more and more as evangelisers;

- cultivate a Christian sense of neighbourliness, avoiding unpleasant rivalries, envies, jealousies and divisions and encouraging real solidarity and prayer in common.

2. As in the complex life of the circus and carnival, popular shows and American car racing, persons of other ethnic origin are often present, it would be good to encourage:

- a Christian welcome for anyone who is “different”, integrating him fully in a network of solidarity, with the possibility of evangelisation, always respecting the other person, and above all with Christian love;

- ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.

3. Human mobility should be viewed in a Christian light in order to:

- cultivate the mystery of the presence of God in every person and every place;

- welcome new fellow travellers without prejudice;

- propose to city dwellers the image of the Church as the People of God on the move;

- cultivate a sense of Providence.

4. As circus, carnival and travelling show artists work for the amusement and leisure of the population and to this end are the creators of poetry, dreams and relaxation, it would be good to:

- cultivate a joyful sense of creativity, in a simple, sober, honest and generous style;

- encourage a human relationship with the public, seizing every opportunity to spread joy and peace;

- privilege those who are weakest: children, the elderly, the disabled…;

- let them feel they are God’s collaborators on the seventh day, helping others to have a little relaxation;

- try and find a moment of rest for themselves too, in order to honour the Lord’s Day.

 5. Bearing in mind that staying in a place should afford vital contact with the local Church,

- a priest or at least pastoral workers are needed to visit the caravans and meet people of different categories according to their schedules. From the parish community itself, there should be human contact and an attitude of listening and openness;

- it is to be hoped that the mothers of these families will be given suitable materials so that they may conscientiously teach their children the catechism;

- it is important to use the media to draw attention to the values of the travelling show and make contact with those who belong to it;

- it is good to favour the engagement of regional or zonal teams in pastoral work and establish a basic group of pastoral workers set up in close cooperation with the corresponding pastoral commission for human mobility;

- it would also be good to encourage exchange of experiences and information among pastoral workers and to promote a uniform pastoral care, while at the same time respecting legitimate differences;

- finally it is important to think out and put into practice suitable training for pastoral workers (priests, deacons, religious, laity), involving also seminarians and religious in formation.

 6. Circus and carnival people themselves should be urged to work for their own betterment:

- both by engaging men and women in the associations of this kind;

- and by looking for advocates who work for the development of this sector at national level, not only to save it from extinction but also to ensure it of a quality of life worthy of human beings.

IV. Recommendations

1. Particular Churches, parishes, must become “homes open to all”, “missionary parishes” at the service of the faith of men and women, including persons who are transient, which also means circus, carnival and travelling show people.

2. These people in fact, though living the inconvenience always of leaving for somewhere else, are nevertheless members of the Christian community for the short time of their stay. The community must therefore adopt the attitude and relationship towards them that our Lord asks of his Church, resisting temptations and subterfuge incompatible with the gospel.

3. It would also be desirable for the local Church to take on the task of promotion and correct discernment of this particular sector of pastoral care of human mobility, preparing a culture of welcome in its own territory. Furthermore a specific ministry should also be envisaged, keeping in mind the diaconate and “lay ministries” in the service of mission.

Rome, Italy, 12-16 December 2004