Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of the Migrants and Itinerant People
First European Meeting of National Directors for the Apostleship of the Road
The Past, Present and Future of the Apostolate of the Road
Rev. Vicente HERNÁNDEZ GARCÍA*
A. The Apostolate of the Road in the Past
serious problem of road traffic
Free and responsible movement
Man participates in society more
and more. Through technical
progress, human interaction is increasingly common.
When man is at the wheel, he must be aware that he is lending a service
to others because he has to know what a truck or a car means in life today.
the other hand, when man uses these means, he is rightfully satisfied when he
sees this great force and power subjected to his will as a fruit of his
inventiveness, expertise and efforts.
It is then that both psychosomatic and community requirements of a circumstantial nature arise that limit his field of action. We can thus define traffic as “free and responsible movement”.
As a free human activity, it is subject to ethical or moral laws derived from the very nature of man in relation to himself and to others considered both individually and socially. For a believer, these natural rules have their completion and perfection in the positive-divine rules in which the will of God is incarnated.
These rules hold for everyone related to the road, whether they are drivers, workers in road safety, builders or caretaker of roads and vehicles or pedestrians. In road traffic, many people and many assets are at stake that are protected by these principles: the drivers and their families, other drivers and travelers, other persons such as pedestrians, society, insurance and material assets.
Perhaps it is not wrong to recall the gravity and the consequences of road accidents and the series of inconveniences and damages they cause to society -- and are very hard to tolerate -- whether they be of a family or personal nature (the injured and dead), or an economic- social nature (material damage, hospitals, medication, physical invalidity for work, etc.). Today traffic accidents can rightly be considered an epidemic for modern society. The thousands of persons who die or become disabled yearly all around us are a dramatic problem that affects the whole of society.
Traffic as a human action at risk: accidents.
Without elementary prudence, respect for others and solidarity, road traffic can cause irreparable damage to persons and things.
In Spain (data for the year 2000), there were 101,729 accidents, of which 4,372 were deadly. There were 149,781 injured and 5,776 fatalities (of whom 898 were pedestrians, 3,349 drivers and 1,529 passengers).
In Europe (in 1998), there were 2,144,545 accidents with 106,569 deaths. This is equivalent to 135 deaths per million inhabitants and 404 per million cars, with 335 cars for every 1,000 inhabitants.
What is the cause of so much damage?
Before this slightly rosy panorama, who is guilty? In other words, what is the reason why a modern means like this, which gives rise to so much good in society, also gives rise to so much damage?
Obviously, all progress has a risk, but do we have to pay such a high price for the benefits we derive from these means of movement, to the point that we have to inevitably and irremediably accept the accidents, too?
Some believe that there are three kinds of factors that bring about accidents: technical, ecological and human factors. I would only recognize two of these: the human factor (drivers, roads), and the environmental factor (ecological).
In analyzing accidents, not only the proximate determining factors should be examined (curve, ice, skidding), but also the factors preceding the accident that could have influenced the driver’s behavior: the position of a curve or speed or wear and tear on the tires, etc.
An accident is caused by a series of inter-related phases like links in a chain. Sometimes normal traffic conditions can be modified by others who use the roads or highways (pedestrians, parked vehicles, animals, etc.), by atmospheric conditions (snow, ice, fog, water, etc.), by the state or condition of the vehicle (brake failure, worn tires), or by poor road conditions (road signs that are poor because they are either too few or too many, holes, curves or downgrades that should have been eliminated, especially on narrow highways, poorly painted road signs, etc.).
For Christians, driving a vehicle ought to be a practical projection of their beliefs. This would help them to be responsible and avoid personal and material damage. At the same it would help them to sanctify themselves by exercising the virtues of prudence, solidarity and charity (offering help), forgiving the human errors of others, elevating their minds to God, praying and thanking him for the beauty of nature which they enjoy, and for the ease in movement that allows them to reach and enjoy being with their families.
To drive well is to please God, to love him, to thank him and imitate him and, like Jesus, to go about doing good to all.
The International Accident-Free Day
Its origin in France and spread to other countries
Society and the Church realized, unfortunately, that the accident curve was on the rise, and that the human factor was present to a very great extent in this. It is even said that 90% of accidents are attributed to human responsibility.
Driving in itself is good and also pursues a good end. Moreover, automobiles are indispensable in the modern era. We have seen, however, that driving also involves a series of risks that can jeopardize the lives and assets of persons, including the driver.
Therefore, it was necessary to try and correct these errors. How? Through adequate road education, which would help people to avoid excessive speed, invading the left lane, driving when visibility is poor, distractions, consumption of alcohol, etc. This kind of road education would lead to building a good highway network, to road signs that would aid traffic, and to dissuasive penalties that would encourage acting prudently and avoiding risky maneuvers (or suicide) that could cost the life of the driver or of others.
For this reason, in Paris in 1951, as an initiative of “La Prévention Routiére”, the idea was launched to celebrate an “International Accident-Free Day”.
The Day aims at calling road users’ attention to the gravity of the problem in order to reduce the number of accidents, at least for one day. In 1960, the European Conference of Ministers of Transportation agreed to sponsor this celebration, thereby making use of a campaign that had been an isolated initiative until that time.
Spain immediately joined in this initiative and celebrated the Day for the first time in 1969. The Central Traffic Command planned and carried out the educational campaign, which was addressed mainly to users of Spanish roads. Through the Provincial Commands, on one day in the month of May that can vary, a vast publicity campaign is carried out aimed at creating “awareness” about safety and responsibility with regard to the problem of road traffic which concerns everyone, both pedestrians and drivers.
Road traffic: a concern for the Church
Popes Pius XII, John XXIII and Paul VI
In her Magisterium on modern problems, the Church did not overlook the problem of road traffic.
To point out some milestones in this Magisterium, the first reference I found to the problem was the Discourse of Pius XII to the World Congress of the “Fédération Internationale Routière” (October 3, 1955), during which the Pope stated: “Where are people going in such a hurry? I would like to think that a better educated public opinion would make a climate reign of courtesy, moderation and prudence in harmony with the best traditions of Christian civilization”.
Some of his others discourses are: “To the Members of the Automobile Club of Rome” (October 29, 1956); “Exhortation to the personnel of the Automobile Registry of Rome and the ACI” (March 3, 1957); “Discourse to the International Congress on cement roads” (October 19, 1957); “To the parish rectors and Lenten preachers of Rome” (February 19, 1958), in which three points of Lenten preaching are curiously treated: the sanctification of holydays, the fight against suicide, and road accidents.
From the different discourses of John XXIII (the Pope who dealt with this theme the most), I would like to cite two of them which are surely very important: “To the drivers of traveling cinema vans” (August 9, 1961), in which the fundamental problem of traffic is taken up, that is, respect for human life; the discourse to the participants in the International Congress of Medicine (April 28, 1963) in which he states: “It is sorrowful to see that all too often the drama of traveling ends in the tragedy of death and tears”, and in which he stresses “the value of the Highway Code and all the decisions adopted by the authorities in charge of safety on the move”.
There are two discourses of Paul VI: one discourse is addressed to the participants in the “International Dialogue for Morality in Road Use” (October 2, 1965), in which he states: “Public opinion is rightly concerned about one of the most troubling practical problems in life today”. The other discourse, addressed to the participants in the “General Assembly of the Automobile Club of Italy” (November 30, 1972), has as its theme, “The precise rules of the Law of God and the moral conscience in using the road”: “We thus raise our voice firmly once again to invite and exhort all men of good will to work together so that civil and Christian behavior, inspired by the values of the Gospel, fraternity, courtesy, mutual respect and aid will enter more deeply and finally become visible in this sector which, like every other sector in human life, is also subject to the precise rules of the Law of God and the moral conscience”.
Paul VI and truck drivers
regard to Paul VI, the pilgrimage of Spanish truck drivers to Rome was of
particular importance. The Pope
received them in a special audience on September 29, 1968.
The Pontiff responded to the long, moving message they gave him with a
beautiful discourse in which he joined with them, admired their virtues, and
blessed all the truck drivers of Spain.
The Second Vatican Council and traffic
In the discourse to the participants in the “General Assembly of the Automobile Club of Italy”, Paul VI referred to the Second Vatican Council, which warned about the grave problem of traffic: “This is in fact a grave moral problem. The Second Vatican Council reaffirmed that anyone who fails to heed the established rules for driving vehicles endangers, through his neglect, his own life and that of others (cf. G.S., 30), and urged “…everyone [to]consider it his sacred obligation to esteem and observe social necessities as belonging to the primary duties of modern man.’ (Ibid.). On our part, we have not failed to recall these principles with every means at our disposal on determined occasions”.
As a matter of fact, in the Decree on the pastoral office of the Bishops in the Church, Christus Dominus (No. 18), the Second Vatican Council states: “Special concern should be shown for those among the faithful who, on account of their way of life, cannot sufficiently make use of the common and ordinary pastoral care of parish priests or are quite cut off from it. Among this group are the majority of migrants, exiles and refugees, seafarers, air-travelers, gypsies, and others of this kind”. It also adds that, “Suitable pastoral methods should also be promoted to sustain [their] spiritual life”. This undoubtedly refers to road users as well.
The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Contemporary World (G.S., 30) spoke expressly about the importance of traffic rules: “Many in various places even make light of social laws and precepts, and do not hesitate to resort to various frauds and deceptions in avoiding just taxes or other debts due to society. Others think little of certain norms of social life, for example those designed for the protection of health, or laws establishing speed limits; they do not even avert to the fact that by such indifference they imperil their own life and that of others”.
Pastoral Exhortations of the European Bishops on Road Traffic
The teachings of the Supreme Pontiffs and the increase in accidents created a climate of responsibility in the different nations, and especially in Europe. As a result, various detailed and important pastoral exhortations have been published by the European Bishops; however, it would be impossible to list them here.
The Brazilian Bishops and the French Bishops
In 1974, the National Conference of the Bishops of Brazil published a curious pastoral exhortation entitled, “Moral and pastoral aspects of traffic”. It reports on the work done by F. Appendino on traffic, which is taken from the 1973 “Encyclopedic Dictionary of Moral Theology”. In 1978 I was asked to do an up-dated version of this for Spain.
On October 24, 2002, Most Rev. Oliver Berranguer, the Bishop of St. Denis and President of the Social Commission of the Bishops of France, published a Declaration, together with five other bishops, on this problem. It is entitled, “Road safety: an evangelical challenge”.
“Joint Pastoral Letter of the Belgian Bishops”
On January 15, 1996, a “Joint Pastoral Letter of the Belgian Bishops” was published and signed by Cardinal Suenens and six other bishops. The title of the letter is, “The morality of road traffic”. This is the first document by the bishops that takes up in breadth and depth the problem of morality and responsibility on the road. With regard to the alarming accident figures, it states: “The most disturbing thing continues to be the lack of a sense of responsibility on the part of road users”.
Creation of the “Apostolate of the Road” in Spain
Msgr. Fernando Ferris, the delegate of the Bishops’ Commission for Migrations and Director of the Catholic Commission for Migrations of Spain, launched the idea to create the Apostolate of the Road for all motorists and professional drivers. In 1967, through the efforts of Msgr. Ferris, together with the atmosphere created by the International Accident-Free Day, the problems already caused by traffic, and the Papal Magisterium, the Spanish Bishops’ Conference, through the Bishops’ Commission for Migrations, created the “National Direction of the Apostolate of the Road” with objectives and concrete activities that gradually became a reality.
The Bishops’ Commission appointed a Bishop Promoter in the person of Most Rev. Doroteo Fernandez Fernandez, the Coad. Bishop of Badajoz, and a National Director, Rev. Alberto Garcia Ruiz, who was also in charge of the pastoral care of gypsies, circus and fair people and seafarers.
Later a “National Day of Prayer for Traffic” was planned for the last Sunday of June in preparation for the summer months when more vehicles are on the road and, as a result, there are greater risks and more accidents.
Concern for truck drivers
I would like to make a parenthesis and mention the work done by Rev. José Medina Pintado, a priest from Madrid who dedicated special attention to the truck drivers in the port of Somosierra where he was parish rector. The port has a lot of traffic and is somewhat dangerous because of the atmospheric conditions and the accidents. He built a chapel and spent much of his time there, taking an interest in the problems of the people and talking to the ones passing through in a little bar where they would often stop. He still continues his mission and feels he has a vocation for this, as Diocesan Delegate of the Apostolate of the Road in Madrid; he has great experience in this field.
Statutes of the Apostolate of the Road
document establishing the National Direction of the Apostolate of the Road
contains the following points:
a) Foundations of the Apostolate of the Road: the concern of the Supreme Pontiffs and the recommendations of the Second Vatican Council urged the Bishops’ Commission to study the possibility of creating a body that depended on it, which would be concerned from a pastoral viewpoint with the persons on the road and with the problem in itself.
b) Constitution. As we have said, there is a Promoter Bishop and a National Director.
c) Objectives. To awaken the conscience of public opinion regarding the Christian requirements in road traffic, to promote Christian values in road use, to demonstrate to drivers the possibility of encountering God in the exercise of their profession, to strengthen the value of traffic as an instrument of union among people, to spread the Christian doctrine regarding road traffic in society, to provide adequate religious services, etc.
d) Receivers: all the persons connected with the road – drivers, workers in fuel stations, traffic safety, machine shops, etc.
e) Pastoral action: ministerial (sacraments), apostolic (personal contacts, feast of truck drivers – St. Christopher, celebrations during the Christmas Campaign, Day of Prayer for Traffic, publications), “Green Light” (formation).
f) Formation: to awaken a clear awareness in society of the Christian dimension of the phenomenon of traffic and the sense of responsibility that must be taken on when driving.
g) Organization: concerning the National Direction, the Diocesan Delegates, the preparation of priests for this Apostolate through courses, days, etc.
Pastoral exhortation of the Spanish Bishops
On May 21, 1968, the Bishop members of the Bishops’ Commission for Migrations of Spain signed a “Pastoral Exhortation on the Apostolate of the Road” entitled: Christian Spirit and Traffic. It is divided into the following chapters:
1. “International Accident-Free Day”, on which there is a call to make a commitment to avoid accidents with reference to the Second Vatican Council, which insists on the collaboration that Christ’s faithful must lend (cf. G.S. 12).
2. “The phenomenon of road traffic”, in which traffic is defined as “one of the most unavoidable forms of human cohabitation”.
3. “Bright spots and shadows”, in which the positive values are spoken about which the road and traffic can contribute to the development of the human social dimension; however, the grave, concomitant events that cast gloom over our roads cannot be hidden.
4. “A sense of responsibility”. The first principle that must guide the actions of every person with regard to road communications is a sense of responsibility. The whole morality of road traffic is based on the Christian value of the human person. It says, “This reminder to be attentive to the moral gravity of these transgressions and circumstances is intended above all as an invitation to Christian charity”.
5. “The Highway Code”. The voice of the Church is clear: “The civil laws of human cohabitation reinforce the great commandment, ‘you shall not kill’; they defend the sanctions imposed by the public authority as being necessary so that society will acquire the required degree of formation and basic cohabitation. The public authority has the duty to take care of road planning, maintenance and adequate road signs”.
6. “A spirit of service”. The fact is emphasized that only awareness of one’s duty and the rights of one’s neighbor, as well as the practice of Christian and social virtues can put an end to this grave problem. Moreover, there is a request to develop a spirit of service in everyone, by taking care of one’s neighbor, according to the virtue of justice, whenever someone has been the cause, albeit involuntarily, of any harm. In conclusion, it is affirmed that together with attention to the body, spiritual first aid, which is no less urgent in many cases, should not be neglected.
7. “Social virtues”, that is, charity, which includes understanding, benevolence, uprightness and prudence.
8. “Road education”. This must include the moral aspects of road traffic, knowledge of its laws, and skill in driving. Within the scope of their competencies, parents and teachers should also include road education for children who all too often are innocent victims of accidents.
9. “Apostolate of the Road”. Through the National Direction of the Apostolate of the Road, the intention is to give a broader Christian response to this important and vast sociological phenomenon. The task entrusted to this Apostolate includes two areas in particular: the ministerial area, aimed at facilitating priests’ services to road users, and the apostolic area with all the road users. The Apostolate of the Road is addressed in particular to truck drivers because of the exemplary sense of responsibility, effort and human virtues they display daily on the road. This pastoral attention also includes those who provide services on the road at rest points, service stations, machine shops, etc. Lastly, we are pleased that this Apostolate is also getting organized on the diocesan level, and that many priests and lay persons share the same concern and the same efforts to make Christ present on all human roads.
Change of guard in the National Direction
Thanks to these guidelines, the Apostolate of the Road was able to expand its activities. The Director, as we have seen, was also concerned with the pastoral care of itinerants. He asked the Bishops’ Commission to appoint a person to direct this Apostolate on the national level. In April 1973, the President of the Commission for Migrations at the time, Most Rev. Rafael Gonzalez Moralejo, the Bishop of Huelva, asked me to take charge of this.
Other important activities carried out by the Apostolate of the Road
Personal contact and through the review “Green Light”
The scope of this apostolate appears to condition its position outside of the traditional structures of pastoral action. The image of people gathered around the church bell tower is very remote. The life scenario of the receivers of this apostolate is the entire country. They pass by at great speed, and at first glance, they may appear unreachable, but once they are approached in their world, we discover that it is possible to reach them.
First of all, to make personal contact it is important to take advantage of their stops at rest areas and service stations, or to travel with them. The priest who was called “Padre Gasolina” traveled many kilometers with truck drivers as they moved across the country and abroad. It is said that he gave more than five hundred “seminars” to just as many truck drivers by going from truck to truck and helping them, using a simple, realistic way of speaking, to discover the Christian dimension of life. Afterwards, they were the ones who sought contact. The loneliness of the cabin and the distance from their families make truck drivers appreciate the company of a friendly, disinterested priest.
Contact continued later through the review, “Green Light”, which we can compare to a monthly letter from a friend with whom they could share their concerns and hopes.
To complete all this, there was the “Friendly Drivers” Club. Those who join get a sticker, a badge and a certificate attesting to their commitment to follow the Highway Code, not to drive in dangerous situations, to offer aid, and to keep contact with God during the trip.
Appointment of Diocesan Delegates of the Apostolate of the Road
One of the first activities was to inform all the Bishops about this Apostolate and ask them to contact any priests who may be interested in it. This is how I learned about it. My Bishop felt that I was the right person for this pastoral care since I had published a book on truck drivers and was interested in all the ethical-moral aspects of society.
At present, there is a diocesan delegate of the Apostolate of the Road in 45 dioceses; in the other ten dioceses the Vicar General is in charge of it. To guide the priests in this specific apostolate, each year a “Course on road assistance and the pastoral care of the road” was given in which the theory and practice of road assistance, the sociological aspects of road traffic, and pastoral and moral themes related to the road were studied.
Each year “National Days” are held on moral, pastoral, biblical and theological themes related to the road. The Bible often contemplates people on the move who meet God along their way, and at every step it highlights the virtues of the traveler: trust in providence, detachment from material things, hospitality, etc. The various topics examined on the National Days had to do with the moral obligations of the driver, the Christian dimension of professionals of the road, road traffic as an instrument of union among people, the road as a means to do good, and a path – why not? – to sanctification.
The Day of Prayer for Traffic and the Christmas Campaign
On the last Sunday of June in 1969, a year after the Bishops’ pastoral exhortation entitled “Christian Spirit and Traffic”, the first “National Day of Prayer for Traffic” was celebrated to call motorists’ attention to their responsibility during the summer period of greater movement. Since then, a pastoral exhortation has been published annually signed by the Bishop Promoter. Each year the campaign sets a different objective so that society will gain awareness of the problem of road traffic.
Here I would like to make two observations regarding the name and the date of this Day. At a given moment, in view of the political change that took place several years ago in Spain, it seemed useful to change the name of the campaign to “Day of Responsibility in Traffic”.
The date was changed, too. At present, it falls on the first Sunday of June. In my opinion, however, it gets confused with the feast of St. Christopher, the patron saint of motorists, which is celebrated on June 10th. I think that the day ought to have a different liturgical connotation and give a specific message each year.
The Christmas Campaign was very well received by the prayerful and the devout, and the themes it dealt with always referred to the Christmas mystery. Last year, however, the Bishops’ Conference decided to eliminate it in the framework of a revision of the various Campaigns.
5. Relations with the then Pontifical Commission for Migrants
Before going into the PRESENT of the Apostolate of the Road, I would like to briefly refer to the relations with the Pontifical Commission for Migrants. In 1970, Cardinal Carlo Confalonieri, the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and President of the Commission, congratulated us for “the continuous growth of this beneficial apostolic activity which has been carried out and organized by this National Direction”.
In 1971, the Most Rev. Emanuele Clarizio, the Pro-President of the Commission, stated that the Day of Prayer for Traffic had entered into the consciences of the faithful, bringing fruits of spiritual maturity which are essential so that the “road” will not be an instrument of destruction of the body and spirit of itinerants, but rather of fraternal encounter between all men on the move towards the highest destinations.
Significant collaboration with the review “People on the Move”
In issue No. 23 of this review (December 1978), an article of mine appeared on the Apostolate of the Road in Spain and its activities. The Pontifical Commission had asked me for that text.
The Present of the Apostolate of the Road
do not intend to make a detailed analysis of this Apostolate in Spain because
this has already been done in a general way, in line with the original project. In any event, I will make some necessary observations and
The “Day of Responsibility in Traffic” has particular importance in this Apostolate to the point that it constitutes its most important activity. It is prepared very carefully. After reviewing the previous Campaign, the message to be spread is studied, and a slogan and poster are chosen and sent to the delegates of the various dioceses together with other materials, such as the Bishop Promoter’s pastoral exhortation, information about road traffic, liturgical information that can be useful for the Eucharist and the various means of dissemination: press, radio, etc.
year the “Mass of the Road” is celebrated in a different place and broadcast
on television. It gets a large
audience, also because of the originality of the place chosen, the presence of
vehicles, and the unique atmosphere surrounding it.
National Day of Diocesan Delegates
Every year some National Days are held in which the Diocesan Delegates take part. The Bishop Promoter presides, who is currently the Most Rev. Carmelo Echenagusia Uribe, with the presence of the National Director, Rev. Sigisfredo Onate Marroquin.
Over the course of these Days, the last of which took place from October 21-31, 2002, the National Director’s report is studied as well as the activities carried out in the different dioceses, and then a revision is made.
The Review “Green Light” and the “Christmas Campaign”
Unfortunately, publication of the review “Green Light” has been suspended. It was distributed on a national scale and very much appreciated, especially by truck drivers. Perhaps some sectors in the Church and even in the Bishops’ Commission were not able to see its need and efficacy.
On the other hand, with regard to the elimination in 2001 of the Christmas Campaign by the Bishops’ Conference, we hope that the National Direction will continue to promote it because this Campaign was very well received and necessary for the specific problems of this holiday period: atmospheric conditions, driving at night, abuse of alcohol, etc.
As to Road Education, in collaboration with the General Direction of Traffic and the Bishops’ Commission for Education, two didactic and catechetical units have been prepared and distributed throughout all the dioceses in order to promote road education starting from the schools and from catechesis.
For some time, we felt the need for a “Directory of the Apostolate of the Road” similar to the ones that exist for other sectors of ecclesial pastoral care. After various attempts, in 2000 a pre-project was presented which later became a draft for a “Directory” that is currently being studied.
Some dioceses have already published a diocesan directory. In the directory of the diocese of Las Palmas, which is rather concise but tackles fundamental aspects, the Bishop, Most Rev. Echrren, states: “In its human aspect as well as in its moral and apostolic aspects, the mission of the Apostolate of the Road must consist to a great extent in a continuous, serious call to attention and to denunciation of the grave, dramatic consequences of many persons’ irresponsibility; it should also not be forgotten that those who take part in road traffic must also be evangelized, by promoting evangelical values such as the commandment to love and respect life in its entirety, duties which, on the road, are related to peace, justice and solidarity”.
In the meeting of the Diocesan Delegates in October 2002, two suggestions were made: “The Directory ought to include the positive aspects of traffic, the values, moral obligations, the denunciation of unjust working situations, the religious services offered, a theological-moral-pastoral reflection, the formation of lay apostles, ecumenism, civic and road education, accidents and their consequences, the ecological implication, respect for nature, pollution, the Highway Code, the moral compulsoriness of the Highway Code in the riskiest and most dangerous cases, sanctions, the presence of possible Christian symbols, etc.”.
Chapels and religious services along the road
In Spain, there are many chapels dedicated to St. Christopher, the patron saint of motorists. The chapel built along the road between Madrid and Valencia was called the “Spiritual Distributor”. The persons who passed by were invited to whistle as a sign of thanks, prayer and greeting. Mass was also celebrated there. Unfortunately, after the highway was built, traffic on that artery decreased.
A certain number of associations and confraternities in the country that honor St. Christopher stress the problem of road traffic in order to create a feeling of responsibility and spread Christian doctrine in relation to this problem.
At the conclusion of this second part, I would like to state that the Apostolate of the Road in Spain has a wide range of activities to which it has been dedicated with great hopes and efforts. Despite all this, there were some years when this activity decreased notably. One Diocesan Delegate wrote: “It is necessary to show that we have seriously decided to resolve the ‘pending issue’ that is still present in our society. We condemn abortion courageously, we proclaim ourselves real defenders of life, we defend vigorously the teaching of religion, but we are accused of not applying the same emphasis and force to the deaths and injuries on our roads”.
At present, with the new Bishop Promoter, the National Director and the team of collaborators, we hope to increase our activities in favor of safer road circulation so that it will be an instrument of union among men and sanctification, through the exercise of virtues, so as to avoid the dreadful scourge of accidents that cause so much damage to persons and things.
The Future of the Apostolate of the Road
Elements for reflection
Among the imperatives that the course of present-day society requires of us owing to scientific and technological progress, the Church has the duty with regard to the road, as with other aspects of social life, to offer the revealed light that illuminates man’s way today, even on the road. In addition to reasons of Christian spirituality, as we will see, this is also the case for the great risk involved in driving a vehicle.
In speaking to the participants in the “International Dialogue for Morality in Road Use” (October 2, 1965), Paul VI said the following: “Too much blood is shed each day in an absurd contest of speed and time. While the international bodies are highly dedicated to healing woeful rivalries, while wonderful progress is underway in conquering space, while adequate means are being sought to heal the wounds of hunger, ignorance and sickness, it is sad to think how countless human lives continue to be sacrificed each year all over the world to this unacceptable destiny. The public conscience must be shaken so as to consider the problem by the same standards of the toughest problems that keep passions lively and hold the attention of the whole world”.
Now I would like to present you with some striking data that indicates the scope of the damage caused by motorists to human life. In the twentieth century, 35 million people died (250,000 in Spain) in road accidents, and 1.5 billion were injured (15 million in Spain). Since 1970, on the European roads, more than 1,640,000 people have died. Each year more than 1,200,000 people lose their lives around the world. In the European Union 40,000 deaths and 1,700,000 injured are reported yearly. According to the present “trend”, we can estimate that by the year 2020 the number of deaths will double. This is without mentioning the other consequences, such as invalids, paraplegics, broken families, etc.
In my opinion, the first conclusion that should be drawn in view of the future of the Apostolate of the Road is the following: we have to convince ourselves and create awareness about this very grave problem of present-day society, that is, accidents. Every week we hear about the number of dead and injured, “a cold statistical fact”, as someone has said.
In December 2001, the Most Rev. Echarren, the Bishop of Las Canarias, wrote: “Not all of us are aware of the importance of responsibility on the road and we do not think of the fact that ‘the greater man's power becomes, the farther his individual and community responsibility extends’ (G.S. 34)”.
Morality in using the road
As a remedy for all this, Paul VI proposed “to raise the moral standards of road use”, that is, to apply “the theological, ethical, juridical, technological principles…that are based on the respect due to human life, the human person, which have been inculcated from the first pages of Sacred Scripture” (Ibid.).
This means creating a climate of responsibility, respect for others, and observance of the Highway Code, the rules of which safeguard one’s own life and the lives of others.
In the exhortation we mentioned earlier, the Spanish Bishops’ Commission states: “The Council condemns the selfish behavior of those who “think little of certain norms of social life…they do not even avert to the fact that by such indifference they imperil their own life and that of others’(G.S. 30)”.
The Apostolate of the Road must form the conscience of motorists for human cohabitation and also so that the road will be an instrument of union among men, not injury and death.
The Christian meaning of road traffic
For Christians, the road must be a means to encounter God and establish relations with Him. It is a wonderful occasion to exercise the Christian virtues. The qualities of a motorist should be courtesy, uprightness and prudence, which help him to overcome any unforeseen events. In fact, the Spanish Bishops state that a driver “cannot rely only on his own attention and ability to avoid accidents; he must also be able to rely on a fair margin of safety if he wants to avoid imprudent persons and unforeseen difficulties”.
Above all, however, he must be charitable and thus understanding and benevolent, and help his neighbor in need, especially if this person is an accident victim, by observing the elementary rules of assistance so as not to add one damage to another.
The mission of the Apostolate of the Road is to form the conscience of citizens in this and in other senses.
Spirituality of the Apostolate of the Road
This pastoral care has to let drivers see the possibility and need to encounter God in the exercise of their profession. This can come about in many ways: by saying a prayer to God and the Blessed Virgin Mary at the beginning and during the trip, whenever they see a church or contemplate a beautiful landscape, or when they meet up with a friend after many years. There is a beautiful prayer by John XXIII that many drivers use to begin their voyage.
Naturally, we have to see God in others and help them not only in moments of danger. The road offers us many occasions to lend small material, human and spiritual services to others which through an elementary sense of Christian solidarity, we should not deny to anyone: “Charity is not something to be reserved for important matters, but must be pursued chiefly in the ordinary circumstances of life” (G.S. 38).
I believe it is urgent to awaken the consciences of drivers and invite them to have a real sense of responsibility. This is not just in a negative sense, which does not usually produce convictions. The sanctions, which are necessary, are not sufficient to create a personal discipline or a spirit of solidarity, much less arouse religious convictions. It is also not enough to make drivers familiar with the human and ethical values they have to respect at the wheel, as in any other social relations. As believers, they have to discover the Christian values of the time they spend driving because the action of driving must be elevated and sanctified, just like every other daily action in their overall lives which must be configured to Christ until they are perfect and their action is identified with His.
When human actions are not guided by faith, man lets himself be led by his natural impulses and he tramples on God’s law and man’s life and, in this case, causes accidents.
In an intervention during the National Day that took place in 2000 on the theme, “Kingdom, Christianity and Traffic”, a theology professor from the Burgos Seminary stated: “It appears that the ultimate root of the evils that accompany traffic is none other than closing oneself to God and his grace, forgetting God. If this grace were regained, all the great negativity would end. If men would let grace, the Kingdom, enter more into their lives and beings, traffic would reveal a different face”.
Biblical roots for a theology of traffic
would be both interesting and topical to look for ideas in the Bible for a
“Theology of Traffic”.
Way is a Biblical world. Path, pilgrimage, and nomadism: this was the itinerary of the People of God in ancient times. The term and the meaning of “way” can be applied very properly to the road. The road is a passage, a journey, not a stop; one does not live on the road; one passes over it and the kilometers flow along like the years. The People of God walked through the desert and encountered many problems and obstacles. But the Lord was with them and protected them, just as he protects the ones who “make their way” today with an automobile.
A motorist’s attitude must be like the attitude in Christ’s words, “I was a pilgrim and you welcomed me”, or like those of the Good Samaritan and many others we read in the Gospel.
Jesus is also the Way, the Truth and the Life. He comes along the way with us: Emmaus. We have to drive along the way with Jesus who accompanies and protects us always.
Directory of the Apostolate of the Road
conclude, I hope that greater importance will be given to this action by the
Church which, as we have seen, requires an impulse on everyone’s part, but,
above all, on the part of those who can act more and have greater influence so
that attention will be given to what I believe may be, as Paul VI said, “one
of the most troubling practical problems in life today”.
For this reason, I would like to see two concrete things achieved: 1) the publication of a general Document on this very serious problem of road traffic that affects society so much today. It should present the Church’s concern with reference to the Apostolate of the Road, and some general guidelines for people of good will. I think that this document would be an incentive for the Bishops’ Conferences to inform their own communities. 2) Our contribution would be incomplete if we did not consider the publication of a Directory of the Apostolate of the Road. Here some suggestions have been made and others can be added. This would be a kind of credentials before society, and for us it would constitute a program that we would promise to study and carry out with God’s help.
[*] Delegate of the Apostolate of the Road, Plasencia; Former National Director of the Apostolate of the Road of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference