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Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

First European Meeting of National Directors for the Apostleship of the Road

The Pastoral Care of Human Mobility, with particular reference to the Road


Archbishop Agostino MARCHETTO

Secretary of the Pontifical Council   

“A man was once on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of brigands (…). But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion when he saw him” (Luke 10, 30b-33).

“The world is like a dancing mask: if you want to see it well, you must not stay still in one place” (Chinua Achebe).

A Sign of the Times

I think that the two opening quotations of our talk indicate its inspiration very well.  We start from “not staying still in one place”.  The vision of the world has really been redrawn also through the growth and technological development of the means of transportation.  For millennia, the speed of movement was simply limited to the human pace, and the transportation of material was limited to what man could carry.  As we know, the invention of the wheel and the use of domestic animals were factors of greater mobility and, little by little, we arrived at the current developments.

In this regard, we can mention what the Second Vatican Council asserted: “The Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which men ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other.” (Gaudium et Spes, 4).

The phenomenon of human mobility reveals great values that also make it a beautiful, promising reality of the contemporary era, that is, a sign of the times.  The people who move in fact are also persons who meet one another, who get to know and discover one another in both their diversity and their unity, and in their respective potentials.  As both a risk and a chance for people in our times, the phenomenon of human mobility surely involves dangers of dehumanization, but it also implies a chance for human and spiritual enrichment, openness, acceptance and reciprocal renewal through the contacts it offers (cfr. G.S. 24).  Hence, by way of confirmation today, for the protagonist of the novel, Peace Like A River (L. Enger), the road takes on the function of a school of life where he learns the meaning of sacrifice, hope and the expectation of salvation.  The Second Vatican Council also stated the fundamental fact about man is that he can only become a man through the mediation of others, through the word, work and love of others.  No choice or openness to the future can be achieved without a fundamental dependence on others and a profound solidarity with others (Cfr. G.S. 25).

Yes, this is true, as we also know from experience. To the extent that human mobility is a chance for people to meet, then it is also true that it can become a chance for contemporary man to be more human, a better person.  The Church thus has a word to say, something of her own to offer to the world of human mobility, and she pledges that it will not be without aid, comfort and the necessary support. And here the image of the Good Samaritan becomes relevant.

A New Area of Apostolate

Despite the dramatic situations and incongruity that we sadly witness, today’s world appears to be taken up by a great “humanistic” project: to achieve a life worthy of man on earth, that is, a new model of life.

But how far have we come in this regard?  There have certainly been great conquests in the contemporary era.  Keeping to our subject, voyages and transportation have been made immensely easier and safer; commercial relations and transportation have grown at a dazzling rate; communication between people has become intense, as distances have practically been abolished by the mass media.  To use what has now become a common expression, the world has become a “global village” (McLuhan).  However, it also has many ambiguities if we consider, for instance, in our pastoral field, respect for life on the roads and the daily catastrophe of road accidents.

Reflecting on the first point of our concern, in our times of mobility, the major roads and highways take on a primary role among the factors of commercial exchange and communications, and the same is true for the railroad networks.  They thus become a vital sector, densely populated, with much variety, which produces the dazzling and unceasing growth of traffic locally and internationally.  Let us consider some figures, for example, limited to the tourist sector in 2001 around the world.  With regard to international tourists alone, there were 688.5 million, of whom 400.5 million in Europe, with France in first place (75.6 million, with an increase of 1.2% compared to 2000), followed by Spain (49.5 million, with a 3.4% increase compared to 2000).  According to the “European Federation of Road Safety”, each year there are 40,000 deaths and 1.7 million injuries in the countries of the European Union alone, whereas from 1970 until today, in the same geographic area, there were 1.5 million deaths.

But let us take a broader view because there are many categories of “protagonists” of the road: from road haulage contactors, to drivers of public services, cars and coaches, to tourists in search of forms of leisure, rest or cultural enrichment, to the workers in traffic safety, filling stations, garages, toll booths, road assistance, rest stops, etc.

Here then are two supporting pillars of our reflection and action: roads and railroads.

Here too, we would like to include the area of “street dwellers”, that is, those with no fixed abode, and thus people on the move, who are also the object-subject of our pastoral care, as expressed in poetry by Chiara Amirante: “My home is the world, my land is the sky, my homeland is every man’s heart.  Every person whom I meet is my treasure, in the darkness of the shadows there is my light, in the space of suffering humanity, there is my heart”[1].

The Mission of the Church as a Response to This Sign of the Times

Let us start from a fixed point that appears to be very clear: the problems that this dense, interconnected world of the road produces - and the apostolic opportunities it offers - cannot be extraneous to the Church’s care, to which you are both witnesses and actors.  And so, through our meeting, we will also try to involve other Bishops’ Conferences in this pastoral adventure.

We note, however, that in recent times, the “milieu” of the highways and railroad stations has undergone a radical transformation: that is, they have really become “plazas” and areopaguses of evangelization for us where most of man’s needs are satisfied, and where the Church has also begun to find her place.  Along the many winding highways and in some railroad stations, in fact, there is a chapel and/or a place of prayer and religious meditation.  There are many passengers, employees and workers who feel the need for recollection even in a frenetic environment.  This is what results, for example, from the reflections and intentions written at times in the guest books kept in our chapels.  Many people feel the need to entrust themselves to God during their trip (which is a symbol of our life, as we said) and make Him present in their life of mobility.

The chaplain or pastoral assistant in this sector thus carries out a delicate and important mission, even if it is not easy to define it.  It is a presence, which, first of all, gives witness to the crucified and risen Christ.  Although the relation that travelers or passengers have with the chaplain is usually rather brief, it can turn out to be quite significant, especially if he is a “competent” minister, i.e., capable of sensing the situations and moments of tension and difficulty of the persons he meets, and turn them into moments of grace for them.  By enlisting the aid of volunteers as well, the chaplain can thus commit himself in this apostolate also by promoting dialogue with those who are not Catholic or Christian.

Formation to Christian Responsibility, Solidarity and Fraternity on the Roads and Railroads

In our reflection on this aspect, we begin with the words of Pope Paul VI to the Automobil Club of Italy: “How sad it is to note that the progress made in this sector, despite all good will, is unfortunately often disregarded!  One brother still kills another, not only in the hotbeds of war around the world, but also on the roads when he fails to observe strictly the rules of road traffic. (…) 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 help 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 norms of the Law of God and the moral conscience.  We encourage the Authorities and Bodies, like yours, which are dedicated to this noble end; and we invite you to not lose heart, confident that man’s innate nobility will also be affirmed more and more in road education”[2] .

To a greater or lesser degree, we all use the roads and the railroad, much more than in the past thanks to mechanization and many needs.  The roads of communications are now a factor that influences our psychology even before our system of life.  Therefore, mature awareness is needed about everything entailed by this phenomenon, the risks and dangers as well as the possibilities for good so that the road will become a place where Christian responsibility, solidarity and fraternity are concretely exercised in the light of the social virtues – gentleness, courtesy, adaptability – and, above all, charity towards one’s neighbour, Christian love that anticipates, aids and assists.  Therefore, the mobility of the pastoral charity of our entire Church must answer to the mobility of the modern world.

In another document we read the following: “Mobility as such cannot be considered an enemy of faith; and the Church makes prudent efforts to evaluate those potentials that make it an instrument of evangelization”[3].  Our pastoral action also aims at this noble end in response to the force with which this problem, in its different dimensions, affects the Church today and calls upon all her members.

It is for this undertaking that we have convened you precisely to listen to your experiences, achievements and difficulties, in order to share them and help others to understand the importance of these new and old agora for the proclamation of the Good News.

We, as the Pontifical Council, thus begin a new journey with you today.  We will have to create and invent many things – I think - in order to respond to the challenges that the world of human mobility is presenting to us today.  For this reason, we appreciate very much your positive response (and those of the Bishops’ Conferences to whom you belong or are representing) to our appeal, to our call.  We are convinced that you will give us useful indications, which, I repeat, are the fruit of your pastoral experience, for the future development of this common mission.  I am certain that we will mutually enrich one another in dialogue and in sharing.

After all, we also have to consider that to follow the road, whatever it may be, by trying to meet its principal “inhabitants” is a suitable idea to begin our renewed pastoral voyage.  Herein lies the first necessary “welcome”, the key reality for the pastoral care of Migrants and Itinerant People for which we are responsible.

I will conclude by referring the opinion that considers “movement” the new “creed” of humanity today.  We will try to make this movement live in faith, charity and Christian hope.

To sum up, I would like to repeat here the questions that will concern us in these days, as we proposed them to you in our letter of convocation:

Road education,

Associations of Christian inspiration,

professionals of the road,

chapels and religious services on the highways,

connection with the railroads,

possible commitment regarding those with no fixed abode (‘street dwellers’).

Thank you very much!

[1] Chiara Amirante, Stazione Termini. Storie di droga, aids, prostituzione. See book review in People on the Move, No. 90, 2003

[2] Paul VI, “Le precise norme della Legge di Dio e della coscienza morale nell’uso della strada”, (November 30, 1972); Insegnamenti di Paolo VI, X (1972), pp. 1220-1222.

[3] See: “The Church and Human Mobility”, No. 7