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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

Press release

The First European Meeting of the National Directors of the Apostleship of the Road was held on 3 and 4 February 2003 at the headquarters of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People at Vatican City.

It was attended by four bishops, national directors and delegates from the Bishops’ Conferences of the following eleven European countries: Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Czech Republic, Croatia, France, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and Ukraine. It is important to note the active presence and the proportionally large number of countries from Eastern Europe.

In his introduction to the working session, the President of the Pontifical Council, H.E. Msgr Stephen Fumio Hamao, pointed out that consideration of human mobility from the viewpoint of the world of the road is quite a recent innovation that calls for the attention and pastoral care of the Church. In particular, the archbishop said: “the road is becoming a place of expressing fraternity” to promote a Christian culture of the road.

Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, Secretary of the Dicastery, - taking up the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council’s request to read the signs of the times (cf. GS 24) -  outlined some criteria for evaluating these new phenomena of mobility in the sector of roads so as to provide an adequate response to them. He sees them making up a vast new area of apostleship, which calls for new givers and receivers of pastoral care and protagonists. He was referring to long-distance lorry drivers, car and bus drivers, tourists, road safety officers, filling station attendants, etc., and also the homeless (those who “live on the road”), with particular concern for children, many of whom live “on the streets” and “under the streets” of large indifferent cities.

Roads, therefore, are not just thoroughfares or routes of passage but also meeting places.  So, as a result of the socio-cultural exchanges taking place there, a motorway or a railway station becomes a forum - an Areopagus - for new evangelisation. This gives rise to the urgent need to train pastoral agents, priests, deacons, religious men and women, and lay people, who know how to bring alive and bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord, with suitable and creative forms of apostleship.

In dealing with these new phenomena, Church institutions and organisations and Christian associations and movements, as well as those civil authorities and bodies concerned, should improve coordination of efforts and resources in promoting the dignity of people as road users by pooling all their resources relating to a sense of responsibility, fraternity and solidarity. In this way, the mobility of the modern world should correspond to the mobility of the pastoral care of the Church and to refocused attention on this area by the management of public authorities. Some positive signs can already be noted in this respect.

Subsequent contributions by those attending the meeting highlighted positive aspects of the current “road phenomenon” - so to speak - achieved thanks to new technologies, cultural acquisitions and ways of behaviour that promote the human person and socialisation. The Church thus regards this “phenomenon” sympathetically and invites us to embrace its underlying spiritual and theological values, which reveal God’s will (benevolence) for humanity. Indeed, roads can encourage personal interaction, and thereby a life of more intense relations, that render travel easier and offer greater freedom and safety at the same time. Movement is thus a human value, which can also reveal God and provide us with the opportunity to recognise the fellowship of humanity or faith in another person. Today’s “credo” - as some would define movement - should in any case be experienced by believers with faith, hope and charity. For Christians, animated by these theological as well as cardinal virtues, the road thus becomes a path of sanctification.

Don Vicente Hernandez García, the former National Director in Spain, then gave a lengthy, in-depth presentation of the past and present of this pastoral care and outlined future prospects. The Church’s commitment in this particular sector began long ago in Spain with initiatives aimed at lorry drivers and then other categories of road users. The objective was, and is, to raise awareness regarding road safety and the mutual responsibility of pedestrians and drivers.

Don Hernandez García also stressed the urgent need to evangelise among those immersed in traffic, promoting values that are rooted in the commandment to love and respect one’s own life and those of others.

Thus, the apostleship of the road is mainly aimed at fostering greater awareness of the need to lay the basic foundations for peacefully living together, even on the roads, in a society that needs to become less aggressive, domineering and violent. This calls for urgent implementation of social virtues, such as meekness, respect for rights and duties and prudence.

The Church also intends to lift the veil on the great drama of suffering caused by road accidents, 90% of which are due to human error. During the 20th century, 35 million people died and a billion and a half were injured in road accidents. This obviously draws the attention of our pastoral care.

Faced with this tragedy, utmost priority should be given to a common commitment to road safety education, even from early childhood, and to attention for the families of those who died on the road and for those injured with the purpose of fostering mutual understanding and forgiveness. Those involved should include civil society, Churches and ecclesial communities, as well as the leaders of the various religious faiths. The apostleship of the road should also support its “professionals”, make the mass media aware of the situation and problems of traffic and  promote collaboration between pastoral care agents and those responsible for road traffic. Equally important are safety measures for vehicles, road practicability, observance of the Traffic Code, at least some reduction of pollution, the safeguarding of living creatures and taking care of vehicle insurance matters.

The participants also focused on rail traffic by analysing initiatives in progress and its possible inclusion under the Apostleship of the Road.

The worrying problem of those “who live on the road” was also considered, particularly regarding the dramatic rise in the number of children concerned. Urgent global pastoral action was envisaged, in addition to the commendable charitable initiatives underway, although, as some of us are well aware, it is difficult to include such actions in the current structures of the Apostleship of the Road.

The objectives of the Apostleship of the Road regarding pastoral care agents and the Pontifical Council were then analysed.

As far as pastoral agents are concerned, evidence from various countries indicates the presence of some prophetic figures working with groups of road users, such as, for example, motorcyclists. Such presence of a specific apostolic charisma will be looked into by the bishops, likewise with a view to promoting the necessary pastoral structures. Pastoral agents must also undergo suitable preparation and training.

A service is envisaged at the Pontifical Council to coordinate all the ecclesial organisations connected with road users and to encourage and stimulate the Bishops’ Conferences in countries where such an apostolate doesn’t yet exist. More specifically, debate took place on whether it is necessary to draft a document on this pastoral care, either as a directory or guidelines, whether or not to celebrate an international day and convene meetings at the regional level for the Apostleship of the Road in other continents, possibly with a view to holding a world conference.

At the end of this European Meeting, the National Directors and Representatives of Bishops’ Conferences for the Apostleship of the Road, after an exchange of news, opinions and in-depth analyses, expressed appreciation for the initiatives already undertaken by local Churches and recognized the diversity of pastoral situations in the different countries. The meeting also considered the recently acquired freedom of Churches that had undergone a time of troubles and persecution. These Churches now wish to know the pastoral experiences in the West that are not strictly linked to territory for the sake of a new evangelisation.

The participants reaffirmed their intention to continue the work carried out during the two-day meeting and examined future “tactics” and “strategies”, setting themselves, among others, the following objectives:

1) to promote greater awareness of the urgency of the Apostleship of the Road. In particular, where they do not exist, initiatives and structures - even if on a small scale - should be set up at least at the national level (within Bishops’ Conferences). The formation of reflection groups was proposed to look more deeply into the current situation and identify the best opportunities for future actions. In countries where this particular pastoral care is already well established, efforts should be made to expand and strengthen it, reaching, if possible, all dioceses.

2) To step up the exchange of information and materials regarding pastoral experiences among Bishops’ Conferences in order to make progress together in pastoral efforts in Europe.

In this respect, it would appear opportune to fix a common date to celebrate a Road Safety Day, perhaps at the same time as similar European Union initiatives, by studying ways of civil and religious collaboration with the common purpose of fostering the welfare of the family of nations.

3) To prepare a second meeting of the national directors of the European pastoral organisations in the sector, to take place in three years’ time, thanks to the initiative and coordination of the Pontifical Council. In the meantime, the national directors and the delegates of Bishops’ Conferences will continue to consolidate their activities, which they will present at the next meeting.

This will be aided by the drawing up of general and practical guidelines on the Apostleship of the Road, which will be the responsibility of the Pontifical Council, but with suggestions and comments being provided by all the participants at the meeting.

Finally, since the problem of traffic and the Apostleship of the Road is an urgent matter everywhere, even though in different ways, it was deemed opportune to try and hold other similar meetings at the continental level, also ahead of a possible future world conference on the theme of the Apostleship of the Road, once the time is ripe for such an event.