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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 99 (Suppl.), December 2005



Presentation of the theme 

of the Congress



Archbishop Agostino Marchetto

Secretary of the Pontifical Council 

for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People



Following the welcome address of His Eminence, there is no need for me, as Secretary of our Pontifical Council, to welcome you again. I am happy to see so many well-qualified delegates coming from several countries both from Europe and from America. In preparing this Congress, in the hope of raising awareness about the problems of circus and traveling show people, and of persons working in carnivals and amusement parks, we requested almost all the Episcopal Conferences of the five continents to indicate a person – priest, religious or lay person – with whom we could correspond and invite to this Congress. Unfortunately, many neither have a circus ministry in their countries nor priests to assign to this work due to their scarcity. However I am pleased to note that we have representatives from almost all countries in Europe and from the United States, Mexico and Chile. 

I know that all of you have taken the trouble of coming, with some of you making long journeys, and all of you, I am sure, have put aside your parish and office work and pastoral duties to be present at this important Congress. It is a tangible sign of your zeal and concern for the pastoral care of people in circuses, fairs, carnivals and similar activities. It is also a manifestation of your love for the Church and the Holy See and of your loving attention for people on the move. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your valuable presence and participation, and for the contribution that you will be able to make to this international meeting. 

Some of you will remember that in December 1993, we celebrated the last International Meeting of this sector. After that we had several occasions to come together and meet each other, for instance, during the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, during the Congresses organised by the FORUM, and at the National Conferences, especially in the United States and in Italy. But we have not had a real international congress during the past eleven years to study and discuss about the pastoral care of circus and traveling show people and its evolution in the past decade, in spite of the fact that there have been a lot of changes during that period. Well, we are here now to examine them in the coming days and to give answers to them. 

In preparation for this Congress, our Pontifical Council convened a meeting of all national directors exactly one year ago, on 12th and 13th December 2003. The scope of the meeting was to have their consensus regarding the venue, period, theme, speakers, funds, etc. The Pontifical Council wished that this congress be the voice, as far as possible, of the representatives of all the local Churches concerned with the pastoral care of circus and traveling show people. We are very grateful to the national directors for their whole-hearted cooperation in the realization of this Congress, for their valuable suggestions, encouragement, and support both spiritual and financial.

During the thirty-four years of history of our Pontifical Council, there were only six International Conferences of the Pastoral Care for Circus and Traveling Show People. The first three were organized on the occasion of the Congresses of European Showmen’s Union (ESU/UFE). The Fourth Congress was organized in Rome by the Pontifical Council, in concomitance with the Second International Congress for Gypsies, and on that occasion the participants requested a separate meeting, in the future, for Circus and Traveling Show People. As a result the Fifth Congress was realized in 1985, for the first time only for this specific Sector. This was a big leap forward, and during this Fifth Congress, the Pastoral Care for Circus and Traveling Show People found its own specific identity. The last Congress held in Rome in 1993 was a big event for the large number of participants because, for the first time, ninety pastoral workers attended. This time too our number is almost the same. The Holy Father received the participants of the last congress and expressed his appreciation and support for this ministry. 

The Pope said at that time: “I would like to convey my esteem and regard for all those who set up their craft in towns and villages, offering a moment of festivity and friendship to their visitors. The great future of these professions consists in coaxing a smile from a child, brightening for an instant the blank stare of a lonely person, and through shows and entertainment, bringing people closer to one another. And I have not forgotten those who set up and take down all the equipment and who see to the security of the spectators, with a scrupulous sense of personal and collective responsibility.” So, as you see, the Holy Father had a kind word to everyone. 

In choosing the general theme of the present congress, we took into consideration those of the past six congresses and tried to keep continuity by selecting this one: Welcoming the Circus and Traveling Show People – from diversity to friendly coexistence of differences. As you see, the underlying concept is WELCOMING, a theme that all the National Directors gathered in Rome last December thought would be most relevant, considering the actual situation of our brothers and sisters in the circus and traveling show world. In fact for the last six Congresses, the themes discussed were: The Church at the service of the circus and traveling show people; Study on the mentality, behavior and expectations of young circus and traveling Show people; Pastoral care of Circus and show people; Towards a youth ministry of circus and traveling show people; From profane feast to Christian feast. The theme of the last Congress was: “Towards new evangelization in the world of circuses and traveling show people – Educating young people in the faith”. 

Now we face the theme “Welcoming the Circus and the Carnival People – From diversity to a friendly coexistence of differences”. The last part of the theme is a citation from the Message of Pope John Paul II for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees for this year, and we thought it would be a good idea to associate our Congress with the teachings of our Holy Father, who says: “When ‘diversities’ converge and are integrated they start a ‘friendly coexistence of differences’. Values are rediscovered that are common to every culture, which unite rather than divide and have put down roots in the same human soil. This encourages the development of a fruitful dialogue in order to prepare a path to reciprocal tolerance, realistic and respectful of the particularities of each one” (N. 5, §3). On the other hand “welcome” is one of the key words of our very recent Instruction The Love of Christ towards Migrants or Erga migrantes caritas Christi (Part II, N. 34-69).

In fact, the aforementioned document says: “The Church, sacrament of unity, overcomes ideological or racial barriers and divisions and proclaims to all people and all cultures the need to strive for the truth in the perspective of correctly facing differences by dialogue and mutual acceptance. Different cultural identities are thus to open up to a universal way of understanding, not abandoning their own positive elements by putting them at the service of the whole of humanity. While this logic engages every particular Church, it highlights and reveals that unity in diversity that is contemplated in the Trinity, which, for its part, refers the communion of all to the fullness of the personal life of each one” (EMCC 34). 

In other words the Catholic faithful are asked to face differences by means of dialogue and mutual acceptance. In this regard it would be useful to consult pp. 37-51 of our review People on the Move, no. 96, that refers to some excerpts of our recent documents about the ecumenical, inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue. Here I will read only the subtitles: 

necessity of dialogue, 

a pastoral care based on dialogue, 

dialogue and mission, 

formation for dialogue, 

the school educates to dialogue, 

dialogue with the local population, 

dialogue against prejudices, racism and xenophobia, 

dialogue in view of integration (not assimilation), 

dialogue in view of inculturation, 

dialogue implies reciprocity, 

the dialogue of life, 

dialogue and new evangelization, 

dialogue, liturgy, prayer and places of worship, 

dialogue and marriage, 

dialogue leads to communion in diversity, 

dialogue and ecclesial discipline. 

As you heard, the key word is dialogue, and I think it must also be so for the pastoral care of the people of the circus and carnivals. This was also the key word of our last Plenary Assembly (see People on the Move, no. 96). The people of the circus and traveling show are in fact often men and women coming from different countries, faiths and cultures. They are “foreigners” to us, or migrant workers. In this respect Pope John Paul II says, in his Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Europa, that Christians must in fact promote an authentic culture of welcome (EEu 101) capable of accepting the truly human values of the immigrants over and above any difficulties caused by living together with persons who are different (EEu 85). It is an echo of the Apostle Paul’s admonition to the Romans: “Welcome one another then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rm 15.7).

Again the same Instruction states that “in religious instruction and catechesis suitable means must be found to create in the Christian conscience a sense of welcome, especially for the poorest and outcasts as migrants often are. This welcome is fully based on love for Christ, in the certainty that good done out of love of God to one’s neighbour, especially the most needy, is done to Him” (EMCC 41). 

This sense of welcome is not only the duty of bishops, priests or of religious men and women, but “all lay faithful too, though they may not have any social functions or tasks, are to embark on the journey of communion, which implies accepting legitimate diversity … Fraternal dialogue and mutual respect, the living testimony of love and welcome, this constitute in themselves the first and indispensable form of evangelisation” (EMCC 99). Thus the teaching of the Church on welcoming “others” is very clear from the aforementioned Instruction of our Pontifical Council. It is our task now, helped by this important Congress of ours, to put it into practice in our daily life, also in welcoming circus and traveling show people in our towns and parishes.

With regard to the talks that will be given during the Congress, the first will be a theological exposition of our theme, namely on the sacredness of welcoming in the Holy Scriptures. The speaker is a distinguished biblical scholar and author of numerous books, Msgr. Bruno Maggioni. From biblical theology, we will go into the practical aspects of welcoming, with Bishop Lino Bortolo Belotti, who, with his long years of experience, first as migrant chaplain in Switzerland and then as the General Director of Migrantes, knows the reality of circus and traveling show people. In the last General Assembly of the Italian Bishops’ Conference held in Assisi, Bishop Belotti was elected President of the Episcopal Commission for Migrations (CEMi). So we are very grateful to him for dedicating some of his time to us in spite of his numerous commitments. 

Fr. Dominique Joly, OFM, is a well-known personality in the world of circus and traveling show, since he was and still is a chaplain to them. He was the National Director in France and he will speak about the young circus and traveling show people, protagonists of a dialogue between faith and culture. Similarly, Rev. Dr. Sergio Ferrero Varela, from the Diocese of Malaga in Spain, is a chaplain to circuses and traveling shows. He is founder and collaborator of Teléfono de la Esperanza (Telephone of Hope). On the morning of the 15th he will speak on the circus and traveling show family as a community for transmitting human and Christian values. 

So you see the main topics (sub-themes) that comprise the general object of the analysis and reflections of this Congress in view of future action. In the workshops, you will discuss these topics in detail and, based on your considerations, we will draw up the conclusions. So I recommend that you give due importance to the workshops. For practical reasons they are divided on the basis of language. You will find your name in one of the lists placed already in the folder distributed to you at registration. The workshop rooms will be indicated later.     

On the 13th and 14th, afternoons, there will be two Round Table discussions: participants in the first one will be the National Directors, who will discuss the main theme of the Congress, that is, hospitality of the particular Church towards circus and traveling show people. The moderator of this Round Table will be Msgr. Roger Vangheluwe, Bishop of Bruges and Episcopal Promoter for this ministry in his country. The second Round Table will see the participation of some young circus and traveling show people who will discuss the expectations that the young people in circuses and traveling shows have of Catholic communities. Fr. Wolfgang Miehle, who is the National Director of the Office for Migrations of the German Bishops’ Conference, will be the moderator. 

Since this is a Congress of circus and traveling shows, you will naturally expect a related entertainment during these days. Unfortunately there are no circuses in town during this period. So we hope to have something like it here in this hall during the intervals and in the evenings, unfortunately without lions and elephants, of course. We have also arranged a special visit to Piazza Navona, on these special days before Christmas, and to the Sistine Chapel. The latter has recently been restored after several years of work that has given it back its original beauty. There we will see a depiction of the “human circus”, or rather the destiny of the “human circus”, inasmuch as the life of every human being is nothing else but a theatre and a tragedy. 

The success of the congress depends on each one of you and on your active participation. I wish you a very fruitful work in the coming days. May God bless us all!