Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People
People on the Move
N° 99 (Suppl.), December 2005
Hospitality of the particular Church
towards the Circus and Traveling
Rev. John Vakulskas, Jr
Carnival Chaplain Coordinator
United States of America
I want to thank you most sincerely for the opportunity to address the VII International Congress of the Pastoral Care for Circus and Traveling Show People. The Holy Father has always expressed the need for spiritual outreach for people on the move.
The Hospitality of the Particular Church towards the Circus and Traveling Show People.
The coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, was heralded to a Jewish nation for centuries. Prophets told of the Savior, from the house of David, who was to save us from our sins, open the gates of heaven and be the Prince of Peace. The Jewish nation was a pilgrim people.
The news of the birth of the Christ Child was given first to the lowly shepherds, constantly on the move to find better pastures for their sheep. Jesus reminded us later that He was the Good Shepherd, leading his sheep and laying down his life for his sheep.
The city of David hosted the birth of the Savior, but it was a matter of a few days that indeed the Holy Family was on the move to another country for safety's sake. Beginning his life of ministry, he was on the move, reaching out to the masses, finding people where they lived and worked and played. Jesus was an itinerant preacher. He pitched his tent among us. He walked along the seashore. He is God of the road, not the couch recliner . What do you see? Come, follow me.
He was reaching out to the children, the sick, the lame, even the prostitutes and tax collectors and all variety of sinners, all in the name of calling people to conversion, reminding them of the infinite love and mercy of God.
In Jesus' ministry He went to where the people were, he accepted them as they were, reminding them that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without the knowledge of the Heavenly Father.
The mission of the Gospel continues today. We are a pilgrim people on a spiritual journey. Food is needed for the journey. Not just material food but spiritual food.
The Holy See has always been in the forefront of encouraging programs to support and enhance strong family life and in this instance, family entertainment. There are about 300 carnivals or traveling shows in the United States providing family entertainment to all God's children.
For the past 35 years I have been ministering to the spiritual needs of carnival workers in the United States of America. When I visit a show, I visit with area pastors about the need for the local parish to reach out to the spiritual needs of the traveling parish which has just entered their town. Sadly, most parish communities ignore the fact that this is an opportunity to practice the spiritual gift of hospitality. Some parishes do not welcome the workers and their families at all. I must add that in some areas, local churches go out of their way to offer hospitality, even sometimes providing things like a courtesy meal.
One particular fair board I know of personally goes out of its way to contact local businesses to assure the traveling shows that the prices they pay for goods and services and repairs will be the same prices that the local citizens will be paying. That same fair board also has told the traveling show people that if they feel that some local business has cheated them in any way, to please inform them of this and the fair board members will seek justice for this.
Many local church members are on the governing boards of fairs and they need to be conscious that hospitality also extends to the fact that at many locations, the workers' travel trailers are not accorded even the basic needs of water and sewer and electrical hook ups. The conditions that most carnival workers must endure do not even meet the minimal needs of human beings. One wonders if the motivation for this neglect is deliberate or benign. Fair boards must reach out in a conscious way to provide these basic necessities, and the fees charged for these must be reasonable and proper.
When a traveling show comes to a local area, it is common for people to get excited by the rides, the games, the music, the lights, the festive atmosphere and the feeling and attitude of celebration. It is also common for the local people to be oblivious to the fact that all this entertainment takes people to set it up, operate it safely and competently, and at the end of the celebration to dismantle it and move to the next festival and begin the process all over again. As a result, many of the needs of the carnival worker are neglected.
This neglect many times is unintended but it is still neglect. As good Christians and good stewards we must be more conscious of these needs. This must be provided not only out of fellowship and charity but also out of justice. In the spiritual realm, it is very important for local parish churches to offer Mass and other services for the carnival workers and for the public who attend these fairs and festivals. It is important to schedule these at a time that adapts to the needs of the show people. Their schedule can be totally different from the people they serve at these festivals.
Some churches will open their doors and let the show people know what time Mass is, but many times it is impossible to leave the lot and go to the church. That is why it is important to "bring the church to the show people". In that way, bringing the Lord to their "home" is an opportunity for the show people to be accepted by the local worshipping community. Many other churches of various denominations are doing this. It is time for the Catholic Church to show this outreach.
Churches need to reach out and ask: "How can we serve you with Christian hospitality?" rather than "Here is our schedule, make your schedule fit into ours." I know of one church that means well in having Eucharist at the traveling show. But the local church schedules it for 7:00 am. Most show people are working until the early hours of the morning and with this schedule it serves no one and the local church cannot understand why very few people are in attendance.
I am reminded of the words of Saint John of the Cross: "In the evening of life, we will be judged by how well we loved."
I urge all People of God to come to the midway. Meet and greet your brothers and sisters in the Lord. Meet with the show owners. Meet with the workers. Let them know you are there to serve their needs, and let them know your parish church takes seriously its stewardship call to hospitality and outreach.