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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 102, December 2006






Theme “On the road to sustainable mobility”

(Rome, 1st and 2nd December 2006)



I. The Event

The II International Meeting on the Pastoral Care of the Road took place on December 1st and 2nd, 2006, in the offices of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, at Palazzo San Calisto, Vatican City.

The participants were 5 Bishops, several National Directors or Representatives of the Bishops’ Conferences, and experts, from 21 countries: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia-Erzegovina, Brazil, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, England, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain, including a representative of the Latin-American Bishops’ Council (CELAM). There were also delegates from “Die Akademie Bruderhilfe-familienfürsorge” and the Italian National Association of Sociologists. Also to be noted is the presence of a chaplain working for the pastoral care of the railways and of 3 representatives of the pastoral care of the inhabitants of the streets (street children, women of the street and the homeless).

The best wishes, conveyed by the message of the Holy Father Benedict XVI, were particularly heartening. He expressed sincere appreciation for the initiative “which intends to examine more profoundly and promote pastoral action for those who work or are found living on the streets”, with the hope “that ecclesial attention would always be nourished by constant love and generous resolutions of exemplary witness to the Christian faith.”

The President of the Pontifical Council, His Eminence Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, greeted the participants and underlined the fact that to defend life it is necessary to observe traffic rules, because breaking them would “lead to serious loss of human lives.” However, since this sector is made up of different categories, he stated that the meeting intends to give an opportunity to reflect on the “pastoral needs of the sector, according to its various expressions … and try to offer appropriate responses.” However, particularly “through an exchange of varied experiences”, it will be possible to identify “the most appropriate means to assist travelers and transportation workers, as well as inhabitants of the street.”  

Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, Secretary of the Dicastery, introduced the sessions by linking “the apostolate of the road to the sign of the times,[specifically]human mobility”, which includes two broad aspects: migration and itinerancy. He subsequently listed out the people to whom this pastoral care is addressed: “drivers and their companions, as well as those engaged in occupations that serve their needs”, without forgetting, however, the inhabitants of the road, i.e. street children, women of the street and the homeless. The Archbishop defined the pastoral care of the road and the street as “the gaze of the Good Samaritan” which must be concretely translated into “a presence of welcome and service, in the broad sense of the term”. Finally, Archbishop Marchetto explained the objective of the meeting, which is that of “collocating our specific task, which has a real and social perspective”, within the context of our “evangelizing mission and the promotion of human life”, including a “renewed proposal of ethical and Christian values”. 

The first day was dedicated to the pastoral care of professionals and users of the road, as well as of workers in services for their benefit. The sessions began with a presentation by the Archbishop emeritus of Sens-Auxerre, H.E. Msgr. Georges Gilson. He identified the invention of the internal combustion engine and the reaction engine as one of the technical revolutions of our times, significant for the transport of persons and things. It “multiplied our capacity to run, to move and to travel by ten”. However, man is the person in command of the motor vehicle, and not the engine. He has the authority to decide at what speed he would travel and whether or not to obey traffic rules. The human person is therefore responsible towards himself, his own life and that of others, and towards the environment. Thus, it is necessary to educate people towards “sustainable” mobility, so as to guarantee road safety and social responsibility, as well as to carry out the Lord’s command: “Love one another as I have loved you.” 

This was followed by a presentation of experiences from Spain, Brazil and Germany. 

Bro. Juan Rivera, FSC, National Director for the pastoral care of the road in Spain, made a detailed and an in-depth exposition of the history, the present commitment and the challenges of this pastoral care in his country. It requires the involvement of the individual dioceses, together with the Bishops’ Conference, and a productive collaboration with civil institutions connected with the world of transport. This means that, also on the part of lay professionals, there is a growing awareness of the importance of animating and participating in this specific pastoral care. Finally, Bro. Rivera said he hoped for its development in all dioceses and a deeper collaboration with the other Departments of the Bishops’ Conference.

The Brazilian experience was presented by Rev. Fr. Marian Litewka, CM. He sees the Eucharist as the starting point and the summit of the nation’s Pastoral Care of the Road, but the presence of the Church is also manifested “in the trips[of pastoral agents]and during[their]visits to establishments offering services along the road”. The objectives of these visits include the need “to create an atmosphere of friendship on the road” and to “give importance to … those who live and work on the road”, as the Gospel recommends. Concretely, Holy Mass is celebrated in the open space of the road service station area, which road workers consider their own territory. Otherwise, the celebration takes place inside the truck-chapel, with the congregation gathered around it in the open air.   

Msgr. Wolfgang Miehle, National Director for migration of the German Bishops’ Conference, discussed the pastoral care of truck drivers. On his part, he underlined the solitude they experience in the course of their work, as they travel alone through long stretches of highways, for days and even weeks. The result is difficulty in establishing social relations, even within their own families. Besides, truck drivers have very hard working conditions, bordering on exploitation. Indeed they can be considered poor, for whom the Church should make a preferential option. They are however sensitive to pastoral care, which must be characterized by getting to them wherever they are, in the parking areas and in highway stops. Pastors and pastoral agents should therefore be available in places that can easily be reached “on the way”. A positive experience in this context is “Kanal K”, a telephone hotline for truck drivers, on the initiative of the Commission for the pastoral care of business enterprises in Southern Germany. Through it, a truck driver can get in touch with a priest or another pastoral agent. The presence of churches along the highways, in addition to the “church truck” at the highway stop, for example, is considered a particularly apt opportunity.

Railways, too, are roads, although they have rails. Msgr. OlivieroPelliccioni, chaplain of the Termini train station in Rome, traced the history of this pastoral care in Italy, and illustrated its objectives. It started as a pastoral care of business enterprises addressing train crews, first of all, and was meant to accompany them in their specific work activity, through presence and “company” rather than discussions. The chaplain, or pastoral agent, must therefore be “a friend, a brother” for them, able to assimilate their language and aspirations, knowing how to listen with esteem and trust, spending time with them without judging, establishing relationships and remaining constantly updated on the problems of such an environment. “Respectfully recognizing the competence of the laity”, the chaplain assembles “the faithful by means of the Word of God and the Eucharist”.    

The second day dealt with the pastoral care of the inhabitants of the street: children and women of the street, and the homeless. Three lady experts communicated their experiences in this regard, forcefully and inspiringly. They too gave witness to the solitude experienced by those who live on the street, a different and perhaps more painful kind, and expressed their joy in coming in contact with their communities. 

In a very moving fashion, Dr. Chiara Amirante, president of “Nuovi Orizzonti” Association, presented the pastoral work that her association carries out for street children and the women of the street. The aim is not just humanitarian aid, but most of all to guide them towards responding to the love of Him who gave His life for us in order to overcome death. They can get involved to such a point that they themselves become apostles of evangelization and hope on the streets.

Dr. Francesca Zuccari spoke on behalf of the Community of “Sant’Egidio”, and illustrated their commitment in favor of homeless people and of street children, along the footsteps of the Good Samaritan. The Community works in this area not only in Italy and Europe, but also in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

On her part, Sr. Eugenia Bonetti, M.C., presented her experience that has been going on for decades on behalf of women and minors who are victims of trafficking of human beings and exploitation on the streets. She also spoke about the commitment of the congregations of women religious in this pastoral activity, geared to free these people and help them build their lives anew. Moreover, she expressed the hope that congregations of men religious would likewise get involved in the rehabilitation of the victims and the re-education of the “consumers of sex”.   

Finally, Fr. Christopher Riley, salesian, gave a brief presentation of his rich experience in the rehabilitation of street children in Australia. He recommended courage and perseverance, without ever giving up, in carrying out this pastoral action. 

Sharing among the participants continued and intensified in the workshops. The themes discussed were: “Roads and railways” and “Inhabitants of the street”.


II. Conclusions

In the mysterious plan of the history of salvation, God joined man in his condition as a traveler, as the searcher for the Absolute, and communicated Himself to him along the way. He called him to a communion of love, with Him who is the origin and fulfillment of every good. God reveals himself as the liberator of an oppressed people in need of freedom and light, truth, rules in order to find the meaning of his life and the answer to his wandering. The epic of the Exodus offers the paradigm of God’s compassion and the answer of man who leaves his land of exile to go back to his country, the land of promise, to which he is drawn by the Lord’s revelation. 

Man’s existence is emblematically represented in this way, as torn between the desire for true freedom and his own incoherence and incapacity to achieve it by himself. God gives his Alliance as a sign of peace, security and happiness-beauty, giving man a confirmation of the possibility to free himself from the slavery of things and of an alienating society, from the weight of absolute autonomy, and thus entrust himself knowingly to the reassuring benevolence of God, in the novelty of being his “child”.

The Church therefore follows man’s journey with interest and solicitude, according to the will of God in Christ. Where human beings are, with their joys and sorrows, there is the Church, with its pastoral presence. Ecclesial attention for human mobility, however, does not end with a presence of a general kind. Rather, it is manifested in the proclamation of the Gospel, through witness, the word, and pastoral action in those places and environments where contemporary men and women lead a particular way of life, a result of taking up responsibility at work or in attempting to survive.

In this perspective, the “street” becomes a sign of life and defines a way of being men and women in a society that is thrown into the realm of speed and change, competition and consumption, wherein those who do not run, compete or consume are pushed to the corner of indifference and neglect, like those who are exploited or live on the streets. This is how the human person fulfills his being a “traveler”, who comes from afar and goes far, also on the road. With the means of transportation the roads are transformed and become goods used by those who, as travelers, are in danger of being transformed into “mobile” persons, “auto-mobiles”, who drive themselves in a falsely autonomous way.

In this route, those who carry out their profession by driving through the highways over long stretches of time (like truck drivers, for instance), run the risk of feeling extremely lonely, far from their family and their dignity. For this reason, the Church, educator and mother, puts into action a pastoral care of meeting, in the dioceses, with the diocesan teams and the parish delegates, together with the different associations, ecclesial communities and movements. This is to render Christ present in the places of work and recreation, putting together specific and ordinary, territorial pastoral care, to manifest profound communion.  

Thus, the Lord Jesus accompanies the people in their daily lives, thanks also to the Church present in the community, in schools, in the airports, in train stations and on the roads and streets, by means of a pastoral care of meeting and welcome, there where men and women live every day, or where they stop in order to take up their work again later on, and go on their way. Indeed, the foundation of its pastoral work is the awareness that whatever is done to the least is done to Christ himself. Therefore, the Church also recognizes the dignity and the rights of the inhabitants of the street – children and women of the street, and the homeless – because they, too, are created to the image and likeness of God. The preferential option for the poor is thus renewed, so that they can live with respect and a fresh sense of responsibility.

Moreover, taking popular religiosity into consideration, in the light of “Jesus the traveler” and of the pilgrim Church, it was evident that attention was given to the Saints linked to the street and the invocation of their companionship and their protection. Chapels and shrines built along the roads and highways, and mobile chapels in parking areas, are destined to receive the modern pilgrim. They are important points of reference, both from the religious and the human points of view.

Faith, including its expression in terms of popular piety, elevates men and women from the insignificance and fragility of usual daily life, towards the beauty of the divine, manifested in the simple yet intense forms of devotion. Saints are chosen by popular devotion as friends and brothers who are close to us in our journeys. They are there on the road traveled by itinerant people and lead them to success, to their destination.     

The “mobile” person delineates a journey of freedom in rightful autonomy, with a true sense of responsibility towards himself and others. He pays special attention – in order to avoid them – to the provocations of our times that tend to promote a culture of excess, cradle of unrestrained and harmful egoism. 

At any rate, the pastoral care of the road is complex, also owing to the great variety of its recipients. Hence it is impossible to carry it out alone, each one on his own. The Church therefore must also carry out its role in “networking”, especially in defense of human life and dignity. It is a community expressed through charisms and ministries, and its members are called upon to carry out pastoral work so that through them, God can still intervene, always, in the history of humankind, in Christ, through the action of the Holy Spirit. The Lord of history saves in the course of history.


III. Recommendations

For the reasons mentioned above, it is recommended that,

  • for the benefit of drivers and professionals in road and rail transport:

- there be a more thorough examination of pastoral attention for a secure and sustainable mobility that respects life, human persons, their dignity, rights and destiny;

- a sharing of knowledge be promoted, and dialogue be encouraged among all social actors involved in mobility;

- contacts with the social means of communication be intensified, in order to invite them to analyze with greater care the messages they transmit daily and to become our allies in the work of education, including road education;

- the right of professional and workers of the road to have secure working conditions be safeguarded;

- places and occasions of meeting with professionals of the road be created, since differently from those who use a car for personal or family reasons, the former are more sensitive to the feeling of solitude and distance from their family.

- these meetings be held in places considered by the people involved as “their own”, like big parking areas, as well as highway stops;

- these meetings be turned into moments of a more intense spiritual life, with the possibility of growing in the faith;

- also those who are employed in establishments that offer various kinds of services to travelers and their means of transportation be considered as workers of the roads and railroads.

- the situation of street children and the women of the street, as well as the homeless, be considered as a state of absolute vulnerability;

- their unexpressed need for salvation and security be answered, by going to the places where they are, in the streets, and not merely waiting for them in reception centers;

- the quality of such centers be improved such that these may truly be places of welcome and solidarity, and an extended family, where spiritual, and not only material, needs are satisfied;

- the inhabitants of the street be helped to discover their own dignity and regain an adequate level of self-esteem; 

- they be loved, respected, kept near, be “called by name” in fact, so as to give them back a more human life. In this way, they in turn will learn to love one another and help others;

- a family be given to those who do not have one, or maybe never ever had one, especially the street children; 

- they be helped to reintegrate into society;

- they should not be compelled to follow prefabricated programs, but rather arrangements should be designed to respond to their needs;  

- activities be organized for children at risk, and appropriate associations be formed such that the street would lose the attraction that it may still have, in spite of everything; 

- work be done in the places where children and women of the street originate, above all, so that the causes of their wretched situation could be overcome;

- a pastoral care of presence, welcome and accompaniment be set up to give concrete responses to the needs that could arise;

- specific and territorial pastoral care be integrated;

- there be dialogue and networking with other ecclesial and non-ecclesial organisms, governmental and non-governmental institutions, as well as the organs of the State (ministries, parliament, police, penitentiaries, etc), so as to be able to change the reality, not only temporarily but permanently, if possible;    

- work be done for scholastic training and education, including value formation;

- suitable pastoral agents be identified and adequately formed;

- experiences and knowledge be shared with other pastoral agents;

- awareness be fostered among bishops and the dioceses, and among Catholic associations and movements, for a specific pastoral care of this type;

- parish structures – if available – be utilized, with due prudence, in providing material and spiritual assistance to children and women of the street and the homeless;

- in the milieu where pastoral care is carried out, in the different parts of the world, cultural and other differences should be taken into consideration;

- there be a process of awareness-building regarding the phenomenon of the “inhabitants of the street” and information be provided regarding action carried out to offer solutions to problems arising from such a situation; 

- the effort of awareness-building be continued with respect to society and the public institutions that are fundamentally mandated for the task of intervening; 

- work be done to change mentalities with respect to these new forms of poverty, exploitation and slavery, with the commitment to have the value and dignity of the human person rediscovered, leaving aside his objective or temporary conditions of life; 

- the creation of a specific website be considered, to facilitate a sharing of experiences and information in this important field of human and pastoral care.