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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 108 (Suppl.), December 2008





Cardinal Renato Raffaele MARTINO

President of the Pontifical Council

for the Pastoral Care of Migrant and Itinerant people


Dear Friends,

I welcome all of you very warmly to this First International Meeting for the Pastoral Care of the Homeless. The presence of so many you from throughout the world testifies to the fact that when we speak about homelessness we are dealing with a global phenomenon. I thank you for your collaboration, and above all for your on-going pastoral care in this important apostolate. Your experiences are very valuable to the Church, and to one another, as we seek to further our awareness and pastoral care of those who are homeless (clochards). I am also well aware that your daily service on behalf of the homeless is by no means an easy ministry, with its limited resources and changing boundaries. I am confident that this time spent together will be both encouraging and enriching, and will enable us here at the Pontifical Council to better understand this apostolate and the many diverse challenges that we face together.

Homelessness is not new; it has been here from the moment that sin entered the world and our first parents were expelled from the home that had been prepared for them. The wanderings of the Patriarchs and of the exile of the chosen people were sojourns in search of a home. Throughout his public ministry, Our Lord encountered many along side the road because they were homeless. His response was always the same: to restore them to the dignity of a new life through a personal relationship with the God who is love.

From the earliest days of the Church, the followers of Christ have heard and responded to the plight of the poor, the homeless and clochards.  In more recent times, the Encyclical Letter of Pope John Paul II,  Sollicitudo Rei Socialis addressed some of these same issues in the context of an ever changing and globalized world. 

In 1988 the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace issued a document entitled “What have you done to your homeless brother” for the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless. The document was an explicit attempt to address the specific problems that contribute to homelessness and its implications for society. Today we come together for this First World Meeting for the Pastoral Care of the Homeless (clochards), which has been initiated as part of a renewed concern for the human and spiritual dimensions of social problems which the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrant and Itinerant People seeks to address.  Moreover, this meeting serves as a follow-up to the publication by the Pontifical Council in May of this year, entitled Guidelines for The  Pastoral Care of the Road, which highlighted the need for more specific reflection on the pastoral care of the homeless (clochards).

The Gospel itself does not give us immediate solutions to the problems of homelessness; yet it does call for a radical response from each of us: to love our neighbour as ourselves. The call to be compassionate and to bind up wounds is at the heart of the parable of the Good Samaritan, for example. This means that we must not only be touched by others and their needs, we must respond to them from the very depths of our being. It means taking to the road in a spirit of solidarity with our brothers and sisters who may have no home, and assisting them spiritually and materially in ways that will enable them to ultimately experience the fullness of  the kingdom of God.

In his Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI offered us an insightful meditation on the pastoral care of the homeless and of clochards. In every encounter with the homeless, we cannot fail to reflect as individuals, as the Church, and as a society, upon the root causes of homelessness - above all on the problem of  poverty. Yet the Holy Father is clear when he says, “Christian charitable activity must be independent of parties and ideologies. It is not a means of changing the world ideologically, and it is not at the service of worldly stratagems, but it is a way of making present here and now the love which man always needs”.[1] Above all, at the heart of our activity must be love.  As St. Paul said in his Second Letter to the Corinthians: “the love of Christ urges us on.”[2] This sentiment was the inspiration behind the document Erga migrantes caritas Christi, published in 2004 by this Pontifical Council.

Pope Benedict XVI also emphasises that a relationship with God, guided and governed by prayer, must be at the heart of all pastoral care. We must also be people who receive strength through a personal encounter with Christ. It is here that we will find the source and strength to work on behalf of and in His name, for “If I have no contact whatsoever with God in my life, then I cannot see in the other anything more than the other, and I am incapable of seeing in him the image of God.”[3]  Lastly, Pope Benedict stresses that we must make a gift of our very selves.  It is not  enough to give temporal goods, we must be able to be ‘personally present’ in all that we do. The Holy Father continues to remind us that “Following the example given in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Christian charity is first of all the simple response to immediate needs and specific situations: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for and healing the sick, visiting those in prison, etc”.[4] Christian charity, however, says the Pope, is even more than this; for we must learn to see with the eyes of Christ and encounter others with the perspective of Christ. 

Of course, such a perspective requires that we ourselves enjoy a personal relationship with Christ. Our meeting here is a specifically Christian and ecclesial one: ‘In Christ and with the Church at the service of the homeless’. Many of you share ministry with others individuals, and are collaborators within organizations and institutions dedicated to the pastoral care of the homeless, the poor, and the downtrodden.  Together you are able, through your specific apostolates, to become a clear witness and an example to governments and communities, challenging them to recognize the dignity of each human person.  Unfortunately, too many people, as well as some governments and institutions, fail to acknowledge this inherent dignity, which can often be obscured by the problem of homelessness. Yet as Christians, I believe, we have the opportunity, and indeed the mandate, to witness in word and in deed to a better way. We are called to offer as well as to receive the love of God. Once again, the Pope reminds us: “This love does not simply offer people material help, but refreshment and care for their souls”.[5]  For “Only if I serve my neighbour can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me”.[6] Our service of the homeless (clochards) thus becomes a deep revelation of God’s love for humanity. Each act of love or care, however small, becomes a ‘catechesis in action’, both for those to whom we are ministering, and for ourselves.  

Over the next days, as you exchange experiences, share the joys and sorrows, the successes and difficulties, and your hopes and aspirations for the future in  this specific pastoral task, it is my prayer that you may also enter further into the discovery of this profound mystery of Charity, and that the Holy Spirit may open to you this great storehouse of the vision of God, increasing in you a “formation of the heart.”[7]  

May God bless this Meeting and your work, your deliberations and holy aspirations, both now and in the future. All of this we entrust  to the intercession of Our Blessed Lady: 

Holy Mary, Mother of God,
you have given the world its true light,
Jesus, your Son – the Son of God.
You abandoned yourself completely
to God's call
and thus became a wellspring
of the goodness which flows forth from him.
Show us Jesus. Lead us to him.
Teach us to know and love him,
so that we too can become
capable of true love
and be fountains of living water
in the midst of a thirsting world.


[1] Pope Benedict XVI Deus Caritas Est 2005 § 18 b

[2] St Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians 5:14

[3] Benedict XVI op.cit § 18.

[4] Ibid § 31 a.

[5] Ibid § 28 b.

[6] Ibid § 18.

[7] Ibid § 31 b.

[8] Ibid § 42