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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 108 (Suppl.), December 2008






On the 26th and 27th of this coming November, the First International Meeting on the Pastoral Care of the Homeless on the theme: “In Christ and with the Church at the service of the homeless (clochards)” will be held in the offices of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. Some 50 persons will be attending, representing 28 countries and 4 continents. 

1. What is the purpose of this meeting and who is involved in this area of pastoral care?

This meeting comes as the third in a trilogy of International meetings concerning the different areas  of pastoral care undertaken by the sector of this Council that oversees the Apostleship of the Road (Street). The first one took place in Rome in October 2004 followed by another for the Liberation of the Women of the Street, in June 2005. As with the other meetings, we will again bring together many different pastoral agents concerned with this particular field of pastoral care, in its many diverse aspects and realities. The presence of nearly fifty attendees, coming from 28 different countries implies that we are tackling together a global phenomenon, even though it manifests itself in multitudinous ways.

It is hoped that our work and deliberations over these days will:

  • Enable the different pastoral agents to have the opportunity to share together their different experiences, methodologies, successes and difficulties.
  • Explore the different global and local realities that make up the phenomenon of homelessness.
  • Discover new ways of promoting the dignity of the human person, whilst living on the road and the street.
  • Find new ways of ecclesial collaboration with other sectors of the State and voluntary agents in this area of pastoral care.
  • Strengthen an Ecclesial awareness of the presence of the homeless in our midst and to encourage local communities to become places of welcome for the homeless.
  • Widen the vision of our Pontifical Council in its understanding of the pastoral care of the homeless and the support and encouragement that it may be able to offer in the future to those engaged in this apostolate, especially through the Episcopal Conferences and their National Commissions for the pastoral care of human mobility.

2. What is the present situation of these persons (the homeless)?

A definition of the homeless that we can accept is thus: “A person in both material and personal poverty, in a situation of complex, varied and changing hardship”, which is clearly revealed by the homeless. 

It is important to remember that as a global phenomenon, it is difficult to speak of homelessness in any simple and pre-defined way as it manifests itself in a multiplicity of modes. It is easy to stereotype a homeless person using words such as barbone, clochard, hobo, tramp and so forth, but in reality homelessness presents itself in a variety of different and complex ways, usually related to a variety and varied set of causes that bring an individual to be living on the street. For some it is a short term reality, though for others it represents a sustained, and even sometimes chosen way of living. Often it is the poorest, those who are most marginalised, least educated and most vulnerable are the ones who are at the greatest risk of homelessness.  Low literacy and innumeracy skills, drug or alcohol addiction, chronic health problems, mental illness and eccentricity are quite common.  Another component are the young enduring a ‘rough’ existence in order to establish a new life. Many others are caught in the trap of long-term poverty, eroding self esteem, affecting expectations and motivation.  Whilst homeless people are clearly not a homogenous group, they have their own distinguishing ‘values’, behaviour and expectations. There are amongst some an unwillingness or inability to behave conventionally, a common and obvious defence against marginalisation and rejection. Many of these expressions of homelessness only serve to push those on the streets further to the margins of society. 

3. What is the Church doing for them?

The Church has tried to see the presence of Christ, especially the most poor and marginalized, and as such has tried throughout her history to respond also to the needs of the homeless. Throughout his ministry Jesus meets those who are on the road and on the street. So today, the Church continues to meet those on the road and street and to respond to this grave need: to shelter, feed and clothe those who are without.

Our meeting here represents many facets of the Church’s response.  Priests, religious and lay; religious congregations and orders, institutes of apostolic work, those who work in the voluntary sector.  It should not be forgotten the collaboration and participation that many Christians have with organizations of the State that are committed to pastoral care and help of the homeless.

The Church responds not just by meeting basic needs but by seeing Christ in each and every person, thus promoting and recognizing their human dignity,  helping them, with due respect to discover the richness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and of the Sacraments of salvation. She sees that in every person who is living on the street that they are not just without a roof, but they are also without a home, and the deprivations that follow in the wake of such a loss. This means accompanying a person, if possible, on a journey, not only in the restoration of basic needs but also in participation to a full dignified part in the human and, when possible, ecclesial family.