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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move 

N° 94,  April 2004, pp. 225-228

Meeting of National Directors of the

Pastoral Care of Circus and Traveling Show People*

Msgr. Anthony CHIRAYATH

Office Head, Pontifical Council for the

Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

A Meeting of the National Directors of the Pastoral Care of Circus and Traveling Show People was held in the premises of the Pontifical Council from 12 till 13 December 2003. The purpose of this meeting was outlined in a letter addressed to them, dated 10 July 2003, by our President: “The purpose of the meeting is to make an assessment of the current situation of the pastoral care of circus and fair people in each country, to share the experiences of these past years, and to listen to your proposals on how to renew this pastoral care. During the meeting, the date and theme will also be planned of the next International Congress of this sector, which should take place here in Rome- we propose - in December 2004”.

The National Directors of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the USA were present at the meeting. Present from the Pontifical Council were Cardinal Stephen Fumio Hamao, Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, Secretary, Fr. Michael Blume, Under-Secretary, Msgr. Anthony Chirayath and Sr. Alessandra Pander. The meeting began with a concelebrated Mass in the Chapel of the Pontifical Council. It was presided over by Cardinal Hamao. Archbishop Marchetto preached the homily. As it was the weekly Mass of the Council, its Staff was present at the Mass. 

At 10.00 a.m. Cardinal President inaugurated the working session with a welcome address. In his speech Cardinal Hamao outlined the main reasons for convoking the meeting: an evaluation of the present situation of the ministry in different countries and to prepare the next International Congress. The Cardinal’s speech was followed by the talk of Archbishop Marchetto who presented the agenda of the meeting. In his speech he said that perhaps the main problem in this specific ministry is – as in other sectors, more or less - the lack of pastoral agents. He also reminded, among other things, that “we are here to dialogue about the next International Conference”.

After a short break, the National Directors presented their Reports. The National Director of France said that the main problem in his country is the lack of pastoral agents to work in this ministry. There is great need to sensitize the local Churches about this ministry. The Spanish Director said that there are more than fifty circuses in Spain, most of them Italian. Some of the great values of these people are their trust in divine Providence and their unity and solidarity in the family: “Welcoming these people in our midst is our duty.” The National Director of Belgium said that he is alone in the ministry, though there are several laypersons who assist in his work. 80% of their children attend boarding schools. The animalists are creating lot of problems to circuses. The German National Director said that 70% of the circus and travelling show people are Catholics. There is a growing tendency among them to participate more in Catholic worship than in ecumenical celebrations. The beautiful thing among them is that the families are united.

According to the Italian National Director the problem in his country is that the circus and the traveling show people are not welcomed very often. There is a sense of fear of the stranger. Society has to be educated to a culture of hospitality. The new evangelization of these people is the concern of his office. He also said that there is need to prepare others to take over the ministry and to keep the continuity. The US National Director said that in 2003 the Most Reverend John F. Kinney, Bishop of St. Cloud and member of the Bishops Committee on Migration, was appointed the first Episcopal Liaison for the Circus and Traveling Show Ministries in the United States. The three National Chaplains (Circus, Carnivals and Automobile or CART) and the Coordinator work in collaboration with Bishop Kinney. Future initiatives for this growing ministry are the publication of additional catechetical resources for the ministry, including a circus prayer book and a Spanish version of the catechetical resource, On the Road with Jesus: Bringing Joy and Celebration. There is also interest in establishing educational outreach to children who travel with the circus or other traveling shows. The Circus and Traveling Show Ministries has expanded far more than anyone imagined since the first national meeting in 1992.  

In the afternoon Msgr. Anthony Chirayath made some observations on the past Congresses organized by the Pontifical Council in view of the next Congress to be celebrated in 2004. His intervention was followed by a public debate and the observations of the assembly can be summarized as follows:

Date and venue of the International Congress

Since the Ecumenical Forum had announced its Congress from 11-15 March 2005, in Barcelona, the participants felt that it was difficult to hold another Congress in Rome by the Pontifical Council in the third week of December 2004. It was proposed therefore to combine the two in Rome. Accordingly it was suggested to hold the Catholic Congress from Monday 13 December 2004 till noon of Thursday 16 December 2004. The “Forum” will begin its Congress from the afternoon of Thursday 16 December 2004 till noon of Saturday 18 December. The “Forum”, it was suggested, could make use of the same premises, but at its own expenses.

A final decision on this matter will be taken only after due consultation with the Superiors of the Pontifical Council and the General Council of the “Forum” which will be held in Monte Carlo from January 17, 2004.   

Choice of General theme and sub-themes

“WELCOMING” is the general theme, which was proposed, with a scriptural or encyclical quotation, e.g. “Go... you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12,1-2).) or “Jesus himself drew near and went with them” (Lk 24,15), etc. Since circus and show people are often not welcomed by the society, welcoming them will be the most Christian virtue in relation with them. In any case it is the most necessary element of this ministry, today. They should be welcomed by the faithful, by the parish and by the Diocese. They should feel that they are part of the Church. Some felt that the theme would be acceptable to most Bishops’ Conferences. (As the theme is ecumenical, it will also be welcomed by people of all Christian Churches and ecclesial communities).

Conference themes: Some of the problems among these people are: drug addiction among the young, alcoholism among the adults and the lack of assistance of the aged people. They could be topics for conferences, without offending the sentiments of any particular group. What is important is the formation of young people and adults, how to announce the message of the Gospel to them. Jesus walks with them and teaches them and they, on their turn, should become messengers of Jesus; they should announce the Gospel. The solidarity will be another aspect of welcoming.  

A Round Table of young people on the aspect of welcoming was suggested and another one of National Directors. Similarly there should be some witnessing of people who are really engaged in the ministry. Then there should be workshops. 

The art of clowningas breaking down barriers will be another aspect of welcoming. We could get some professionals to speak on this topic. It is a topic, which has not been treated in the previous congresses. Now clowns go to hospitals and old age homes as volunteers to entertain them. For example the scope of the famous Big Apple Circus of New York is to make suffering children and adults smile. 

Circus has a positive storyto tell. Dominique Jando is a Catholic circus historian, founder of the Circus Festival of Paris, now working in San Francisco. He could be invited to speak on this topic. 

A Panel Discussion of three world champions (Catholics) of automobile racing would be something new for the Congress, as part of the CART ministry. It will attract the attention of the media and may bring in some sponsors. 

Since there are so many topics suggested, they should be carefully studied and a selection made. But what is important is that the Congress should reflect on the ministry – pastoral care. It should show that we are Catholics. People should look to us as part of the Catholic Church. 

National Directors will send to the Pontifical Council names of possible speakers for particular topics. 

3. Composition of National Delegations

The maximum number of participants expected for the Congress is 100-140. At present there are 14 National Offices. But efforts should be made in the coming months to write to Bishops’ Conferences to send at least a representative who could be appointed at least part time Chaplain. This is the case for some countries where there are sufficient circuses and fairs. This is particularly true in some countries in South America and in Eastern Europe. The maximum number a country could send to the Congress is 10, taking into consideration that many countries will have only 2-3 delegates. The Pontifical Council will of course send invitations also to Bishops and experts (as suggested by National Directors); non-Catholic representatives of different Churches should be invited as Observers.  


The necessity of having sponsors for the good organization was mentioned. The idea was to collect at least 50,000 US dollars. Fr. Phil De Rea promised his cooperation and asked for an official request from the part of the Pontifical Council, as soon as the dates of the Congress and the themes are decided. Fr. Josef Maghs from Germany also promised an immediate help. The other National Directors were asked nevertheless to make an effort to find donors.

*Vatican City, 12-13 December 2003