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SPECIAL: Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road

6/20/2007 - 5:55 AM PST

(Page 18 of 18)


132. Therefore, it is necessary to take up the urgent appeal for a new evangelisation, which often echoed throughout the pontificate of Pope John Paul II. Only an encounter with the Risen Christ can give back the joy of the resurrection to those living in death. Only the encounter with He who came to dress the wounds of broken hearts (cf. isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-19) may bring about deep healing of the devastating injuries of being traumatised and petrified by too many frustrations and too much violence endured.

133. It is important to pass from the pastoral care of waiting to the pastoral care of meeting, welcoming, by acting with imagination, creativity and courage, to reach children in the new places where they gather, in streets and squares, as well as -- in a broader perspective -- in the various clubs, in the discotheques and in the "hottest" areas of our metropolises. We should reach out to them with love to bring them the Joyful Proclamation and bear witness through our own life experience that Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

134. It is indispensable to bear witness to the light of Christ who illuminates and opens up new ways for people who feel immersed in darkness. It is high time to reawaken the vocation of service and mission in the Christian community, in a growing and heartfelt awareness of the redeeming power of faith and the sacraments. Too many children continue to die in the streets, while many people remain indifferent.

Not to respond to the concerned call for new evangelisation with great commitment is a real sin of omission. Therefore, it is important to include in pastoral projects wide-ranging initiatives that bring the first proclamation to those who are "faraway", that also gives street children the chance to discover that someone loves them and to be accompanied in seeking a new relationship with their own selves, with others, with God, and with the community to which they belong or has adopted them.

IV. Some concrete proposals

135. Experiences that have already been tried out recommend the following:

-- Creation of groups and communities (parish and otherwise) where young people may get to know and live the Gospel in a radical way, by directly experiencing its healing power.

-- Establishment of permanent prayer schools in parishes and the various ecclesial structures, which give a fresh boost to the contemplative and missionary dimension of different groups.

-- Formation of evangelisation teams able to bear enthusiastic witness to the Wonderful News that Christ came to bring us, as well as "missionary" children who bring the embrace of the Risen Christ to their peers and to the "new poor", or slaves in our world.

-- Formation, in dioceses and eparchies, of young people who are increasingly professionally qualified and able to pool their artistic and musical talents to create new performances featuring content inspired by the Gospel.

-- Creation of formation centres for street evangelisation.

-- Setting up of alternative places where youngsters may gather, which offer proposals that are permeated with values and meaning.

-- Establishment of counselling centres, prevention initiatives and evangelisation in schools.

-- Commitment to use the mass media as precious tools for "proclaiming the Gospel from the rooftops" (cf. Matthew 10:27).

-- Establishment of new communities and groups that welcome and accompany children on a long and difficult path of inner healing, based on the Gospel, with the love that Christ taught us, a love that is not satisfied with "doing charity", but which takes upon itself the cries, the anguish, the wounds and the death of the little ones and the poor, a love that is ready to lay down one's life for his friends.

V. The educator's icon

Jesus the Good Shepherd and the disciples of Emmaus

136. Even educators, who do not start out from a strong and explicit religious proposal, may have an inner attitude inspired by the Gospel, which is well expressed by a triple evangelical icon. First of all, the icon of Jesus before the adulteress (cf. Luke 7:36-50; John 8:3-11): the master is respectful and affectionate; he does not judge nor condemn the person, but encourages her to change her life through his attitude.

The second icon is that of the Good Shepherd (cf. Matthew 18:12-14; Luke 15:4-7) who goes off in search of the lost sheep (even more so if it is a little lamb). He invites us not to await, and much less expect, that the sheep itself will find its way back to the fold. These, therefore, are the obligatory and desirable steps for a pastoral care of street children:observe, listen and understand from within this world that is so mysterious (the Good Shepherd knows his sheep); take the initiative for the meeting, go onto the streets, so that the children would sense that we are at ease also in the places where they have chosen or been forced to live (the Shepherd leaves the fold and goes); build with him a spontaneous relationship, which is warm with affection and interest, a genuine friendship that needs no words to express it because it shines through in every gesture (the Shepherd carries the sheep on his shoulders and celebrates with his friends when he finds it).

The third icon is that of the disciples of Emmaus (cf. Luke 24:13-35) who finally open their eyes before the Risen Christ and at the prospect of resurrection, after having undertaken a journey during which not their eyes but their hearts -- which became burning -- are opened to the News of the Gospel.

One final goal

137. Obviously, with this inner attitude the second educational path mentioned above (see no. 130) has a lot in common with the first one, and above all they have one final goal. The two paths also share the same method, regarding the following fundamental aspects:

-- Arousing trust and self-esteem, so that the children may understand and experience that they are important for the educator as he or she is for them. This is the indispensable starting point so that children may take the first steps towards another way of life, with conviction and decisiveness. They need to be accompanied in discovering the Love of God through the concrete experience of feeling welcomed, unconditionally accepted and personally love for what they are. This face-to-face contact should also be continued after children have been entrusted to the care of other educators or left the reception centre.

-- Room should be given to those being educated until they have an active role in the community, with an awakened sense of responsibility and freedom, so that they may feel at home in the community. This requires that in the "home" warmth, spontaneity and friendly proximity continue to prevail, more than order, discipline and written rules.

-- A personal relationship should be cultivated with each child. Whilst methodologies and general rules are useful, all children are unique cases, with worlds and backgrounds of their own. Many children have shown intelligence and energy in surviving in extremely difficult situations, proving themselves to be capable, creative and clever. Benefit should continue to be drawn from such resources, which are more or less manifest in their personalities, in order to guide them in "changing track", and help them became active in shaping their own lives and not just passive recipients of pastoral rehabilitation. Educational programmes have the important task of leading children to rediscover and take advantage of their own positive potential, put their talents to good use and develop their own capacities as much as possible.

-- Aiming at getting children to internalise and make the educational project profoundly their own, to the extent of becoming -- perhaps after a few years -- a source of help and encouragement for other street children to follow their way. So, collaborating with their educators, the children themselves become active subjects in this specific pastoral care.

-- Commitment on behalf of street children should be acknowledged as a privileged way of serving the Lord and meeting with Him. Indeed, He said: "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40).

VI. Pastoral agents


138. Clearly, the best of the resources engaged in this field should be employed in the professional and spiritual formation of pastoral agents, who should have great human maturity, able to forgo immediate success and to trust that the outcome of their efforts may appear later on, perhaps after periods in which everything seems lost. They should have a great capacity for acting in harmony and collaboration with other educators.

Together for a joint commitment

139. If possible, engagement with children's original families should be envisaged. Such an engagement should positively affect family dynamics, and should be aimed at supporting it, rebuilding the family structure and gradually accompanying and reintegrating the children in their family nucleus of origin.

140. Joint work should be pursued, not only within one's own educational and pastoral structures, but also with those engaged locally in the same service, or who are in any case concerned.

Collaboration therefore with other forces, including non-ecclesial ones -- but which have genuine human insight -- should be sought and welcomed, as well as with public entities, even when one cannot or, by choice, do not intend to count on their funding.

141. Nevertheless, great care will be taken to ensure that substitute initiatives by associations and volunteers do not create, in those who intervene, a mentality and pretext for lack of commitment. Also from the Church, when necessary, constructive criticism and prophetic condemnation of unjust an inhuman situations should complement the function of proposing and encouraging.

Networking with a minimum of pastoral structure

142. Furthermore, existing local networking possibilities should be sought out to exchange good experiences, and also to find possible support for people starting out from those who already have considerable experience.

143. Street children are a reflection of the society in which they live. Pastoral agents should help society become aware of its responsibility, and foster a sense of healthy concern regarding these children. The local Church and Christian communities should have the same concern.

144. For such mobilisation in favour of street children, it would be very useful to set up a special office (or a section of an existing one, such as the pastoral care of human mobility, or the apostolate of the street), in connection with the apostolic commitment to young people and the family, at Bishops' Conferences and the corresponding Structures of the Oriental Catholic Churches and/or dioceses/eparchies most concerned by the problem.

It is also desirable that organised, incisive proposals with ongoing commitment be introduced into general pastoral projects. Such proposals should pay special attention to the "pastoral care of the road", for which specific agents should raise the awareness and increase the action of parish and ecclesial communities, in a quest for significant responses that are able to respond to the urgency of the problem, and to the Word of the Lord: "Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me" (Matthew 18:5).


145. With its preferential option for the poor and needy[40], the Church encourages Christians to accompany and serve these people whatever their moral or personal situation might be. To realise the extent of poverty in the world, including those with no roof over their heads, it suffices to consider the number of homeless people who live in big cities[41].

I. The beneficiaries

146. Poverty has an aspect that is manifested in the people who live and sleep on the street or under bridges. These people represent one of the many faces of poverty in today's world. They include tramps; people forced to live in the street because they have no accommodation; foreign immigrants from poor countries who sometimes, even though they have a job, cannot find a place to live; the elderly without a home; and, finally, people -- usually young -- who have "chosen" a wandering life, either alone or in groups.

147. Amongst people living on the street, foreigners deserve a special mention. In general, they are young people who are homeless only during the initial period of immigration due to lack of appropriate facilities. They feel humiliated by the experience, but accept it as an obligatory phase in achieving a better future.

Causes of the situation

148. Moreover, in recent years in industrialised countries, especially in the old Europe, due to the crisis of the welfare state and difficult economic conditions (for example, in eastern Europe), many people no longer receive welfare support from the State. Old-age pensions are insufficient, the right to housing is disregarded, in many cases unemployment benefit does not exist, and healthcare costs are high. Consequently, many people end up living on the streets at some point in their lives.

This situation may also be caused by eviction, unresolved family tensions, loss of employment or illness. Such factors -- when necessary support is lacking -- may turn those who were leading "normal" lives into people without necessary means.

The precariousness of the situation

149. It is important to understand that, contrary to what is often thought, living on the street is not always a choice. Indeed, life on the street is hard and dangerous, a daily struggle for survival. It is even less opting for freedom. In fact, the homeless are highly vulnerable because they are forced to depend on others even for basic needs, and are exposed to aggression, cold and the humiliation of being chased away because they are unwanted.

150. This occurs with increasing frequency as the number of homeless poor grows, yet places where they may find shelter (forexample, in stations, on benches, under arcades and under bridges) are decreasing. At the same time, we are also seeing a gradual change in attitude towards them. The plight of the poor no longer moves people, they have become a problem of law and order, and irritation towards beggars is increasing, partly because in some cases begging is on an organised scale.

151. People who live on the street are looked on with wariness and suspicion, and being homeless is the start of gradually losing one's rights. It is more difficult to obtain welfare, almost impossible to find work, and no longer possible to obtain identity papers. These poor people become a nameless and voiceless crowd, unable to defend themselves and find the necessary resources for a better future.

The Word of God censures any form of irritation or indifference towards poor people (poverty fatigue), reminding us that the Lord will judge our lives by assessing how and how much we have loved the poor (cf. Matthew 25:31-46). According to Saint Augustine, we are requested to help any poor person so as not to run the risk of denying someone who might be Christ himself[42].

The dignity of persons

152. Even though in a state of need and hardship, the homeless are people with a dignity that should never be overlooked, with all its consequences.

Initiatives on behalf of the homeless should be innovative, in order to finally break the binomial of a simple response to need and looking beyond in the attempt to recognise the value of the person.

153. This means taking what homeless people have as a starting point -- their abilities rather than their shortcomings. In this context, pastoral agents should take advantage of even small signs of changes.

154. It is also important to recognise "differences", which should be integrated, and limits, which should not bring about a feeling that the other person is different, a man or woman of inferior rank. Personalising an initiative also means determining what can, and what cannot, be done.

In this regard, some people talk of the "right to crisis", which directly affects pastoral agents who manage a helping relationship. They, in turn, feel in some way injured or wounded. The "differences", and potential crises, lead a support structure to emerge from an isolation that may come about, and to activate a working network with the various local services.

155. In addition, if we look at developing countries, we see a rising number of beggars, who are often sick, blind, leprous, or have AIDS, and therefore excluded from their villages and families, forced to live on the sidewalks, by clever means and from begging.

II. Methods of approach and means of assistance

156. Thanks to God, appropriate -- albeit insufficient -- pastoral responses are provided by parishes, Catholic groups, ecclesial movements and new communities. Some people seek out such needy brothers and sisters, and this encounter has created a friendship and support network, which has given rise to generous and stable solidarity initiatives.

157. Looking for homeless people, and meeting them, leads to overcoming their isolation, as well as protecting them from cold and hunger. Food and hot drinks, a kind of "mobile meal", blankets and other items that relieve their needs, are brought to them.

158. Reception centres have also been set up, which provide a range of organised initiatives to meet the many requirements of needy people: information and counselling; distribution of food and clothing items; personal hygiene facilities (showers, laundries, hairdressers); and health clinics.

159. Also to be considered is the fact that the homeless often lose the opportunity to benefit from public services because, as a result of their situation, they no longer have a fixed address and do not have identity papers. This state of "official non-existence" should be tackled -- with municipalities and civic authorities -- by seeking to establish a fixed address for them, perhaps at a welfare community or reception centre. The same solution could be used to provide them with a postal address.

160. Regarding the offer of food, giving something to eat to the hungry (cf. Matthew 25:35) is an ancient human value that is widespread in all cultures, because it is directly linked to recognising the value of life. The scandal of the poor Lazarus and the rich man, in the famous parable of Jesus (cf. Luke 16:19-30), is also echoed in Jewish and Islamic cultures, also in connection with matters relating to hospitality. The hungry thus cross-examine everyone's conscience -- secular people and believers -- in the context of a culture of solidarity[43].

161. Regarding all kinds of canteen, a free, hot and copious meal should be served in a familiar and welcoming atmosphere. Those who come to eat need to satisfy not only the material need for food, but are above all in need of kindness, respect and human warmth, which are often denied to them. Ideally the service should be provided by volunteers, who give their free time to help.

Attention to each person's dignity is also expressed by paying attention to the surroundings and the courteous attitude of the volunteers who serve at table. Guests' dietary habits should also be taken into account, in respect of their religious traditions, for example.

162. In this situation volunteers experience a special relationship with poor people, almost to the extent of establishing family and friendship relations, which many of the homeless have lost or never had. This also means that the homeless can have a beautiful Christmas dinner -- almost a family one -- which is becoming a tradition in many places.

Christian solicitude

163. This reveals the link between the road and its relative specific pastoral care with its origin, Christ our Lord and the mystery of His incarnation, and with the Church and its preferential option for the poor, who should be evangelised, obviously with respect for everyone's freedom of conscience. Moreover, the poor also evangelise us (cf. Isaiah 61:1-3; Luke 4:18-19).

164. In this regard, the merciful work of burial should not be overlooked. For those who die that have no family, pastoral workers should ensure that a funeral is held. Once a year it would also be good idea to remember, with people who live in the street, those who were known and have passed on to a better life, recalling their names one by one. May their names be recorded in the book of life!

165. At the end of this wandering along the various pathways of the pastoral care of the road, our contemplative gaze turns towards, Mary, Mother and Our Lady, with the prayer dedicated to pastoral agents in the fourth glorious mystery of the Rosary of Migrants and Itinerant People: "[...] so that in their work they may not be directed by purely personal and material considerations … [nor] overwhelmed by feelings of insecurity, anxiety and loneliness, but find consolation in the loving heart of Mary, assumed into Heaven"[44].

Rome, from the offices of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, on 24 May 2007, in memory of Our Lady of the Way.

Renato Raffaele Cardinal Martino

+ Agostino Marchetto
Titular Archbishop of Astigi

[1] Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of Gypsies, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City 2005.
[2] Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of Tourism, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City 2001.
[3] Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People,The Pilgrimage in the Great Jubilee Year of 2000,Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City 1998.
[4] Pope Pius XII, Speech to the "Fédération Routière Internationale": Speeches and Radio Messages of Pope Pius XII, vol. XVII (1955) p. 275.
[5]Cf. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Pontifical Message for World Day of Tourism 2005: L'Osservatore Romano, 21 July 2005, p. 5.
[6] Cf. Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Instruction Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi, no. 15, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City 2004.
[7] Pope Paul VI, Speech on the moralisation of road use: Teachings of Pope Paul VI, vol. III (1965) p. 499 .
[8] In a Pastoral Exhortation on road safety, the Social Commission of the French Bishops' Conference stated: "According to psychologists, drivers often use their vehicles in an irresponsible, and therefore dangerous, way. Cars, lorries and motorcycles thus become an expression of power, intolerence, display and sometimes even violence. Drivers may manifest feelings and attitudes that they do not adopt in normal life... Therefore, such lack of road safety constitutes a scandal that should give rise to reflection by all drivers of vehicles and urge them to change their behaviour": French Bishops' Conference, Sécurité routière: un défi évangélique, 24 October 2002:
[9] Cf. General Assembly Plenary Meeting and expert Consultation on the Global Road Safety Crisis, 14 -15 April 2004.
[10] Pope Paul VI, Speech to participants at the "International dialogue for the moralisation of road use": Teachings of Pope Paul VI, vol. III (1965) p. 500, cf. also Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Domini of Sunday, 20 November 2005: L'Osservatore Romano 21-22 November 2005, p. 6.
[11] Pope Pius XII, Speech to the "Fédération Routière Internationale": Speeches and Radio Messages of Pope Pius XII, vol. 17 (1955) p. 275 and Belgian Bishops, pastoral Letter, Morale de la circulation routière, Malines, 15 January 1966 : Pastoralia, no. 8, 21 February 1966, sheet 1, back page, col. II.
[12] Pope John XXIII, The respect of life as the foundation of effective road discipline: Speeches, Messages and Talks of Pope John XXIII, vol. III (1961) p. 383.
[13] Pope John Paul II, A road culture. Against the too many accidents: ...

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