From Vatican Meeting on Care of Homeless
"No One Can Claim to Be Exempt From the Risk of Becoming Poor"
VATICAN CITY, FEB. 22, 2008- Here is the final document of the International
Meeting for the Pastoral Care of the Homeless on the theme "In Christ and
With the Church at the Service of the Homeless," held Nov. 26-27 in the Vatican.
The meeting was organized by the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers,
and the document was released this week by the dicastery.
* * *
I. The Event
The III̊ International Meeting on the Pastoral Care of the street took place
on November 26th and 27th, 2007, in the offices of the Pontifical Council
for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, at Palazzo San Calisto,
Four Bishops, several National Directors or Representatives of the Bishops’
Conferences, and experts, from twenty-eight countries were present from Argentina,
Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Burundi, Canada,
Chile, China, England, Egypt, Eritrea, France, Germany, Japan, India, Ireland,
Italy, Korea, Portugal, Romania, Slovak Republic, South Africa, The Netherlands,
Taiwan, USA and Zimbabwe. The religious orders were represented by the Capuchins,
the Missionaries of Charity, the Comboni Missionaries and the Little Sisters
of Jesus. The Sovereign Order of Malta was also present with representatives
from both SECAM and CCEE. There were also representatives of associations
and movements, among them “Aux Captifs La Liberation”, FEANTSA, FIO, Community
of John XXIII, The Community of Saint’ Egidio, The Society of Saint Vincent
de Paul and SELAVIP.
The President of the Pontifical Council, His Eminence Cardinal Renato Raffaele
Martino, greeted and welcomed the participants. He reflected that the presence
of so many people from around the world testified to the fact that we were
dealing with a global phenomenon. He continued by reminding us that homelessness
was not new. From the very beginning, with the expulsion of our first parents
from the garden of Eden, men and women have found themselves wandering and
living on the streets. In fact, from the very earliest times, Christians
have tried to respond with a pastoral solicitude to the plight of the poor
and homeless. He traced a number of pointers in the life of the Church, through
the ordinary Magisterium and the various directives that have tried to guide
Christians in their response to the pastoral care of the homeless. Finally
he drew emphasis, and indeed strength, from the message contained by Pope
Benedict XVI in his encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est”. Here, he pointed out,
that whilst the gospel does not give immediate solutions to problems, we
should always be guided by the desire to love our neighbour, and to see in
them, the face of Christ. Thus the service of the homeless ‘becomes a deep
revelation of God’s love for humanity’.
Next, Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, Secretary of the Dicastery, delivered
the keynote address, entitled “Lord, when did we see you...?”(Matt 25:44).
This heading set both the tone and challenge of the meeting by reminding
us of the dominical injunction always to see the face of Christ in the most
poor and marginalized. He began by outlining the fact that when talking about
homelessness, we were dealing with a lack of basic human rights. He continued
not only to explain the reality of this global phenomenon, but also to say
that it manifested itself through many different expressions. Despite these
diversities, homelessness almost always pushed a person in a downwards spiral
of health, poverty and marginalization. Thus needs of the homeless clearly
demanded both a human and ecclesial response. This was to be found not only
in providing for basic necessities, but also in upholding their dignity as
persons. Likewise the Church must develop a specific pastoral care which
sees beyond the needs of a person to the person himself, for who he truly
is, made in the likeness and image of God. This was the challenge to Christian
communities: to become places of welcome, so that in the homeless they may
not only welcome the Lord himself, but also they may mutually accompany him
on a journey of restoration and re-integration.
During the remainder of this first day, there was an opportunity for the
participants, not only to introduce themselves but also to share something
of their apostolate and experience. These exposed the great contribution
that was already being made in the field of the pastoral care of the homeless,
as well as the extraordinary diversity present in the situations in which
they found themselves.
During the two days, the meeting separated into several different language
groups to share experiences of good practice, methodologies, successes and
failures in the pastoral care of the homeless. On the second day, these groups
looked towards the characteristics that should underlie a future ecclesial
response. Some questions were posed to them to facilitate reflection and
The main work in the morning of the second day was a long speech given by
Professor Mario Pollo of LUMSA and of the Salesian University, Rome. He presented
a comprehensive picture of homelessness and the various pastoral responses,
gathered from a survey conducted by the Pontifical Council through the various
The afternoon of this day was given over to the Round table under the title:
“The Human Commitment and the Pastoral Care of the Homeless”. Baronne Martine
Jonet of the Sovereign Order of Malta, Mr. Roger Playwin, the National Director
of the Society of St Vincent de Paul, USA, Fr Barnabe d’Souza, Director of
the shelter ‘Don Bosco’, India, Mr Kristian Gianfreda of the Community of
John XXIII and Sr Maria Cristina Bove Roletti, National Co-ordinator of the
Pastoral Care of the People of the Street, Brazil, shared their experiences
of the particular situations in their own countries and organizations, outlining
principles that should guide good and pastoral care and future approaches.
Above all they emphasized that it was important not only to care for the
homeless but to express the value and dignity of their lives.
The final part of the meeting considered the deliberations of the working
groups and the formulation of conclusions and recommendations. The meeting
ended with a deep desire to continue in dialogue and fraternal accompaniment
in this field of pastoral care for those without a fixed abode.
1. Because of his condition, the person without a fixed dwelling remains
unrepeatably singular and unique. In a society that interprets social relations
as a function of obtaining economic gain, the Church takes upon itself the
task of giving it back the value of a gratuitous relationship and its most
2. In our historical and social context there are some who choose to identify
the poor as a person in whom there has been a failure of both human nature
and needs. The outcome is that poverty is considered as the result of a life
without values and therefore a fault. Consequently poverty is seen as a situation
from which it is almost impossible to be freed. Its permanence is a mark
capable of staining human existence forever.
3. The fate of the person without a fixed dwelling is further marked if it
is considered a “choice”. Who would ever choose a life of expedients or an
existence marked by instability for oneself and his/her own family? In spite
of this, the search for justice begins with recognizing the poor, with the
conviction that calling them by an erroneous name means adding yet a further
4. We are often confronted by a concept that considers the homeless as people
who are “different”. Poverty is a problem that seems to pertain to others.
In reality there is no difference because we live in a “society at risk”,
in which no one can claim to be exempt from the risk of becoming poor.
5. In each of the five continents the example and dedication of Christian
communities to the “least among the least” are a visible sign of the love
of God for the human person, wherever he/she may live, in every life situation.
This is even more visible in the specific activities that they promote, even
if methodologies are different and organizational choices are characteristic
of the places where pastoral action is being carried out. Various fundamental
values characterize the reality and constitute its teleological setting.
6. Amongst these values and of particular importance is the ‘relational dimension’.
If one accepts the definition of homelessness as "a person in both material
and personal poverty, in a situation of complex, varied and changing hardship”,
made visible by being without a fixed dwelling, we can note that deficiency
in the ‘relational dimension’ is one that can both define and provoke a life
of poverty. On this basis it is possible to mark out a route towards greater
trust, and a true and significant life, in which each person can be considered
a friend. This is possible even in places where there are no "structures",
such as the street. Therefore it has the ability to become a place, not only
of pedagogy, but also of pastoral care, bringing about a human promotion,
7. To this end, the Church, the local community, operate in the locality
paying attention to existing needs and offering support in the finding of
solutions. It is in this way that the homeless are inserted into a path of
reconciliation, as far as the inhabitants of a certain area are concerned.
This process of reconciliation demands a necessary existential complementarity.
Indeed, it is only by means of relationships, that human person can discover
and recognize him or herself.
8. The political changes and social phenomena that are constantly changing
require a prophetic action on the part of the local Churches. Today we see
that they are steadfastly committed to care for life, through their choices
and their witness that love for Christ is a wellspring for mankind healed
from the wounds of indifference.
9. Some essential elements guide "better pastoral activity" among the homeless,
which implies sharing a common destiny comes from deep relationships, in
which there is a purification in the way we look upon the poor. Such a purified
vision confirms the conviction that there are persons who carry in their
hearts the destiny of others, whilst at the same time bearing out -- through
the engagement of pastoral agents -- that God loves hic et nunc (here and
10. To believe in the importance of relationships, putting the dimension
of human promotion side by side with that of material help, to be agents
of pedagogy and to mark out the way forward -- one which avoids serious forms
of marginalization -- implies thinking, proposing and believing in a comprehensive
11. The homeless represent a challenge for the whole society, which is called
to a co-responsibility in the promotion of an impassioned approach to the
problem. It is a matter of understanding the situation rather than finding
an explanation, which could degenerate into unsuitable categorization. It
is a matter of taking into consideration the person, not as an object for
which we intend to intervene in a way that has been previously defined. This
requires a project of intervention, that rather than stigmatizing, has a
logic of true inclusivity. However, despite this, welcome remains limited,
fragile and incapable, so it must be sustained by a deliberate and constant
commitment. Spontaneity, fragmentation and indecision weigh against an integral,
lasting and sustainable approach.
12. The task of awareness-building -- within a hermeneutical process -- is
a way by which one thinks of, and plans for a future that is different, in
which dignity is rediscovered (not only given back). Precisely because every
person safeguards within himself his being unique and unrepeatable as a child
of God, it is essential to respect the time needed for growth and change.
This is also true for the ecclesial community involved in caring for the
13. In all pastoral relationships it is necessary to be “true”. To live the
truth in exercising charity should be at the basis of every possible action.
And this truth asks for a demonstration of gratuitousness, its source and
underlying reasons. Summing up, we can say that the blueprint of a Church
that is near her children, in spite of their being often far from “home”,
should be its “being salt and light”.
14. Offering a ‘home’ is therefore an intrinsic task of every pastoral action.
It is not simply a matter of offering a roof but of a place where people
can be fully themselves and with dignity. In a word, it is a place where
one can build one’s home of relations, and develop every dimension of one’s
existence, including the spiritual one.
15. Homeless tends to increase in number in both developed and developing
countries, in big cities and rural areas, among citizens and immigrants,
including men, women and children of all ages.
16. The Church through its many institutions has been committed to helping
homeless people by operating soup kitchens, shelters, job training and placement,
advocacy, providing training to take up jobs as part of the process of their
integration to the community, and providing pastoral care.
17. There is place here for the ordinary, territorial, pastoral care of the
Church, and also a place for a specific one, which must be holistic, multidimensional,
spiritual, social and relational.
18. Pastoral care should be understood in a broad sense as a response to
both spiritual and material needs.
19. The ministry of the hospitality, especially with regard to the marginalized,
also forms an integral part of parochial life. When the community comes together
without the poor and the homeless, the Church is not "complete". There is
thus a clear connection between works of charity and the demands of justice.
III. Recommendations For society
1. Since socio-economic reality is complex and doing works of justice means
living justice, it is necessary to work in what is complex, avoiding fragmentation.
Moreover, the loss of values destabilizes social cohabitation and so the
local Churches should present an axiological point of view that leads human
person to human person.
2. In order to achieve these objectives it is important to form a local "network",
in which responsibilities and competences are recognized, with preference
being given to planning rather than to participation in emergency situations.
Consequently it is necessary to promote both inter-ecclesial and extra-ecclesial
meetings of co-ordination in order to define common objectives. There should
also be a mutual understanding of the language used in order to analyse and
to face the needs of the homeless. In such a way, will develop a pastoral
care purified from stereotypes, "prejudices" and ideological divisions.
3. Although there are organizations or groups that feel the need to care
for the homeless, it is appropriate to give back to the central and local
their respective responsibilities.
4. It is necessary to promote work and housing, especially from the view
point of fundamental rights. Along with these should be good health, taken
not only as the absence of ailments, but also as health that has the possibility
of offering access to existential well-being.
5. It is therefore opportune, in every pastoral action for the homeless --
such as offering housing, work, psychological treatment, educational accompaniment,
etc. -- to assume the limits of the person in order to avoid failure, as
far as possible. This means that it is necessary to have possible and reachable
6. A new and respectful language must be developed when speaking about people
who are experiencing homelessness.
7. In a non-judgemental manner, activities of service should be aimed at
the promotion of the quality of life and long-term solutions, proposed with
respect and taking into consideration the social Doctrine of the Church on
the dignity of the human person.
Furthermore, such interventions must tend towards entire transformation.
For the Church
8. The Church’s engagement with homeless people must be based on the fundamental
truth that in them is present the suffering and risen Christ. Following the
example of Christ, we need to listen to them, develop trust and form relationships.
To that purpose, the Church must reach out to them on the street in positive
9. In order to be able to offer better service to homeless people, collaboration
among ecclesial institutions must be fostered, ending the tendency to work
alone sometimes in a spirit of competition. Appropriate collaboration is
also encouraged with civil authorities, other religions, and non-religious
based institutions that share the same concerns and goals. Ecumenical initiatives
should be actively pursued.
10. Homeless people are to be encouraged to participate socially and ecclesially
to the greatest extent possible. Programmes in their favour should take into
account their respective experiences, beliefs, cultures and needs, involving
people in their own recovery and avoiding the creation of dependency.
11. Approach people as unique individuals recognizing within them the image
and likeness of God, calling each one by name.
12. In spite of the difficulties of the environment in which one works, it
will be necessary to walk with conviction in the paths of justice, reaffirming
the specificity of the mission of the Church.
13. It is therefore necessary and opportune to know this reality both through
studies and through welcome, a result of relations. The poor form part of
the ecclesial community and as such, they must be welcomed in the same way
as the suffering families, the widows, etc. Every person has his own story
and specific problems that should be known and faced. The homeless must be
considered as bearers of rights and not be seen only as a catalogue of needs
14. Empower the homeless to have a voice themselves in the Church and public
forum. This may take the form of theatre or other media.
15. Involve students at various levels to learn about homelessness and do
outreach appropriate to their level.
16. Encourage good family and community relations in parishes so that emerging
local needs can be identified and action taken to prevent homelessness from
17. Ecclesial documents should be used as a resource to provide effective
ministry to the homeless.
18. Adequate financial resources should be provided so that lay people are
enabled to contribute to the pastoral care of homeless people.
For Episcopal Conferences and corresponding hierarchical Structures of the
Oriental Catholic Churches
19. Bishops’ Conferences and corresponding hierarchical Structures of the
Oriental Catholic Churches should advocate for housing rights and development
in the spirit of Populorum Progressio. Good advocacy flows from reliable
information. Local bishops can gain knowledge of the issues from their own
associations and others working in their diocese/eparchy.
20. An itinerary of a strong commitment implies the activation of the Episcopal
Conferences and corresponding hierarchical Structures of the Oriental Catholic
Churches, the help of the Holy See, enlightenment by the teachings of the
21. In this context, the Bishops’ Conferences and corresponding hierarchical
Structures of the Oriental Catholic Churches should propose guidelines for
funding to support activities specifically intended to help the homeless,
to plan a different future, to sustain those who already work for the poor
(who are often poor themselves).
22. The sacred Liturgy could express this solicitude through concrete liturgical
signs signifying the centrality of the poor in the heart of God. A day of
prayer for those suffering from extreme poverty (maybe on 17 October, celebrated
as World Day against poverty) could contribute to this.
23. Unused church resources (buildings) could be placed at the disposal of
the development of affordable housing or shelter. Dioceses/Eparchies might
consider developing a housing project for the homeless as a concrete sign
of this first international meeting, if they have not already done so.
24. Seminarians, religious and pastoral ministers must be formed in Catholic
Social Doctrine and pastoral care of the poor and marginalized.
25. Greater presence of the permanent Diaconate is encouraged to work with
the poor and homeless.
26. Greater connection should be made with the work of religious men and
women and associations who have a long tradition of social ministry.
For parishes and communities
27. Parishes should be “communities of welcome”. The establishment of parish
‘social committees’ is encouraged to promote and focus the corporal works
28. Homilies and other forms of catechesis should address the plight of the
homeless and our consequent Christian response.
29. For the Christian community to be welcoming, it must put aside prejudices
by carrying out an action of recognition. In that sense there are no poor
that are a prerogative exclusively for someone’s action. In any case, it
is always the community that must bear the burden, even if it may be through
an action that gives back responsibility. In a given territory, a community
is welcoming when it identifies the need and furnishes flexible responses
that are not “bureaucratic”. Therefore, ecclesial communities can take the
risk of living a prophetic charity.
30. It is opportune that ecclesial communities recognize the presence of
available competence in their midst. Such competence must be accompanied
by a proposal of formation, able to furnish elements that are useful in understanding
31. In the Parishes, therefore, it is possible to promote “works that are
signs” to affirm prophecy, interest and commitment of the Christian community
for the homeless. In particular, at the local level, it is opportune to catch
the symptoms of suffering and, even before that, those of uneasiness. The
latter can be prevented when ample space is given to listening to what the
person is living and experiencing.
32. Each parish and other Church groups should heed the Gospel mandate to
welcome the stranger and care for the needy and homeless among them in the
most appropriate way. Chaplains and spiritual counsellors should be readily
available for homeless people, especially during critical situations in their
lives and times of bereavement.
33. The local community, the Church, the people of God, are also called to
believe in the future of the homeless. This can take place through constant
communication in the proper form and at the proper time. Every occasion meant
to “give a voice to those who have none” (see the experience of the so-called
street newspapers) is an opportunity that can change the way homeless people
identify themselves, but also the way society considers and perceives them.
All this is a step in increasing their trust in themselves and in life.
For the Pontifical Council
34. The Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant
Peoples, with the help of the participants, should map the organizations
that are working with the homeless so that it is easier to share models and
facilitate communication and coordination.
35. The same Pontifical Council could devote a week each year to the awareness
of the pastoral needs of the homeless, maybe on the occasion of the international
days dedicated to these persons.
36. This meeting should not be the first and the last; a follow-up is needed.