Thursday, January 18, 2007

Our Lady of the Highway

From ANSA:

The Catholic Church intends to reach out to lonely truck drivers by holding masses in motorway lay-bys and setting up mobile chapels in service stations.

The plan is one of the results of a conference held in the Vatican last month, when clerics and experts from 21 countries talked about how to provide pastoral support to the millions of people whose lives are spent travelling.On the basis of that meeting, the Vatican department which deals with travel and immigration this week released a document outlining its plans to care for the people who live 'on the road'.

Monsignor Agostino Marchetto, head of the department, said that "human mobility" is one of the characteristics of the modern age and so the Catholic Church must make sure its presence is felt in this sphere.

The proposal to create roadside support for truck drivers came from Germany, where Church officials note that about two million people are either drivers themselves or belong to the immediate families of drivers.

But it won keen support from Brazilian clergy, who also talked about the need to create a friendly, family atmosphere among frequent road users. They backed the idea of 'church trucks' moving from one motorway service to another. Monsignor Wolfgang Miehle, migration official at the German bishops' conference, underlined the solitude that truck drivers suffer as they spend days and weeks covering thousands of kilometers alone.

Their work frequently produces "difficulties in maintaining social relations, even within their own families," he continued.

"Their harsh working conditions, bordering on exploitation, mean they can genuinely be considered poor".

Last month's conference in the Vatican was intended as a wake-up call to the Catholic Church to focus more attention on the people who through their work or lifestyles either travel frequently or are involved in the transport infrastructure.

Priests, bishops and Catholic organisations are being called on to offer support not only to truck drivers, but also to bus drivers, tourists, traffic safety officials, petrol pump attendants, people working in motorway toll booths and roadside restaurants and railway workers.

The over-arching goal is "to help them show solidarity and charity towards each other" and so make their world safer and more "human".

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