By Mirko Testa
ROME, DEC. 4, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Homelessness is nothing new -- it's been around since Adam and Eve were expelled from paradise, according to the president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers.
Cardinal Renato Martino said this at the 1st International Encounter for the Pastoral Care for People Without Stable Housing, held Nov. 26-27 in Rome. The congress also addressed the situation of those living in unsuitable or unhygienic housing.
"The lack of a home is nothing new," said the cardinal. "It occurred the moment that sin appeared in the world and our ancestors were thrown out from the place which had been prepared for them."
The 50 participants in the meeting representing 28 countries, among them bishops, priests, religious men and women, and members of apostolate and volunteer associations, reflected on the theme "In Christ and With the Church, at the Service of Those Without a Fixed Dwelling."
The encounter is the third in a series of international congresses on the plight of the homeless. The council organized the 1st International Meeting for the Pastoral Care of Street Children in October 2004, and the 1st International Meeting of Pastoral Care for the Liberation of Women of the Street in June 2005.
Cardinal Martino emphasized the call to make themselves "authentic witnesses and an example for governments and communities, inviting everyone to recognize the dignity of each human being," and to "offer and to receive the love of God, in an active catechesis."
"Above all," he added, "love should be at the center of our action," which gives "strength through a personal encounter with Christ," nourished by constant prayer.
The cardinal said a deep dedication is also needed: "It is not enough to give temporal things, but we have to be present on a personal level in all that we do."
Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, secretary of the dicastery, reported that "since the end of World War II, the number of homeless in Western Europe has reached its highest level, with an estimated 3 million people, while in the United States we are talking about 3.5 million, of whom 1.4 million are minors."
Despite the sparseness of data from developing countries, he added, "India is one of the few countries that has tried to take a census, in 1981, the result of which is that there are around 2.5 million homeless people. Another census taken 10 years later showed a decrease of more than 1 million from the previous one."
On the rise
He added that the largest increase in the number of homeless has been in Africa, Asia and Latin America, where there appears to be "close to 30% of the population living in illegal settlements, lacking infrastructure and services, or crowded in damaged places."
In drawing guidelines for an efficacious pastoral focus, Archbishop Marchetto said "the situation of the homeless is not only of the one who does not have a house, but it is also the collapse of one's own world, one's security, personal relationships and dignity. It is the loss of the capacity of having a 'truly human' life."
Because of this, he said, pastoral agents should understand that it is not enough to satisfy the fundamental and immediate needs for human survival because, "in their depths, each homeless person has a greater, original need, that of being accepted and treated with dignity."
He called those present to a generous and personal accompaniment "on the delicate path of recovery and integration of the homeless."
The prelate invited the participants to see in the homeless "the image of Christ who projects his shadow on the world, on the Church, and on society, [...] Christ manifests his presence in homeless people and calls us to the love and charity that are the authentic hallmark of his life."