Insights from the Circus: 8th International Congress of Circus and Travelling Show People, Rome 2010

Jo shares some insights from their meeting for Circus and Travelling Show people.  

She was very struck by the report Fr Jerry gave on the 8th International Congress of Circus and Travelling Show People, sponsored by the Vatican in Rome December 2010 in which representatives from 22 countries gathered.

The theme itself opened up a wide horizon:

"Circus and Amusement Parks: 'Cathedrals' of Faith and Tradition, signs of hope in a globalized world"!

The keynote speaker even spoke of the "prophetic and hope-filled charism" of circus and amusement parks and how they promote socialization, help to develop creativity and imagination, and provide occasions to become familiar with other people different  from ourselves and with animals. He quoted the historian Kindemann who wrote that the wonder of the circus and amusement park

"is needed to start the healing process of suffering humanity".
Traditional circus and carnival families teach humanity solidarity, brotherhood, and, today, when the Christian family is under attack from many sides, they are "beacon lights" as homes of faith which we have to look at with trust and with hope.

Plus, the beauty of their art and profession is a privileged language for sharing the faith. Every time they perform, the circus artists transmit a message of harmony and perfection. Their talent reflects the grace and goodness of the Creator and becomes an instrument through which they inspire the spectator to search for the truth. The circus and amusement park are natural places for intercultural and inter-religious dialogue and for building up together a culture of peace.

Circus Zalewski in PolandCircus Zalewski in Poland

Sr Charlotte Hobelman, who was the National Director for Circus and Travelling show people at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services for 9 years, addressed the comparison made in the theme of circus, carnivals, and amusement parks to "cathedrals" of tradition and faith saying that within each human being there is a profound need for and quest of transcendence, that deep, deep yearning search within us for God. For ordinary families, a popular place to go to achieve an experience of transcendence is on the rides at amusement parks and travelling fairs or attending a circus performance.

"While cathedrals took many years to build, circus tents can be built and dismantled in a day or even hours. Yet in both cases, the space inside is sacred" and ritual takes place there. "In both sacred spaces, humanity can experience transcendence."
She ended by speaking of theologian William Stringfellow for whom the circus spoke of transcendence and God's coming into our lives.
"He interpreted eschatalogically the circus’ daily rhythm of tent construction; colorful, thrilling shows; rapid tent teardown and movement to a new location."
And finally she quoted a part of Robert Lax's poem 'Circus Days and Nights (Lax was a friend of Thomas Merton's who worked for a while with the Cristiani Brothers’ Circus):

Our dreams have tamed the lions,

have made pathways in the jungle

peaceful lakes;

they have built

new Edens ever sweet and ever changing.

By day from town to town

we carry Eden in our tents

and bring its wonders

to the children who have lost

their dream of home.