The Vatican is using the start of Pope Benedict XVI’s summer vacation to reflect upon the spiritual benefits of holidays for both tourists and the tourism industry.
“Tourism presents itself as ‘breaking down barriers across cultures and fostering tolerance, respect and mutual understanding,” said Archbishop Antonio Maria Veglio, head of the Vatican council tasked with the spiritual care of migrants and itinerant people.
“In our often divided world, these values represent the stepping stones towards a more peaceful future,” he explained July 6.
Archbishop Veglio said that tourism enriches the lives of travelers by bringing them into contact with different cultures. This requires respect, though, on the part of the tourist and the tour operator.
“Tourism should be organized with respect for the peculiar nature, laws, and customs of the receiving countries,” he said in a letter issued July 6, in preparation for World Tourism Day.
The archbishop also used his letter to address those who visit sites rich in Christian heritage, such as Rome, which receives an estimated 10 million tourists every year.
These sites, he said, present an opportunity to evangelize that should not be missed.
“The works of art and historical memory have an enormous potential to evangelize, in as much as they are placed in the context of the ‘via pulchritudinis’ or the ‘way of beauty,’ which is ‘a privileged and fascinating path on which to approach the Mystery of God’,” he observed, quoting Pope Benedict XVI.
One recent attempt by the Vatican to put this into practice can be found at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, where pilgrims are now being offered an iPod that acts as an interactive guide to the church. The project –which is currently being piloted at the church - is also aimed at quieting visitors, allowing those who wish to pray the chance to do so.
“As we are conscious that the Church ‘exists in order to evangelize,’ we must always ask ourselves: How can we welcome people in holy places so that they come to better know and love the Lord? How can we facilitate an encounter between God and each one of the people that are there welcomed?” concluded Archbishop Veglio.
Meanwhile, Pope Benedict began the first day of his holiday by visiting the Vatican exhibition dedicated to Blessed John Paul II. It was created to mark his beatification in May and is open until July 24.
The Pope then traveled from the Vatican to his holiday retreat at Castel Gandolfo, 15 miles to the south of Rome. He will remain there for the month of July.