FLORENCE, Italy, AUG. 6, 2001 (Zenit.org).- For the past decade, youths from around Europe have been leading summer tours in Florence and describing the history, art and religious significance of historic churches like Santa Maria del Fiore.
The young guides wear green jackets with a symbol, depicting the cupola of the Florence cathedral. All are volunteers, university students and degree holders, who work seven hours a day for three weeks. All belong to the “Ars et Fides” International Federation, presided over by Monsignor Timothy Verdon, director of the diocesan Office for Catechesis Through Art here.
“The situation of a city of art such as Florence is different from a summer holiday city or a health spa, where people stay for long periods and where, because of this, there is the possibility for continual pastoral care,” Monsignor Verdon explained.
“The type of tourism this Tuscan city attracts is the ´bite and run´ kind: millions of visitors, of cultures different from our own, whose knowledge of Christianity is literally impossible to estimate, who have little time, and who do not come to Florence for a religious experience in the first place, as opposed to Assisi or Loreto,” he added.
“It is a situation that calls for new rhythms, as well as the confidence that God will also speak to people through life, history, beauty,” the monsignor added.
This is indirect evangelization, via culture. “This rapprochement, which is attentive to the evangelical origin of the works of art,” as the president of Ars et Fides described it, is entrusted to young volunteers who are trained by the Office for Catechesis Through Art.
The young volunteers lead at least four visits a day and, during the summer months, are in contact with some 20,000 people.
The “summer volunteers” replace the 70 or so permanent volunteers of the Florence cathedral, whose number is reduced in summer. The summer workers also guide visitors to the basilicas of St. Lawrence, Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce.