Tourism Must Be Enlightened by the Word of God, Says Pope

Calls for End to Human Trafficking

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CANCUN, Mexico, APRIL 23, 2012 ( With a message from Benedict XVI, the 7th World Congress on the Pastoral Care of Tourism opened today in Cancun, Mexico, on the topic “Tourism That Makes a Difference.»

The event concludes Friday.

The bishop-prelate of Cancun-Chetumal, Bishop Pedro Pablo Elizondo Cardenas, gave the welcome greeting to the participants.

The opening address was then given by Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegliò, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, in which he offered a study of the present reality of tourism, with positive and negative elements. Tourism is not only an opportunity but a right for all. Hence the special attention the Church gives to social tourism, religious tourism, and Christians’ tourism.

Condensed in the video-message sent by Taleb Rifai, secretary general of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (WTO), is the concept of tourism and its possibilities in a tourist sector that makes a difference.

Taking part in the congress’ works on behalf of the WTO’s secretary general is Ana Carolina Somarriba, coordinator of Development Projects for Central America., who gave a talk on the present situation of tourism (and of religious tourism), and prospects for the future.

Benedict XVI sent to Cardinal Vegliò and Bishop Elizondo Cardenas a message in Spanish on the occasion of the congress.

In his message, the Pope says that “tourism is certainly a phenomenon characteristic of our times, due both to the important dimensions that it has already achieved and in view of its potential for future growth. Like other human realities, it is called to be enlightened and transformed by the Word of God. For this reason, moved by pastoral solicitude and in view of the important influence tourism has on the human person, the Church has accompanied it from its first beginnings, encouraging its potential while at the same time pointing out, and striving to correct, its risks and deviations.”

“Tourism, together with vacations and free time, is a privileged occasion for physical and spiritual renewal; it facilitates the coming together of people from different cultural backgrounds and offers the opportunity of drawing close to nature and hence opening the way to listening and contemplation, tolerance and peace, dialogue and harmony in the midst of diversity,” he adds.

According to Benedict XVI, “Traveling reflects our being  as homo viator; at the same time it evokes that other deeper and more meaningful journey that we are called to follow and which leads to our encounter with God.”

“Travelling, which offers us the possibility of admiring the beauty of peoples, cultures and nature, can lead to God and be the occasion of an experience of faith, ‘for from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator’ (Wisdom 13:5),” he adds. On the other hand, explains the Pontiff, “tourism, like every human reality, is not exempt from dangers or negative dimensions. We refer to evils that must be dealt with urgently since they trample upon the rights of millions of men and women, especially among the poor, minors and handicapped.”

Among the negative aspects of tourism the Pope points out that “sexual tourism is one of the most abject of these deviations that devastate morally, psychologically and physically the life of so many persons and families, and sometimes whole communities.”

Likewise, “The trafficking of human beings for sexual exploitation or organ harvesting as well as the exploitation of minors, abandoned into the hands of individuals without scruples and undergoing abuse and torture, sadly happen often in the context of tourism.”

All this, says the Pontiff, “should bring all who are engaged for pastoral reasons or who work in the field of tourism, and the whole international community, to increase their vigilance and to foresee and oppose such aberrations.”

The Pope points out three areas on which the pastoral care of tourism must focus its attention.

In the first place, “we need shed light on this reality using the social teaching of the Church and promote a culture of ethical and responsible tourism, in such a way that it will respect the dignity of persons and of peoples, be open to all, be just, sustainable and ecological. The enjoyment of free time and regular vacations are an opportunity as well as a right. The Church, within its own sphere of competence, is committed to continue offering its cooperation, so that this right will become a reality for all people, especially for less fortunate communities.”

In the second place, “our pastoral action should never lose sight of the via pulchritudinis, ‘the way of beauty.’ Many of the manifestations of the historical and cultural religious patrimony are ‘authentic ways to God, Supreme Beauty; indeed they help us to grow in our relationship with him, in prayer. These are works that arise from faith and express faith’ (General Audience, August 31, 2011). It is important to welcome tourists and offer them well-organized visits, with due respect for sacred places and the liturgical action, for which many of these works came into being and which continues to be their main purpose.”

And, in the third place, “pastoral activity in the area of tourism should care for Christians as they enjoy their vacations and free time in such a way that these will contribute to their human and spiritual growth. Truly this is ‘an appropriate moment to let the body relax and to nourish the spirit with more time for prayer and meditation, in order to grow in personal relationship with Christ and become ever more conformed to his teachings’ (Angelus, July 15, 2007).”

The Pope ends his message by encouraging “to ensure that pastoral activity in the field of tourism is integrated, as it ought in all justice, as part of the organic, ordinary pastoral activity of the Church. In this way, by the coordination of projects and efforts, we will respond in greater fidelity to the Lord’s missionary mandate.”

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