Cardinal Vegliò's Opening Address at Tourism Conference

«We are convinced that tourism humanizes»

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CANCUN, Mexico, APRIL 24, 2012 ( Here is a translation of the address given by Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegliò, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, to open the 7th world congress on pastoral ministry in tourism. The congress began Monday in Cancun, Mexico. 

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1. Introduction

With great pleasure and gratitude I greet all of you who are gathered here: Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate, priests and deacons, religious and laity. All of you, in one way or another, dedicate most of your best efforts and concerns to tourism and its pastoral care. Your presence is an expression of the universality of the Church, which is attentive to the human being in all of his dimensions and wants to support him by enlightening him with the light of the Gospel.

In particular I would like to greet: His Excellency Carlos Aguiar, the President of the Mexican Bishops’ Conference and of CELAM; His Excellency Christophe Pierre, the Apostolic Nuncio; His Excellency Rafael Romo, the person in charge of the “Pastoral of Human Mobility” Dimension, and His Excellency Emilio Carlos Berlie, the Metropolitan of this ecclesiastical province and member of our Pontifical Council.

I greet with affection and thanks His Excellency Pedro Pablo Elizondo, the Prelate of Cancún-Chetumal who is in charge of the pastoral area of tourism, civil aviation and free time in the Mexican Bishops’ Conference. He is generously hosting us in his home, and we are indebted to his efforts and those of his team if we can solemnly open this event.

The Holy Father Benedict XVI wanted to be present at our Congress by means of a broad, profound message which he kindly addressed to those of us who are taking part in it. Let us reflect on this document. His letter will necessarily accompany and enlighten the work we are beginning today. We will endeavor to let ourselves be guided by his words and in this way to respond in the best way to what the Church is asking from us in this concrete historical moment.

2. Tourism is a sign of the times

The Holy Father reminds us 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”.

In approaching tourism, we have to avoid any reductive conception of it by identifying it with a mere economic activity or with minority and privileged groups in our societies.

Tourism is surely indebted to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights approved on December 10, 1948. In its article 24, it recognizes that “everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay”. We find ourselves in a historical moment when a significant part of the population enjoys more and more free time and has the possibility to engage in tourism. The Hague Declaration on Tourism, approved in 1989, states precisely in its Principle I: “Tourism has become a phenomenon of everyday life for hundreds of millions of people today”. At the same time, it recognizes that “it constitutes an activity essential to the lives of human beings and modern societies, having become an important form of using the free time of individuals and the main vehicle for interpersonal relations and political, economic and cultural contact made necessary by the internationalization of all sectors of the life of nations”.

The statistics offered by the World Tourism Organization corroborate these words. Its latest Barometer estimates international tourist arrivals in 2011 at 980 million, and these will reach the landmark figure of one billion this year. With this rate of growth, international tourist arrivals will reach two billion in the year 2030. To these must be added the even higher figures involved in local tourism.

Despite everything that has been said, I believe it is necessary at this time to note that there are unfortunately many people who are still excluded from this right. In many developing countries and for a significant part of humanity, where basic needs are not satisfied, this right surely appears to be something distant, and it may even seem frivolous to talk about it.

3. Tourism supported by the Church’s pastoral concern

The Holy Father continues his message by inviting us to develop a pastoral care of tourism based on the conviction that “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”.

Pope Pius XII was the first pontiff to deal with the pastoral care of tourism in a systematic way. This was a response to his concern to set up a dialogue between the Christian faith and contemporary society.

From that moment on, the Church’s pastoral attention experienced a constant increase in her initiatives while at the same time her areas of action expanded. In the early 1960s, and due to the significant growth of the phenomenon, the Holy See entrusted the pastoral care of tourism to the “Center for the preservation of the faith” in the so-called Sacred Congregation of the Council.

With the different reforms of the Roman Curia, the pastoral care of tourism was taken on successively by the Congregation for the Clergy (1967), and the Pontifical Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migration and Tourism (1970). The latter was subsequently elevated to the rank of Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (1988) in which the sector for the pastoral care of tourism, pilgrimages and shrines is found.

As a fruit of ecclesial concern for this area, in 1969 the General Directory for the Pastoral Care of Tourism Peregrinans in terra was published. It was the first systematic document referring to this specific pastoral care. Together with a positive evaluation of the phenomenon, it contained an invitation to evangelize it and support it spiritually. These reflections were subsequently taken up and updated in the Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of Tourism, which our Pontifical Council published in 2001.

4. Positive and negative elements

To support this important human reality adequately, it is fundamental to recognize both its many positive elements and its ambiguous or negatives ones and in this way to strengthen the former and denounce and try to correct the latter.

First, we want to stress the virtues and potentialities of tourism. We are convinced that tourism humanizes because it is: an occasion for physical and spiritual regeneration; a path to the reciprocal knowledge of persons, peoples and cultures; an instrument of economic development and the fight against poverty; a promoter of peace, tolerance, fraternity and dialogue between civilizations; an opportunity for an encounter with nature; a factor in self-education and an occasion for human growth, and an area for contemplation and spiritual growth.

This is precisely one of the points which the Holy Father stresses when he says: “Travelling 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’ (Wis 13:5)”.

This positive evaluation of tourism, however, does not impede us from recognizing that, like all
human reality, it is not exempt from risks and negative traits. It can promote dangerous urban and environmental changes, the deterioration of the cultural heritage, a decline in values and, what is much worse, the undermining of human dignity. The Global Code of Ethics for Tourism emphasizes this when it says, “The exploitation of human beings in any form, particularly sexual, especially when applied to children, conflicts with the fundamental aims of tourism and is the negation of tourism”.[1]

In this process, moreover, the Church wants to support the phenomenon based on an appropriate pastoral action centered especially on the three areas which the Holy Father points out in his message to our Congress: tourism in general, religious tourism and Christians’ tourism.

5. Tourism in general

In following up this invitation, our pastoral concern needs to be directed first of all to tourism in itself by collaborating with all the efforts aimed at making it a truly human and humanizing reality. The area of competency of this specific care will be in the Holy Father’s words, to “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”.

In this effort to achieve an ethical and responsible tourism, the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, adopted by the WTO and ratified by the United Nations General Assembly, undoubtedly represents an important landmark. While we need to back all initiatives that lead to spreading and applying the Code, we express our support for it to obtain the juridical status of a “Convention” so that it will have the legal force it lacks at this time.

Based on the positive evaluation we offered earlier, we must conclude, supported by the ecclesial Magisterium,[2] that tourism is not just an opportunity but should also be a right for all, which cannot be limited to certain social fringes or some concrete geographical areas. However, the observation of reality shows us that it is not within everyone’s reach and there are still many who cannot enjoy it or take advantage of its benefits.[3] Therefore, the conditions need to be fostered that favor the existence of a social tourism to which everyone can have access, especially families, young people, students, seniors and those who suffer from disabilities.[4]

In achieving this social tourism, Pope Benedict XVI’s Encyclical Caritas in Veritate can be very helpful. In this document on social doctrine dedicated to integral human development, there is one paragraph, No. 61, which deals with the complex and rich phenomenon of tourism. Moreover, the text as a whole offers many pertinent areas for reflection and useful guidelines for our action.

One of the important proposals offered by the Holy Father is the invitation to go beyond an obsolete dichotomy between the economic sphere and the social sphere. This has led erroneously to identifying the economy with the production of wealth and the social sphere with the place of solidarity.[5] The Encyclical advocates abandoning this identification and points out that economic conduct which does not include the social dimension would not be ethically acceptable, while at the same time any social action that does not take the resources into account would be unsustainable in the long term.[6]

On this way to achieving an authentic social tourism, the Church has contributed a lot with her theoretical reflection as well as with the many initiatives promoted by dioceses, parishes or ecclesial associations that have been carried out in favor of the most disadvantaged social groups and through which efforts have been made to extend this right.

“The Church – as the Holy Father says -, 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”.

6. Religious tourism

The second area in which the Holy Father invites us to work is the so-called “religious tourism”: the tourism which has as its destination the different artistic manifestations that grew from the Christian religious experience. These destinations include temples, monasteries, religious art museums, Christian celebrations or festive and popular expressions of our faith.

Statistics show that religious tourism is in a phase of growth. There are more and more people who visit religious tourist destinations during their vacations and dedicate a part of them to pilgrimages, or even spend a few days of rest in monastery hostels sharing the experience of silence with the religious community that hosts them.

On their part, the civil authorities are aware of the potential of this kind of tourism, and many consider these religious destinations among their countries’ tourist proposals and promote them.

Surely the religious historical-cultural heritage can and must be at the service of the new evangelization especially when it speaks the language proper to it: that of the “via pulchritudinis”, the “way of beauty”, a theme very dear to Benedict XVI. He said that these artistic expressions are “real highways to God, the supreme Beauty; indeed, they help us to grow in our relationship with him, in prayer. These are works that were born from faith and express faith”.[7] When visiting these religious tourist destinations, visitors ought to experience this “ via pulchritudinis” in three concrete areas: the beauty of the place, the beauty of the liturgy, and the beauty of the charity and human relations which is expressed, among other things, in the hospitality we must offer them. In this regard, the papal message reminds us that “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”.

Also in this area close cooperation is necessary. We invite the national and international civil institutions to consider religious tourism among their work areas and to respect its specific characteristics and needs. It is important to emphasize the necessary cooperation that should also exist between the Church and the different professionals involved in the tourism sector which includes hotel-keepers, tourist agencies and operators, guides and transportation agents. We invite them to promote respect both for the religious places visited and for the tourists’ beliefs by enabling and facilitating their religious practices.[8] Likewise, the Church should show her collaboration so that tour guides will get sufficient religious preparation which will enable them to show the authentic face of the religious places visited. This cooperation will surely bring benefits to all the sectors involved.

7. Christians’ tourism

The Holy Father indicates as the third task of the pastoral care of tourism support “Christians as they enjoy their vacations and free time in such a way that these will contribute to their human and spiritual growth”. So the Church should also support Christians during their time of rest by promoting appropriate liturgical, formative and social initiatives based on an attitude of welcome and service.

However, this pastoral action cannot focus only on the ones that take part regularly in ecclesial life. Therefore, Benedict XVI states emphatically that “the new evangelization, to which all are called, requires us to keep in mind and to make good use of the many occasions that tourism offers us to put forward Christ as the supreme response to modern man’s fundamental questions”. The General Conferenc
e of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate held in Aparecida spoke out along the same lines.[9]

The Church, which “takes account of time and culture for the sake of true dialogue and effective communication”,[10] is called to evangelize “whether it is convenient or inconvenient” (2 Tim 4:2). She knows that she is invited to act in the area of tourism with new creativity, and especially with a strong missionary dynamic that starts from human questions in order to present the Gospel message.

8. The need for a pastoral care of tourism

Based on everything that has been said until now, and in following up the Holy Father’s request, we invite you “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”.

We note with concern that this specific pastoral care has still not entered into many dioceses and Bishops’ Conferences or is considered something accessory that can be dispensed with. In some cases, of course, there are very serious areas that need to be addressed. But in other situations this absence is owing to a restrictive concept of tourism, which identifies it erroneously with economically well-to-do classes and surely makes it difficult to accept this ecclesial care by questioning its need and importance.

The Holy Father’s exhortation needs to be expressed both in the creation of national and diocesan structures where they do not exist yet, and in strengthening the existing ones. For this purpose, the indications offered by the Directory Peregrinans in terra[11] and the Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of Tourism will be useful.[12] Likewise, beyond specific and sporadic proposals, we are invited to shape a pastoral care of tourism integrated into ordinary pastoral care by including it in an organic and articulate way in its pastoral plans.

This ecclesial action will need to be addressed to all the people involved: the tourists, those working in the sector, the host community, the ones who suffer its consequences…

I will conclude by reiterating the Holy Father’s invitation to this Congress, “meeting precisely under the banner A tourism that makes a difference, contribute to the development of a pastoral approach that will lead steadily to that ‘different type of tourism’ ”.

[1] World Tourism Organization, Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, October 1, 1999, art. 2§3.

[2] Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, December 7, 1965, Nos. 61 and 67; Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of Tourism, June 29, 2001, No. 6.

[3] Cf. Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of Tourism, June 29, 2001, No. 24.

[4] Cf. World Tourism Organization, Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, October 1, 1999, art. 7§4.

[5] Cf. Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, June 29, 2009, Nos. 35-42.

[6] Cf. Antonio Maria Vegliò, Message to the participants in the Fifth European Forum of Social Tourism, Malaga (Spain), October 15-17, 2009.

[7] Benedict XVI, General Audience, August 31, 2011.

[8] Cf. World Tourism Organization, Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, October 1, 1999, art. 6§3.

[9] Cf. Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate, Conclusive Document, Aparecida (Brazil), May 2007, Nos. 493 and 518.

[10] John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, January 6, 2001, No. 29.

[11] Cf. Congregation for the Clergy, General Directory Peregrinans in terra for the pastoral care of tourism, April 30, 1969, Nos. 13-29.

[12] Cf. Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of Tourism, June 29, 2001, Nos. 31-35.

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