Vatican Brings Shrines Closer to Rome

Kicks Off Pilgrimage Air Charter Service

VATICAN CITY, AUG. 26, 2007 ( A charter flight from Rome to Lourdes this week will mark the beginning of a new Vatican initiative to link the Eternal City with major pilgrimage destinations worldwide.

Monday’s flight is the inauguration of a joint venture by the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi — the Vatican institution whose mission is to evangelize through pastoral tourism and the ministry of pilgrimage — and the Italian airline Mistral Air, to fly pilgrims to shrines and holy sites.

Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Pope’s vicar for Rome, will accompany the first group on the one-day trip to Lourdes. He will celebrate Holy Mass for the some 100 pilgrims in the Basilica of St. Bernadette.

The flight will return to Rome the same day, reaching the Eternal City around midnight.

Around 30 similar flights have been planned between now and the end of the year to other principal shrines in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. The other destinations will include Fatima, Portugal; Santiago de Compostela, Spain; Czestochowa, Poland; Alexandria, Egypt; and the Holy Land.

Father Cesare Atuire, Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi’s administrative delegate, told ZENIT that for the moment three airplanes will be used for the charter flights, which hold 148 passengers each.

Father Atuire also expressed his hope that the cost of the pilgrimages will be moderately priced and in accord with the needs of the pilgrims.

According to the organization’s Journeys of the Spirt Web site, a four-day trip to Lourdes in late September will cost €555 ($757), including airfare, hotel and scheduled tours.

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