Last week Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegliò, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, opened the 7th world congress on pastoral ministry in tourism. The congress was held in Cancun, Mexico and Pope Benedict XVI wrote a letter to reflect on the subject. I would highlight the following aspects from the Cardinal’s address and Pope Benedict’s Message.
1. Sign of the times: Cardinal Veglio explicitly called tourism “a sign of the times”, and the Pope hinted at the same point. This language use is very important for in the context of the New Evangelization, it identifies one key area in which the Church is called to respond with “new ardor, methods and expressions”. The numerous examples of youth traveling, backpacking, seeking speaks to the truth of this affirmation. The missions organized by the Church respond in part to this sign of the times, like CreatioMissions. The Pope encouraged a serious pastoral service to respond to this reality and the brilliant slogan: “tourism that makes a difference“.
2. Homo viator: The Pope’s key spiritual insight, that traveling reflects the inner dimension of a human being who seeks by nature.
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).
3. Tourism is a right: Cardinal Veglio insists in the dignity that tourism can bring to peoples and that is a right from which many poor people are often prevented from exercising. In his informed address the Cardinal sheds a light on its importance from several international documents. Not only can tourism take a negative form in its absence for some people, but also in its dangerous traits of exploitation and abuse, already mentioned before in other occasions.
4. Tourism and environment: The Cardinal was clear on recognizing the environmental dimension of tourism, both the risk of destruction that comes from it and the possibility of making it “sustainable and ecological” (1). The Pope also emphasized the importance of beauty and sustainability (2):
(1)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.
(2)Firstly, 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…. our pastoral action should never loose 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, 31 August 2011).