VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News)— Pope Benedict XVI will spend his summer vacation praying, reading and writing, according to his official spokesman.
“I was also struck in the past, talking to the Pope’s personal secretary, who said to me very naturally: ‘The best way for the Pope to rest is for him to study and write about theology, sacred Scripture, because they are topics that fascinate him,’” said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi in a July 7 interview with Vatican Radio.
The Pope left July 7 for his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, a tiny hilltop village overlooking Lake Albano, just 15 miles southeast of Rome. The town has been the traditional holiday spot for popes since the 15th century.
“He enjoys his stay at Castel Gandolfo very much and perhaps has a greater guarantee of the rest which he needs and desires by going directly to Castel Gandolfo, rather than traveling to an unfamiliar place for a short period,” the papal spokesman said, referring to Pope John Paul II’s preference for sometimes vacationing in the Italian mountains.
Father Lombardi says that Pope Benedict chooses the familiar surroundings of Castel Gandolfo “in his discretion and kindness,” as it makes for a more relaxed summer atmosphere for all the papal entourage, particularly the security staff.
The papal spokesman describes the village as “a quiet place, where even the altitude is suitable: cooler than Rome, but not particularly high. It has gardens to walk in and environments conducive to the Pope’s intellectual and cultural work, as well as for time spent in prayer, both particularly dear to him.”
But Pope Benedict’s summer will not be overly relaxed by most people’s standards. He has a trip to World Youth Day in Spain planned for mid-August and a September pilgrimage to his homeland of Germany. He also intends to use his stay at Castel Gandolfo to finish his three-volume biography of Jesus.
“He told us he wanted to complete it with a third volume, though smaller, perhaps a bit different in nature and approach, which is about his (Jesus’) childhood, about the infancy Gospels,” said Father Lombardi.
“He has already started working on it in his free periods of the past months, but probably this is the right time to bring the work to a conclusion, or at least to forge ahead on it.”
On top of all that, Pope Benedict will still greet pilgrims every Sunday with his noontime Angelus address. One regularly scheduled meeting that will be off his plate is his weekly Wednesday audience, which is canceled for the month of July.
The Holy Father began the first day of his holiday by visiting the Vatican exhibition dedicated to Blessed John Paul II. It was created to mark his beatification in May and is open until July 24.
He will return to Rome in September.
The Vatican is using the start of Pope Benedict XVI’s summer vacation to reflect upon the spiritual benefits of holidays for both tourists and the tourism industry.
“Tourism presents itself as ‘breaking down barriers across cultures and fostering tolerance, respect and mutual understanding,” said Archbishop Antonio Maria Veglio, head of the Vatican council tasked with the spiritual care of migrants and itinerant people.
“In our often divided world, these values represent the stepping stones towards a more peaceful future,” he explained July 6.
Archbishop Veglio said that tourism enriches the lives of travelers by bringing them into contact with different cultures. This requires respect, though, on the part of the tourist and the tour guide.
“Tourism should be organized with respect for the … nature, laws and customs of the receiving countries,” he said in a letter issued July 6, in preparation for World Tourism Day.
The archbishop also used his letter to address those who visit sites rich in Christian heritage, such as Rome, which receives an estimated 10 million tourists every year.
These sites, he said, present an opportunity to evangelize that should not be missed.
“The works of art and historical memory have an enormous potential to evangelize, in as much as they are placed in the context of the ‘via pulchritudinis’ or the ‘way of beauty,’ which is ‘a privileged and fascinating path on which to approach the mystery of God,’” he observed, quoting Pope Benedict XVI.
One recent attempt by the Vatican to put this into practice can be found at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, where pilgrims are now being offered an iPod that acts as an interactive guide to the church. The project, which is currently being tested at the church, is also aimed at quieting visitors, allowing those who wish to pray the chance to do so.
“As we are conscious that the Church ‘exists in order to evangelize,’ we must always ask ourselves: How can we welcome people in holy places so that they come to better know and love the Lord? How can we facilitate an encounter between God and each one of the people that are welcomed?” concluded Archbishop Veglio.