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The economy is down, but that doesn’t seem to be putting a dent in religious travel.
BY Tim DrakeRegister Senior Writer
UPSALA, Minn. — Rob Schumer has
been on two previous religious pilgrimages — leading youth groups to World
Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, and Sydney, Australia. But in 2010 he’s hoping
to take a religious journey all his own to the Holy Land. His previous trips
have taught him something about the Church.
have a better realization that the Catholic faith isn’t dead and that it will
continue for future generations,” said Schumer, a youth minister from Upsala,
Minn. “When I saw all those kids from all these different countries, I knew
that the Catholic Church was alive and thriving.”
a recent Gallup Poll, 42% of respondents said that they had delayed a vacation
over the past 60 days in order to help make ends meet. Yet, despite the economic
downturn, experts expect 2010 and 2011 to be banner years for religious travel.
Wright, president and founder of the World Religious Travel Association, said
that the next two years look to be “fascinating” for Catholic and religious
travel. “Tour operators expect 500,000 visitors for the Oberammergau Passion
Play in Germany, which only happens every decade,” he said.
addition, noted Wright, Spain has declared 2010 a holy year because the feast
of St. James, July 25, falls on a Sunday, which means that many will be
traveling to Santiago de Compostela, whose cathedral has a relic of St. James
big events in the next two years include:
• the Year for Priests, in
which many seminarians and priests are traveling to Ars, France, where St. John
Vianney served his entire priestly life;
• a rare exposition of the
Shroud of Turin in 2010;
• World Youth Day 2011 in
overall for such trips is high. According to a study done by the U.S. Travel
Association a couple of years ago, one out of every four Americans is
interested in a faith-based trip. And the industry as a whole has grown
tremendously over the past two decades.
to Wright, religious tourism is, in fact, one of the oldest forms of tourism.
“The first tour operator was Thomas Cook, a Baptist minister from England,”
said Wright. “He took the first group to the Holy Land in 1861.”
business has grown into what is now one of the world’s largest travel agencies.
who conduct tours say they’ve seen many changes since 1861.
as there has been growth in the faith-based publishing, music and film
industries, there has been a trend of people putting their vacation dollars
towards a faith-based vacation or pilgrimage,” said Wright.
definition of religious travel also has changed. “Today, religious travel can
include travel to a holy site with a religious intention, missionary travel or
a vacation with missionary intent, travel to a religious gathering, or travel
for leisure with a fellowship intent, such as a Catholic cruise,” said Wright.
“Today, modern pilgrimages tend to include both the religious aspect as well as
the nonreligious aspect, such as leisure sightseeing.”
Mancino, president of New York-based Regina Tours, which leads between 150 to
200 tours per year, has also seen many changes over the past two decades.
until about 10 years ago, the Holy Land was one of the last places Catholics
thought about going,” said Mancino. “But since the popes [Paul VI, John Paul II
and Benedict XVI] have gone there, it has become a more popular destination.”
changes Mancino has seen include an increase in younger pilgrims and a desire
for a more comfortable experience.
the old days, travelers went for two or three weeks. Because of cost and time,
most travelers were retired,” said Mancino. “Now, younger people are traveling,
and most travelers are going for only eight to 10 days at a time.”
operators such as Youth in Europe, Regina Tours and Globus have made World
Youth Day a regular part of their religious travel offerings. Regina Tours has
been involved in the last six World Youth Day gatherings.
Mancino and Wright noted that safety and comfort are foremost on pilgrimage
years ago, people didn’t care how they flew or where they stayed,” said
Mancino. “Now, they’re more prone to ask how they’ll get there and whether the
hotel is a one-star or four-star hotel.”
added that whereas travel used to be thought of as a luxury, today people see
it “as more of a necessity to re-energize ourselves and see and experience
something that will make you feel different than you did before.”
said that the highlight of his World Youth Day trip to Germany in 2005 was the
Stations of the Cross.
were performed along trails in the woods,” said Schumer. “Because all of the
distractions were taken away, I could focus on the stations. They were so
enriching that I gained a much greater love and respect for the Stations of the
Cross. I’ll always remember that.”
Tim Drake is based in
St. Joseph, Minnesota.
Religious Destinations (Annual Visitors)
• Our Lady of
Mexico City — 15-20 million
— 10 million
n Our Lady of
Lourdes, France — 6 million
• Padre Pio
Shrine, San Giovanni
Rotondo, Italy — 5-6 million
• Holy Land — 3 million