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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 96 (Suppl.), December 2004





(A vision from Germany)



Rev. Dr. Peter PRASSEL

Director of Katholische Auslandssekretariat,

Bonn, Germany


I am grateful for the opportunity to present some considerations here from the viewpoint of Katholische Auslandssekretariat of the German Bishops’ Conference on the theme, “Tourism At the Service of the Encounter Among Peoples”.

Before getting into the theme, I would like to express my thanks briefly for the fact that this Congress is being held here in Bangkok. To an evergreater extent, Thailand is one of the countries visited most, also by Germans. A tourist voyage to Asia would be unthinkable without planning a stop in Bangkok and its surroundings. Even though this is fundamentally positive, the related problems for the country and the people should not be overlooked. In these days, we will surely have enough time to take up some difficult aspects of this phenomenon. This is why it is all the more important for the Congress to be held in a place that is so strongly marked by tourism. In this way, the results of our meeting will gain in credibility and the country can also benefit from our work. I am grateful to all those who worked so hard to make this possible.

The Pastoral Care of Tourism in tourist centers and metropolises is not an unfamiliar subject for the German Bishops’ Conference. 80 years ago the Auslandssekretariat of the German Bishops’ Conference was founded in order to give German-speaking people abroad guidance and a place of faith. Even before the major documents of the Second Vatican Council like Gaudium et Spes, or Paul VI’s subsequent Motu Proprio De Pastorali Migratorum Cura, the German Bishops already realized that the preparation of a pastoral program abroad, in the mother tongue, is one of the essential tasks of the Church of origin.

While the pastoral plan in German was initially addressed to German emigrants following the great wave of emigration from Europe, as time passed pastoral care in the political and economic metropolises was added, and later pastoral care for tourists abroad, which has been growing steadily over the past 30 years. Today the Katholische Auslandssekretariat supports approximately 160 communities. Among these, the number of communities is naturally decreasing for Germans abroad, while the number for the metropolises and for tourists is growing continuously. In Asia alone, the German Bishops’ Conference supports 21 communities or contact places, including one here in Bangkok where Father Fabry has been carrying out an important, and not always easy service for some years. With these few figures that speak for themselves, I wish to point out how important the pastoral program in the German language is for the German Bishops’ Conference. In the brief time available, I would like to take up the theme of the Congress, “Tourism At the Service of the Encounter Among Peoples”.

Tourism is a leading sector for the economy of the 21st century. Worldwide, approximately 200 million people work in this sector. For 38% of the countries on earth, tourism represents the most important branch of trade. Year after year, 3.53 billion US dollars are exchanged in this area, which corresponds to 10% of the universal gross internal product.

The figures immediately highlight how important tourism has become, but, at the same time, how important it is for the Church to accompany this development. Otherwise there is the danger that because of tourist demands, the dignity of persons will not be sufficiently respected, nature, a gift of God, will be threatened, and, above all, the image and likeness of all people before God will be forgotten. With the expression, “Tourism At the Service of the Encounter Among Peoples”, the right road has been taken. In fact, it is a question of understanding and using tourism as an instrument of understanding among peoples.

Understanding on both sides – on the part of those visited and the visitors – is first of all the fundamental willingness to consider the real life situation of others seriously, to take an interest in it and respect it. For those in the host country, this means that they must not see a tourist first of all as a person who should improve their economic situation or who wants to force them into a different lifestyle. They should welcome a visitor as a person who for a limited period of time, wants to be a friendly guest, a companion, a friend.

On the other hand, tourists should always bear in mind that their host is not just someone who can make it possible for them to have a nice vacation, possibly at a good price. Moreover, they should not look at the country they are visiting only from the geographic and historical viewpoint, but also as other people’s homeland, which must be protected and preserved. Therefore, tourists should also take into consideration the problems related to the environment, poverty, the economy and the social order. They too should see their host as a companion and a friend.

The main task of the Church’s action is to promote and support these reciprocal relations. Now, one may rightly ask if tourists really want this encounter with others. Don’t they just want to be bussed to the pyramids and then brought back to the hotel? In part, this is surely the case, but our experience in the pastoral care of tourism during the past decade indicates that people on vacation generally have a great, strong desire to know the meaning of life and they look for it. For this reason, the Katholische Auslandssekretariat supports ecclesial offerings in some important tourist metropolises throughout the year, such as Mallorca, the Eastern coast of Spain, Tenerife and the Canaries, in Italy, France, and here in Asia in Bali, and in Africa in Kenya, Namibia and South Africa. As of recently, there is even a Pastoral Care of Tourism in an Islamic country, Turkey.

In these places, the priests try to help the people to see vacation not only as a time of rest for the body, but also as an occasion for reflection. Unfortunately, it is not possible for me to illustrate this work at length to you here. My collaborator, Mr. Spiess, and I will be glad to talk to you about this in greater detail. However, we have made up a motto for the Catholic pastoral care of vacation: “Give an expression to desire”. The relative material is attached to the Congress documentation. 

I would just like to cite some of the points that seem important to me for our theme:

- A priest’s outlook should not only focus on the tourists; collaboration is also necessary with the trip organizers, the guides and the tourist industry. Precisely for this purpose, the German Bishops’ Conference created the “Catholic Community of Work for Free Time and Tourism”, which pursues this kind of dialogue. Among other things, it also takes active part each year in the largest tourism fair, the BIT (Internationale Tourismusborse – International Tourism Fair) in Berlin.

- The Pastoral Care of Tourism should try to stay in contact with the local Church. The Church, however, must open up more and consider tourism as an opportunity. Good collaboration within the Church is also useful for understanding between tourists and hosts. This implies, for instance, offering celebrations in the tourists’ languages in the tourist areas, if possible, or – and in this case we have some very positive experiences – finding booklets with the most important liturgical texts in the mother tongue. Celebrations in several languages, especially intense celebrations during the Church’s most important periods, provide favorable occasions! But a personal greeting is also an important gesture of confidence and welcome.

- This holds especially for tourists who remain in a country for a long period of time, the so-called “residents”. Many of them become home or apartment owners and so they return often. Sometimes they stay for months; some even stay for years. On the island of Mallorca alone, more than 80,000 Germans own property; on the Eastern Spanish coast, there are hundreds of thousands of them. Many times these are elderly persons who only speak the local language to a limited extent. They try to draw near to the Church, from which they expect aid and support.

- During vacation many people seek God. Priests have to offer assistance that will fulfill this desire, such as special celebrations (e.g., Mass on the mountains or on the beach), or by offering talks or confession. The surveys indicate that twice as many people attend the celebrations during vacation compared to when they are at home (28% instead of 14%).

- In Germany we are currently committed in pastoral care to “keeping the churches open” from morning to night. These “open churches” invite people to enter, to stop and to pray. In my opinion, this is very important, especially in the tourist areas, because the churches open the way to God, over and above the tourism aspects.

- Vacation can become a period of crisis. People can get sick, have accidents, or end up in jail. Offering assistance to these persons is another important task.

- In a world that is increasingly subject to terrorist attacks, the Pastoral Care of Tourism can offer an important service of understanding and encounter for insecure and frightened persons. In Indonesia, for example, our priest is intensely involved in setting up dialogues between the religions and the ethnic groups.

- The Pastoral Care of Tourism should also inform the tourists about the living conditions and the culture of the host country. This includes information about particular economic, political and cultural features. We all know, for instance, how irritating the wrong clothes in the wrong place can be.

- In this context, I would like to refer to one area that is not taken into consideration very much: the pastoral care of cruises. The problems that arise on board a ship are much more complex than one might normally imagine. These do not only involve the clients (up to 2000 per voyage), but the personnel too (up to 1000 persons). As Auslandssekretariat, at the request of the shipping companies, we accompany almost 50 cruises each year. For your information, we have included a contribution in the Congress documentation regarding this important area of pastoral care.

- The Pastoral Care of Tourism should also take the poverty in many countries into consideration. This is an opportunity that should be taken advantage of because people on vacation are more willing than usual to get involved in combating poverty in other countries.

- The priest on location – who is either sent from abroad or from the local church – should have one thing in abundance, both for the natives and for the tourists: time, lots of time!

- In conclusion, I would like to mention one more task of the Pastoral Care of Tourism: getting people to meet and unite. This can be achieved through concerts, evening lectures, common feasts, exhibits with talks, etc.

I must conclude for a lack of time. There would be many other aspects to mention and much has to remain fragmentary. Therefore, together with the texts about the Pastoral Care of Tourism and the pastoral care of cruises that I already mentioned, I would like to refer to our reflections on the Congress. You will find everything as “attachments” in your documentation. These are fundamental presentations and detailed supplements.

“Tourism At the Service of the Encounter Among Peoples”: we have come together from all over the world with this motto, and I look forward with joy to the discussions and the results. Allow me to end with one thought. In St. Benedict’s Rule, in connection with the exhortation to give a particular welcome to a guest, we find the expression, “Hospes venit – Christus venit”. If in the Pastoral Care of Tourism we could make clear to both the visitor and the visited that each one basically finds Jesus Christ in the other, then we would make a great step forward in the encounter among peoples.