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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 Reflection in a Philippine Setting)


Msgr. Roberto ESPENILLA

Delegate for the Pastoral Care

of Tourism and Pilgrimages,



People on the move is the primary phenomenon of our age. This was further triggered to accelerate because of the rise of tourism as one of the top industries and of the clash of cultures (civilizations) according to a futuristic writer brought about by the nationalistic fervour due to ethnic groupings more aware of their own culture (and history). This phenomenon of human movement is further enhanced by the emergence of globalization promoted for the most part by the media of social communication like CNN, BBC and News Asia. It has resulted in changes particularly in terms of the waning influence of traditional instruments of education and formation, like the parents, and to some extent of the church leaders and evangelizer educators. Young people tend more to follow and imitate what they see and hear on television.

However, this seems to be conducive to the development of wider and deeper communication and as it were to the “shrinking” of the universe; this leads to the realization that the world has become like a small village but populated by people of different cultures, backgrounds and aspirations and even perhaps ambitions. In almost all countries today, there is a mixture of different races carrying with them in their inner selves their own native cultures. At this point, it is good for us to recall what Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes states in chapter 2: “The word culture in its general sense indicates everything whereby man develops and perfects his bodily and spiritual qualities. He strives by his knowledge and labor to bring the world itself under his control. He renders social life more human, both in family and civic community, through improvement of customs and institutions. Throughout the course of time, he expresses, communicates and conserves in his works great spiritual experiences and desires, that they may be of advantage for the progress of many, even to the whole human family” (GS n. 24).

Significant to note what Pope John Paul II insisted in 1995 before the UN: “A nation is a living subjectivity that performs through history with an identity that is dynamized by culture”. Citing his own native nation, John Paul II stated that “It [Poland] survived as a living entity, thanks to the faith of its people in Christ.” He further states: “A presupposition of a nation’s rights is certainly its right to exist. Therefore, no one… is ever justified in asserting that an individual nation is not worthy of existence. Its right to exist naturally implies that every nation also enjoys the right to its own language and culture, through which a people expresses and promotes that which I would call its fundamental spiritual sovereignty.” (John Paul II Address to the 50th General Assembly of the UNO, New York, Oct. 5, 1995, n. 8).

Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, as President of the Congregation the Doctrine of Faith, and considered ex officio interpreter of the mind of John Paul II, in his address to FABC Bishops gathered in Hong Kong in 1993 stated: “Faith itself is culture. There is no such thing as naked faith or mere religion. Simply stated, in so far as faith tells man who he is and how he should begin being human, faith is itself culture.”

Cardinal Francis George in his doctoral dissertation (Inculturation in Ecclesial Communion: Culture and Church in the Teaching of John Paul II, Francis F. George, OMI, Urbaniana University Press, Rome, 1990) says, “If culture is also to be related to faith, believers need a philosophical anthropology which restores to human persons their integrity in such a way that they remain certain of their own identity and yet always open to goals which transcend their own particular experience”. Bishop Nicholas Di Marzio in his paper presented to the XVI Plenary Meeting of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People in Vatican last May 17-19, 2004 [entitled “Intercultural Dialogue in the World of Migrants tha and Itinerant Peoples with Future Prospects,”] concludes that in the minds of these two cardinals, John Paul II’s “anthropology…becomes the bedrock of the intertwining of faith and culture, and affects intellectual resources for a global world-culture integrated by autonomous sub-cultures.”

I feel in this same line of thought I can situate the statement of one of the former Secretaries of Tourism in the Philippines, my own country, Madam Mina Gabor, with whom I was collaborating in the field of tourism, which runs like this: The history of the Philippines cannot be well understood unless in connection with and related to the history and development of the Catholic Church in our country. This statement was an inspiration to us in the association of Shrine Rectors of Pilgrimage Promotion of the Philippines (ASRP).

In response to the challenge of tourism and related to it, we in PACET (acronym for Pastoral Care of Those Engaged in Tourism) have established two pastoral programs: (A) Organization of the ASRP and (B) a Forum for Priests and Pastoral Workers in parishes which have Tourist Destination Areas (TDA).

(A) ASRP – in 1991 in preparation for the World Congress of Tourism to be held in Rome, the then Chairman of the Episcopal Commission Itinerant People (ECMI), Bishop Gabriel Reyes, invited rectors of shrines in the Philippines to a meeting held in Cebu City, Philippines. The important outcome and step taken by the group, composed of 14 shrine Rectors or their representatives, was to organize themselves into a group called ASRP (Association of Shrine Rectors of the Philippines). Later pilgrimage promoters were invited to join so as to forge cooperation with lay people in this apostolate, thus becoming an association of Shrine Rectors and Pilgrimage Promoters of the Philippines. As they prepared for the World Congress held on February 28 to March 1, 1992 in Domus Maria, Rome, the group outlined its vision and mission:

The Vision

We envision the ASRP as a pilgrim community of persons concerned with the pastoral care and promotion of shrines and pilgrimages, making these become genuine channels of renewed evangelization, enabling us and the people to deeply experience God, return to daily life with a changed heart and draw others to experience the same, so that together and in communion with the Church, we may journey towards the heavenly Jerusalem.

The Mission

We commit ourselves to:

- Foster deeper experience of community through encounters and interaction among members, pilgrims and devotees;

- Encourage collaboration and mutual support among members and others who subscribe to and are willing to get involved in the vision;

- Promote better understanding and appreciation of the historical, cultural and spiritual significance of shrines and pilgrimages;

- Purify incorrect practices and enhance expressions of popular religiosity related to shrines and pilgrimages so that they may find their proper place in our paraliturgical and liturgical celebrations;

- Develop a more holistic pastoral care of pilgrims, devotees and tourists;

- Design a network of communication and coordination among shrine rectors and promoters of pilgrimages particularly with ECMIP and through CBCP with the HOLY SEE;

- Develop alternative tourism programs conducive to the promotion of human and Christian values.

Since that time our shrines have developed into open places of worship and more tourist pilgrim-friendly in term of facilities for human and religious needs and concerns like a little museum etc. It has also motivated rectors to develop pastoral evangelization programs and to establish services like charity to the poor. In fact, some have combined both human and spiritual values and qualities like the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe which is also a pro-life shrine. We have also worked with the Department of Tourism, particularly the Bureau on Domestic Tourism, to counteract what are referred to as sex tours. The reality is we have just started to scratch, as it were, the surface of the phenomenon of tourism as it has affected and continues to affect the people especially the believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Recently internal tourism has increased significantly – about 9,574,446 Filipinos in 2003 according to the Department of Tourism (DOT) were into tourism. Some priests and lay persons have organized pilgrimages to our local shrines. But the observation is that most of those nine million and a half (9.5 million) rotated around the water especially beaches. Well, most of the Catholics still go to the celebration of the Eucharist before they go to the beaches. But a study has to be made how faith and pleasure mix.

(B) What about the places which are frequented by external tourists? In the vocabulary of the government, these places are called TDAs – tourist destination areas. How can we reach out to external or foreign tourists? How can we encounter them in such a way that the receiving community (usually a parish or part of it) and the visitors will come out the better after that.

An initiative was undertaken when parish priests of TDA were invited through the ECMI Chairman to a meeting and consultation. The number one concern that came out is sex tourism. After sharing and deliberation it was decided that a communitarian approach is to be developed: prepare and evangelize the community around TDAs, so that they can receive the visiting-tourist not in their terms but in the terms of the community. The group ended the consultation with a decision (a) to develop this needed evangelization program and (b) to establish a forum of exchange and sharing. This second aspiration was concretized by having a group called BANGKA – an acronym for “Bantay ng Kalikasan at Kaugalian (literally the word means “Sentinel of Natural Environment and Custom). We have some feedback, but no scientific study of its effect and implications has been undertaken.

Apropos to this pastoral initiative, John Paul II in his Migration Day Message 2000 said: “The parish represents the space in which a true pedagogy of meeting with people of various religious convictions and cultures can be realized. In its various expressions, the parish community can become a training ground of hospitality, a place where an exchange of experiences and gifts takes place.”

This aspect, though, of tourism in the Philippines challenges us especially since the majority of foreign tourists rotates in TDAs, namely beaches or places where there is a body of water. Statistics of DOT in the program for external tourists, called “More Than The Usual,” indicate that from January to March 2004, 559,336 foreign tourists reached our land; 20.8% from USA, 16.7 from Japan, 16.5 from Korea and 8.5 from Western and North Europe, 7.5 from Hong Kong and 6.3 from Asian countries; these are the top six tourist groups in our country in the first quarter of the current year.

In the last Plenary Meeting of the PCMIP last May 17-19, 2004, Bishop Di Marzio of Brooklyn, New York, pointed out that in the talk of Cardinal Ratzinger to FABC in 1993 in Hong Kong, he envisioned a new phrase for inculturation, not as a meeting of cultures, but rather as “inculturality”. The good cardinal stated: “Only if all cultures are potentially universal and open to each other (and Christian makes them so) can interculturality lead to providing new forms.”

This is a big challenge. This is perhaps the new avenue that we in the Philippines should explore in the search for a program of TDAs, where foreign visitors of different faith colors and shapes go, so as to engage them in what the last plenary meeting of PCMIP studied and reflected on: an intercultural dialogue.

This new avenue, as in anything new, would open to new forms but would also present some problems, apprehensions and fear. But go we must. Trust in the Lord is what is needed. Pope John Paul II says: “Duc in altum”.