July 13, 2011

Religious Tourism in... Cancún?

Cancún has been chosen by the Vatican as the location for an important gathering next year. From April 23rd to 27th, 2012, millions of ordained Catholic priests and lay people will descend upon the city from all over the world. The focus of the conference is be the pastoral care of tourists; and it will draw religious leaders from international resorts.

Cancún


The VII World Congress on the Pastoral Care of Tourism is being organized by the Holy See. Now that the location has been decided, the Vatican have enlisted the assistance of the Mexican Episcopal Conference and the Prelature of Quintana Roo-Chetumal. The agenda is two-fold: 'religious tourism' and the spiritual needs of people temporarily away from their own parish.

'Religious tourism' is not a new concept. As long as one place has been set aside as holy, there have been pilgrims going to it. However, the last century has seen people moving in ever greater numbers away from their homes for a vacation. Their destinations are often motivated by the wish to visit a religious center or shrine; not always related to their own spiritual leanings. (Yesterday's mention of the Ix Chel Temple, in Punta Sur, attracts far more nominally Christian tourists, than young Maya women hoping to become pregnant.)

Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe


In the Catholic world, it would be forgiven for assuming that the number one draw is Vatican City, Lourdes (France) or Our Lady of Fatima (Portugal). It's not. It's the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Mexico City. While it is heavily visited by international tourists (of all denominations), the massive lead it holds over the other sites is due to home-grown Catholics. Mexico is a huge, staunchly Catholic country; whose citizens find it easier and cheaper to visit a holy site which isn't on the other side of the world.

Mexico's ambassador to Vatican City, Hector Frederick Ling Altamirano, confirmed his country's willingness to host the event. The Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Travelers was assured of the 'large sympathy' of the Mexican government, along with a promise of support.

"The realization of this event in Cancún confirms the excellent state of bilateral relations between Mexico and the Holy See, also confirming the convergence of views on the issue of tourism and its important human dimension."

So Catholics, consider this a head's up. If you were planning on having it large in Cancún that week, you could find yourself doing so under the guidance of thousands of priests. Finding someone to hear your Confession is not going to be a problem, which, given that this is Cancún, is probably a huge bonus!

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