Low-cost Flights Now Offered by the Vatican
Was it inevitable? As of Monday, the Vatican has its own airline. Of course, this isn't your usual commercial undertaking; it's a practical response to spiritual matters. Sounding a lot like a CEO (or is it the CEOs that sound … Read More
Was it inevitable? As of Monday, the Vatican has its own airline. Of course, this isn't your usual commercial undertaking; it's a practical response to spiritual matters. Sounding a lot like a CEO (or is it the CEOs that sound like him?), Father Cesare Atuire of the Vatican pilgrimage office explained: "The spirit of this new initiative is to meet the growing demand by pilgrims to visit the most important sites for the faith". How much to the Holy Land? Unclear, undecided. However, noted Father Atuire, it is important to “bear in mind that the customers will be pilgrims and do not have a great deal of money to spend.”
Certainly this is part of the continued attempt by the Vatican to reconcile its rootedness in tradition with modernity, expressed in Benedict’s first encylical, “Deus et Caritas” ("God is Love"). More saliently, however, it seems like a response to the central religious experience of Islam, the Hajj, which sent two million Muslims to Mecca in December 2006, and even, maybe, to the more familiar—and incredibly successful—Birthright, which sends many of us financially fortunate pilgrims to Israel for free.
What’s the difference between sightseeing and soul-searching? When does a religious pilgrimage become spiritual tourism? Or has modernity rendered the two the same thing? Is the Vatican doing this for the pilgrims or for itself (or is that really the same thing)? Religion can certainly seem like shopping—though, really, I think that it’s the other way around, that shopping can seem a lot like religion.
Cardinal Camillo Ruini, who will serve as the official tour guide for the tour group making the inaugural flight to the shrine in Lourdes, France, justified the Church’s newest accommodation, saying that “the way to make pilgrimages can change over time, but their deepest meaning remains the same: to look for a deeper contact with God.” Whether the Vatican can keep up with competing airlines like Dublin-based Ryanair—which boasted in a staement: “Ryanair already performs miracles that even the pope’s boss can’t rival, by delivering pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela for the heavenly price of 10 euros”—remains to be seen. I suppose it’s the consumer’s choice.