>Spiritual Tourism

>The Grotto at LourdesImage by Lawrence OP via Flickr

You know that nice little gift shop they have near the entrance to the fancy cathedral you went to in Europe…the one where you picked up the postcard to send back home to friends or to put in your scrapbook.  Perhaps you picked up some handmade craft items, knitted by the locals.  I, myself, recall the lengthy time I spent in the gift shop at Servants In Faith And Technology in Alabama after a very meaningful week with youth.   I picked up a couple of Christmas items for family and the altar Peruvian altar cloth that’s even on the altar at Girdwood Chapel as I write this.

Religion has an industry around it.  I buy resources at Cokesbury.  I buy clergy shirts somewhere else.  And don’t even get me started on the entire Contemporary Christian Music industry…  Persons have found that religion can pay well in a capitalistic sense.  There’s money to be made.  We sold cookbooks and coffee cups to help with our building fund.

And, sometimes, the selling is connected to some great religious experiences.  I, for one, am very well aware of what size business is tied around getting clergy to take laypersons to the Holy Land or follow in Paul’s footsteps or visit some of the sites of the early church.  $ $ $ $ $ $


Emer O’Kelly, writing predominantly about Ireland, talks about this phenomena of Spiritual Tourism in an article in The Independent of Dublin, Ireland.

The author recounts a visit to Lourdes and the shock at all the sales taking place around the cathedral:

….the entire town was a retail industry of revolting proportions, summed up by empty bottles in the shape of the Virgin being sold at exorbitant prices to be filled with water from the “miraculous spring”.

I bought, I remember, a Rosary guaranteed as pure silver filigree; it turned brown within days. But at least I wasn’t conned into one of those little plastic boxes with chips or shreds of cloth in them, labelled first, second and third class “relics” that conferred special grace, and which were guaranteed to have touched a holy corpse, or to be a bit of bone from it, or have been taken from its grave, and which, if fingered while saying a prayer, would provide extra first, second or third class spiritual grace.

And how was it back in England as the Catholic Church prepared for the coming of Pope Benedict?

…the Catholic Church has a special “merchandising website” for the forthcoming visit there of Pope Benedict. The “papal product lines” include baseball caps, sweat shirts, hoodies and fridge magnets, as well as a load of stuff, including mugs, commemorating John Henry Cardinal Newman who will be beatified during the Pope’s visit to Britain.

Ireland was getting into the business as well…marketing to different categories of “spiritual tourists” — the sacred tourists (really wanting a penitential experience), those into cultural spirituality (which is less rigorous), and those who are in it for spirituality and heritage (who want a better look at the country and its peoples).

The author holds no punches as to how he feels about the leadership of the country being in cahoots with the Church of Ireland as they “market” their spirtuality to bring in the tourism dollars.  He closes out his article:

So all aboard the holy marketing train to search for meaning, and buy your way to holiness.

And that the State, in the persons of its government tourism agency, is aiding and abetting this distasteful exploitation of one of the most personal elements of people’s lives is truly nauseating.

Well, there you have it.

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