Tourism and Pilgrimage

The current Christian Century has a nifty interview with travel maven Rick Steves in support of his new book, Travel as a Political Act. Along the way, he's asked about the distinction between tourism and pilgrimage. He describes travel as like pilgrimage:

"The system encourages you to be a tourist, because the system is an economic engine. You are led to believe that you need to be a consumer, that you need a fancy hotel, that you need to take a fancy tour. You will go home having done some predictable thingsjust what the advertising told you would happen. --snip--You could go to Africa and take in all the finest golf courses and come home having learned nothing. Or you could go to Africa and drink tea with local people, help them out in different ways and gain empathy for them. You'd come home changed. That's being a traveler. Travelers and pilgrims are people who are connecting, learning, challenging themselves and not doing what's predictable."

In the rest of the piece, he reminds us of Jesus' option for the poor and the need to see how social structures reinforce injustice, and he chides American Christians for our ethnocentrism. In sum, well, Steves sounds like a devoted Lutheran deeply in synch with Catholic Social Teaching. Let's hear it for justice-ecumenism!But back to pilgrimage. Have you traveled (in Steves' sense)? Were you a pilgrim? What made that happen for you?

Lisa Fullam is professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).

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