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Tourizing a Culture: Juxtaposition of Tourism and Pilgrimage

By June 23, 20172017, Europe
Tourizing a Culture… interesting title, you may say. This guy has issues with tourism. Does he not understand that he is a tourist himself on this European excursion.The answer is that I do have an issue with tourism, and I do not consider myself a tourist. I’ll explain. Okay, so, it may be true that I fit the tourist stereotype with my camouflage backpack, cutoff jeans and water bottle (that leaks when you lay it on its side). Whether or not I look like a tourist, I don’t feel like one (or I don’t like to feel like one). What defines me as an other-than-tourist is my disposition of heart.

Okay, so if you’re not a tourist, than what do you define yourself as? A hillbilly lemming or a student just wanting to complete his BA? Though both terms may be moderately accurate, I define myself as a pilgrim.

What’s the difference then between being a tourist or a pilgrim? From my experience on this European adventure, and from many academic discussions with profs and peers on this topic, I have concluded a pilgrim to be a giver and a tourist to be a consumer. As I mentioned, the defining feature between a tourist and pilgrim is disposition of heart. The monks of Montserrat, Spain, define a pilgrim “as a person on an outward journey with an internal quest“.

A pilgrim intentionally seeks inner transformation through geography, place, culture and its history.

A pilgrim has to outwardly seek experience other than his or her own with an intentional curiosity and with a desire for inner transformation. She then can encounter place, culture and history as gift.

A pilgrim allows his experience to transcend his spirit, while a tourist allows their experience to expand their photo collection and trinket accumulation while encountering cultural history from a place of ignorance. Tourists ignorantly rob culture of its voice and history by making “cultural experience” a sport.

“A pilgrim has to outwardly seek experience other than his or her own with an intentional curiosity and with a desire for inner transformation.”

It saddens me to visit historical hallmarks such as St. Paul’s cathedral in London, England, and the Colosseum in Rome, Italy, as being caterers to tourism rather than sites of pilgrimage.

Visiting Assisi, Italy, we were greeted as “dear pilgrims” by a Fransician priest, Fr. Klaus. It hit me that my being here was not to seek out what I could consume from Assisi, but to listen to what Assisi wanted to say to me personally in relation to the whole of humanity in its wonderful difference. It is apparent that Christ spoke to St. Francis through the iconographic crucifix of San Damiano, asking Francis “to rebuild my Church that is falling into ruin around you”. I waited in the silence of San Damiano and there I heard the place and its history speak. It spoke the same words “rebuild my Church”. Because I did not go looking for what was lost to me, I was found.

This place and culture revealed to me my internal quest. After this experience I stepped into a “tourist” shop with a pilgrim’s heart and carefully chose a San Damiano cross as a reminder that I, like St. Francis and so many other pilgrims of beauty, am meant to rebuild Christ’s Church (an expression of love) by sharing the gift of love with all those I meet and think about. As I approach life, cultures and humanity in this way, I hope to become a competent giver and not a tourizer.

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