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A Call for Greater Silence and Prayer

ROME, JULY 27, 2004 (Zenit) - John Paul II has been giving advice about how to get closer to God during vacation. Fresh from his 12-day break in the Italian Alps, the Pope in his Angelus message last Sunday entrusted the vacation period to Mary, asking her to help us to appreciate it as a "propitious time to rediscover the primacy of the interior life."

The previous Sunday, in his Angelus commentary, the Pope reflected on his experiences in the mountains and noted that in the midst of nature, "it is easy to feel the benefits of silence, a quality that is becoming rarer and rarer today." John Paul II observed that today's world has so much to offer in terms of personal contacts and information that people can find themselves without any opportunity to reflect or pray.

"Actually, it is only in silence that human beings can hear in their inmost being the voice of God which truly sets them free," he said. "Holidays can help people rediscover and cultivate this indispensable inner dimension of human life."

The Holy Father called to mind the example of Mary, noting that in his outings he had come across many shrines in the mountains, and asked her to "help us to perceive a reflection of divine glory in the beauty of creation and encourage us to strive with all our might for the spiritual peaks of holiness."

Human and spiritual experiences

As someone who was keen on hiking, skiing and swimming, until his physical problems, the Pope clearly appreciates the importance of sporting activities. In his July 4 Angelus commentary he spoke of "suitable recreational initiatives, enriched by genuine human relations." And to young people at the June 23 general audience John Paul II said: "I hope that you who are already on holiday will make the most of the summer to gain some formative human and spiritual experiences."

The Pope dealt with these social aspects of holidays in his message for the forthcoming World Day of Tourism. He spoke of the possibilities tourism has for improving relations between peoples. This is achieved, he noted, when such relations "are cordial, respectful and based on solidarity" (No. 1). When these conditions are met "they constitute, as it were, an open door to peace and harmonious coexistence."

Tourism could also serve to improve our understanding of foreign cultures, the Pope added. "Indeed, much of the violence that humanity suffers in our times is rooted in misunderstanding as well as in the rejection of the values and identity of foreign cultures. Therefore, it would often be possible to get the better of these situations thanks to a better reciprocal knowledge" (No. 1).

But for this to be achieved, he continued, we must base our relationships on what is "the supreme principle that must govern human coexistence," namely, "respect for the dignity of each person, created in the image of God and thus a brother or sister to all."

Sports and virtue

Given that the theme of this year's World Tourism Day is sports and tourism, the Pope's message also had some words of advice on sporting activities. He warned that sports should not be marred by "exacerbated commercialism, aggressive rivalry, violence to individuals and things even to the point of the degradation of the environment or offense to the cultural identity of the host of the event" (No. 2).

Rather, John Paul II recommended that sport should be "accompanied by moderation and training in self-discipline. It very often also requires a good team spirit, a respectful attitude, appreciation of the qualities of others, honest sportsmanship and humility in recognizing one's own limitations" (No. 3).

He also called upon Christians to look at sporting activities as an opportunity to develop the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, as they participate "in the race for the wreathe that is 'imperishable,' as St. Paul writes."

Quoting from the homily he gave in 2000 for the Jubilee of World Sport, the Pope called for sports "that protects the weak and excludes no one, that frees young people from the snares of apathy and indifference and arouses a healthy sense of competition in them." This form of sports, continued the homily, can also be "a factor of emancipation for poorer countries and helps to eradicate intolerance and build a more fraternal and united world."

Lived in this spirit, sports can contribute "to the love of life, teaches sacrifice, respect and responsibility, leading to the full development of every human person," he concluded.

Pastoral guidelines

More detailed recommendations on tourism can be found in the 2001 document "Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of Tourism," published by the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers.

The pontifical council observes that we need to understand better the concept of holiday time, when we can rest from our normal occupations. "The meaning of rest, in fact, is not just the need to recover from the toil of work" (No. 6). The underlying, and more profound meaning of rest, explains the document, is when we dedicate more of our time to God and to the service of others, especially our family.

Reading, cultural events, sports and tourism are some of the activities we can engage in when we have free time. But the council warns: "There is a danger that rest may be considered a time for doing nothing" (No. 7). Instead, the concept of rest "consists principally in regaining the full personal equilibrium that normal living conditions tend to destroy. Therefore, just stopping all activity is not enough; certain conditions must also be created in order to regain one's equilibrium."

Tourism can fulfill some of these conditions, as it gives us a break from our normal environment, and offers many activities: a new contact with nature; a more direct knowledge of the artistic and monumental heritage; more human relations with other persons; contact with other cultures.

But, in the midst of all these activities, the pontifical council in its guidelines recommends that we cannot exclude the time spent in tourism as being apart from God. "The time dedicated to tourism can in no way be excluded from this history of unending love in which God visits man and lets him share in his glory" (No. 14).

Moreover, the document says, "a careful perception of the values that can be manifested in tourism suggests the possibility of understanding some central aspects of the history of salvation more deeply."

The council also recommends that when we have an opportunity to enjoy vacations that we remember to "give special thanks for the gift of creation in which the beauty of the Creator stands out, for the gift of paschal freedom which gives them solidarity with all their brothers and sisters in Christ the Lord, and for the gift of the feast, whereby the Holy Spirit leads them to the definitive homeland they yearn for and the goal of their pilgrimage in this world."

In this way, the guidelines said, holiday time has a Eucharistic dimension "that should make tourism a time of contemplation, encounter and joy shared in the Lord 'in praise of his glory.'"

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