Over 300 pilgrimage sites, thousands of historical Christian monuments, opportunities of accommodation offered by religious institutes, monasteries and parishes, along with ecclesial activities in all the regions of the Czech Republic, dozens of touristic itineraries for people of all ages based on the combination “learning and leisure”. All the necessary information is mapped on new Internet portal dedicated to the development of religious tourism: www.cirkevnituristika.cz. The Czech Bishops’ Conference has devoted much effort to this theme over the past years, seeking to attract the inhabitants’ attention on the historical treasures of Christianity and promote their beauty, since – according to the authors of the project on ecclesial tourism – “the breath of ancient ecclesial monuments and the tradition of pilgrimage sites can reawaken people’s spirituality.”
Spiritual and transcendent dimensions. Cardinal Dominik Duka along with other Czech and Moravian bishops have made a great effort to improve the level of ecclesial tourism in the Country. According to the Archbishop of Prague, many people travel to contemplate the beauty of ancient Church buildings, of the related cultural environment and sacred Art. Ecclesial tourism – His Eminence remarked – adds a spiritual and a transcendent dimension. The prelate views the participation of ecclesial bodies in the various events and tourist routes as an opportunity to remind citizens that visits to ecclesial monuments are subjected to a set of rules:
“Those who enter a church should be aware that the cultural level of these places is equal to that of a Museum or of an art Gallery. At the same time, it bears the features of a site that is rich in spirituality, and very often it houses the mortal remains of important historical figures.”
Therefore, “we wish to highlight the importance of training tour guides in this respect.”
Cooperation with parish churches. The new website is an ecumenical project that should be understood as an answer to the Message of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant people released in 2015. In fact the document is an invitation to draw near “those who during the experience of travelling open their hearts and ask themselves questions” so they may make “a real first proclamation of the Gospel”. Parish communities should be prepared to show their hospitality and organize religious formation courses for workers in the tourist sector.
The project of ecclesial tourism offers support to parishes and religious communities
thanks to the opportunity of sharing a part of their Art, history, moral and spiritual values, and, above all, of “bearing witness to the faith underlying all of these things.”
Planning an itinerary. In every diocese a person is in charge of the promotion of local ecclesial tourism, and their job is often very creative. They view pilgrimage sites and the precious ecclesial monuments not only in “statistical” terms, but also as an opportunity to meet people who make the same choices as regards their free time and the wish to discover new things. The website www.cirkevnituristika.cz features all the necessary information and inspiration to plan a customized touristic itinerary with a Christian “trait”. Tourists can choose from a wide range of pilgrimage routes, from the longest to the shortest ones.
St. James’ Way in Bohemia is one of the longest routes, extending for 144 kilometres. It connects Hradek nad Nisou to Prague, passing by Letarovice, where is located a small church with frescos depicting Saint James.
One of the shortest, most recent pilgrimage routes in the Czech Republic is the “Rosary Way.” It connects the ancient settlement of Veligrad of the Great Moravia (today’s Stare Mesto) with Velehrad, one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in the Country. The idea of this itinerary took shape after the visit of John Paul II in Velehrad in 1990, representing the symbol of the “preparation and a gateway leading to the renewal of the soul of a man, of a society, of a Country.”
Special focus on old people and the disabled. “The time devoted to the pilgrimage is measured with our steps and with intense prayer”, said Vanda Vokounova, 77, member of a group of pilgrims who every year, in the month of June, walk along the 3.8km trail.
“Giving old people the opportunity to complete the pilgrimage is a beautiful thing, both in spiritual and physical terms.”
“We cannot not walk along a very long route. So in this way we experience the strong feeling of metaphorically reaching the peak, which happens only rarely at our age”, Vanda said with a smile. The Church does not forget disabled and sick people. “Our next goal is to improve the conditions of people with physical disabilities and offer customised itineraries for them, so they may personally experience the beauty of ecclesial tourism and of Christianity in its very essence”, concluded the promoters of the initiative.