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VATICAN LETTER Jul-16-2004 (800 words) Backgrounder. With photo. xxxi

Vatican conference underscores universal issues of tourism industry

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While Pope John Paul II was vacationing in the Italian Alps and long lines of tourists were waiting to clear security to get into St. Peter's Basilica, a Vatican office held an international meeting on tourism.

Throughout July, Vatican employees and tourists were living out many of the ideas discussed at the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers' Sixth World Congress on the Pastoral Care of Tourism.

The congress, held July 5-8 in Bangkok, Thailand, included talks about paid annual leave as a benefit or a right, the human need for rest and relaxation, the benefits of traveling abroad, the obligation to respect local laws and customs, and the responsibility of host communities to be welcoming.

A much-discussed Vatican custom, but one which still takes many visitors by surprise, is that people wanting to enter St. Peter's Basilica as sightseers or pilgrims must dress appropriately.

The long-standing rule is that adults are not permitted to enter wearing shorts and that shoulders must be covered -- no tank tops or spaghetti straps.

Those responsible for preserving the decoration as well as the decorum in the basilica, however, have rescinded a 2003 decision that, for women, "shorts" include the mid-shin-reaching slacks known variously as capris or pedal pushers.

"This year short pants are OK, as long as the knees are covered," an official at the basilica said. Men are still asked to wear full-length slacks.

Three young nurses visiting from Denver were disappointed that the one wearing shorts could not go into the church, but as Michelle Lancaster said, "I don't want to offend anyone. When you travel, you should try to blend in as much as possible."

At the Bangkok conference, retired Indian Archbishop Raul N. Gonsalves of Goa and Daman identified a lack of modesty as one of the chief offenses of individual tourists visiting his diocese's famed beaches.

Too often, he said, "the permissive lifestyle of foreign tourists, nudity, massages on the beaches, infatuations and drug use induce local youths to experiment with drugs and sex."

The archbishop said that in sending and receiving tourists, in working with local officials and in cooperation with the World Tourism Organization, Catholics should promote a "renewed tourism in which people can enrich themselves culturally by promoting the dignity of others, respecting their differing cultural baggage, protecting and promoting the safeguarding of the earth, thereby encouraging harmony and peace."

A family from Bolton, England, was visiting the Vatican July 14 as part of a three-country, five-ports-of-call cruise.

Christine, who asked that her last name not be used, said she and her husband took the same cruise in 2003 to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary and wanted to give their son the experience this year.

Staying in Great Britain, or wherever home is, she said, "you become very insular. It's good to see how people live in their own world."

Especially for people who live in a country that hosts many immigrants and where integration is constantly part of the public debate, "it's good to go on holiday to a place where you have to adapt to another's culture," experiencing something of what one's new neighbors experience, she said.

Another topic at the Bangkok conference was the human need for rest and relaxation, the development of paid leave policies and the consequent expansion of foreign travel among people who are not seriously rich.

Norberto Tonini, president of the International Bureau of Social Tourism, which promotes "the right of all to leisure, holidays and tourism," said the consolidation of labor unions combined with quick, affordable transportation led to the widespread phenomenon of paid annual leave for most full-time workers and their ability to take vacations.

"Paid vacations, once adopted, became so deeply rooted in the European reality that -- unlike working hours -- they were never again under discussion, not even in weapons factories in times of war," he said.

While most people would agree full-time workers deserve paid time off each year, a definite continental divide exists when it comes to how long a vacation should be.

Vatican employees, from gardeners to secretaries of congregations, have a right to 26 paid vacation days each year. The time off does not increase with employment longevity or with a promotion. However, Vatican employees hired from overseas do get an extra five days paid as travel time.

"That's extreme," said a mother from New York visiting the Vatican July 13.

She did not want to give her name as she and her family waited in line for a security check before going into St. Peter's Basilica, but she had a definite opinion: "The amount of vacation you have should depend on the amount of time you put in at work and how much responsibility you have."


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