Saturday, 1 September 2007

Faith tourism (the not so good side)

IT was a very fulfilling experience — having visited some of the holiest sites of the faith that I was born into.

A few years ago, while working in Turkey, my family also had the opportunity to see many of the places that feature prominently in the history of the Church, among them the church in the Byzantine city of Nicaea, where the wording of the Apostle’s Creed as we know it today was agreed upon; the Seven Churches of the Revelation; the Basilica of the Hagia Sophia — the ancient world’s rival to the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome; the city of Ca-ppadocia; the House of Mary (one of the sites believed to be where the Blessed Mother spent her last days under the care of the apostle John); and the ancient city of Ephesus, where the apostles Paul and John continued their work of evangelization following the death of Jesus Christ.

There is something about actually being in places that are mentioned frequently in our prayers, where some of the Bible’s most famous passages were written, or where the first Christians went about preaching the good news to people outside the faith, that can strengthen the belief of even the most shaky adherents like myself.

Taking in the majestic grandeur of a place like Cappadocia, the tranquility of a lakeside summer city as Nicaea or the rugged landscape of the churches of Sardis and Laodicea, it is difficult not to feel strengthened by the resolve of the first converts to make it through, despite all the obstacles that stood in their way. For me therefore, personal pilgrimages are faith enhancing, and useful to believers of a faith — any faith for that matter.

This is where I also noted the other side of faith tourism — the one that is as less desirable as the spiritual elements are spiritually enriching — the business side of it. For I have never found commercialism and naked capitalism to be as rife and rampant as in the places where people of faith congregate and visit.

Never have I paid so much for a simple breakfast of egg omelette, toasted bread and coffee, for example, as I had in Lourdes — a princely sum of P1,500 for the privilege. This was no Shangril-La in the Pyrenees either — just a simple café staffed by some surly looking Frenchmen, who looked like the last time a smile crossed their faces was when the Virgin Mother appeared before St. Bernadette.

In Italy, the smiles were much more welcoming but the mark-ups were no less exorbitant. Around the area of the St. Peter’s Basilica, a bottle of water was selling for P300, and this was out of one of the roadside mobile food sellers, not in some fancy Roman bistro. No wonder the Italians always say the water in their many outdoor fountains tastes good — seems like they have no choice but to convince themselves of this, otherwise they would be spending all their disposable income just on drinking water!

I guess in the end, business will spring where an opportunity exists, whether it is to cater to the simply curious — such as the Moulin Rouge, or the fervently faithful like the Cathedral of the Sacre Cour (Sacred Heart) in nearby Montmartre.

The only thing that we can do, as the faithful devoted who flock to these sites in our thousands, is to be more discerning in how we part with our money. Like for a start, not paying P2,000 for a small statue of the pieta, which clearly looks like it was made in China.

Only then may we actually see a modern-day miracle coming out from some of these sacred places — the miracle of mass price reduction forced upon profiteering businessmen to win back customers boycotting their overpriced merchandise.

CONGRATULATIONS. Our congratulations to JM Batuhan, who won second place in the Essay Category, English Division of the 57th Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. Awarding takes places on Sept. 1 at the Manila Peninsula Hotel. Also our warmest felicitations to my son, Jacob Anthony Batuhan, whose work “Spartan War” was judged among the winners and chosen for publication in the Young Writers Writing Competitions for Secondary School Pupils, in the United Kingdom.

Published in theSun Star Daily, Saturday, September 01, 2007 (

No comments: