Smartphones down: A real pilgrimage takes time, reflection
Published: August 23, 2012
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Father Caesar Atuire is not naive enough to ask his pilgrims to leave their smartphones at home. However, the CEO of a Vatican-related pilgrimage agency does ask his pilgrims to at least look at the holy sites -- perhaps even say a prayer -- before clicking and capturing the moment in a photo, text message, Tweet or Facebook post. Father Atuire, a Ghanaian-born priest of the Diocese of Rome, personally leads at least three of the pilgrimages he oversees each year for Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, which organizes spiritual travel from Rome for 40,000-50,000 people each year and assists about 700,000 pilgrims visiting the Eternal City annually. More and more, he said, helping travelers become pilgrims means overcoming a fixation with images that completely overshadows experiencing the reality of setting off on a journey, meeting new people, exploring different cultures and entering into prayer. People at audiences and Masses with Pope Benedict XVI see the pope through their camera lens, cellphones and iPads. The same thing happens at Christian holy sites around the world, he said. "What I insist with our pilgrims is live the experience and, if the experience is so powerful, then try to immortalize it with an image, but don't start off with the image," he said. A second, similar modern obstacle to an authentic pilgrim experience is Facebook or other social networks and the general ease of communicating with others anywhere in the world. Father Atuire talks about "being present, but absent." He said, "I can be here with you, but all that I'm doing is geared toward telling people elsewhere what I'm doing right now. That's a kind of absenteeism that's becoming very pronounced even in our pilgrimages." The third big risk is speed, he said.
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