Launch of €1.18m EU project on green pilgrimage
Pilgrimage is one of the fastest growing segments of the global travel industry, with 330 million pilgrims annually – one third of all tourists worldwide, according to UNWTO. And this has the potential to bring many benefits to local communities, such as improving economies, creating jobs, promoting cultural exchange and protecting the environment.
That was the message from the launch in Canterbury, UK, of the Green Pilgrimage Interreg Europe project – a major, European Union-funded initiative to promote green pilgrimage in Europe. The five-year, €1.18 million project, which runs to 2022, brings together six regions in England, Italy, Norway, Sweden and Romania (find out more about the project here).
The European Green Pilgrimage Network is an advisory partner to the Interreg Europe Project and is housed by the Diocese of Canterbury. The Diocese hosted the Pilgrimage - Growth and Tourism Conference, which launched the Interreg Europe project, with a five-day meeting of around 70 people in Canterbury, UK, in May 2017.
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'This project presents an exciting opportunity to work together to develop pilgrimage that emphasises the 'green' values of care for the environment, engagement with local products and services, and tolerance through welcome and hospitality; values so important in these uncertain times.'
Growth in European pilgrimage
Delegates heard how Europe's best known pilgrimage - the network of routes known as the Camino which culminate in Santiago de Compostela, Spain – has grown from less than 5,000 pilgrims in 1991 to more than 277,000 pilgrims last year. It is forecast to grow to 464,000 by 2021.
Meanwhile, the Way of St Olav in Norway is growing by 30% a year, from 165 pilgrims in 2010 to more than 10,000 pllgrims annually today; this figure is expected to increase to nearly 30,000 people by 2025.
Jose Luis Maestro Castineiras of Xunta de Galicia said its analysis showed that tourists travelling on the Camino spent an average of six days and €44 per day in the region of Galicia. Their impact on the local economy was clear, with a massive growth in accommodation, jobs and services along the main pilgrim routes, compared with tourism in other parts of Galicia.
Crucial role of local government
What was striking was the key role played by local authorities in both Spain and Norway in developing the pilgrim routes. At an early stage, they made a conscious decision to invest in signage and infrastructure such as establishing laws or structures to manage paths, or providing cheap hostel accommodation, and to promote the routes to the public.
Dr Stefano Dominioni, Director of the European Institute of Cultural Routes which includes several pilgrim routes, said it was critical to make the case to politicians that investing in these routes brings a number of positive consequences such as opportunities for new jobs or income.
That was particularly true of rural communities, which often struggle to maintain both their populations and their economic growth.
'People don't want to be treated as tourists. This is a very important issue: we have to treat people as pilgrims
Benefits of pilgrimage to local communities
But the benefits of pilgrimage went far beyond the economy, he said: 'We have important data showing that local communities are very positively touched by the impact of these routes. It's also the exchanges between visitors and communities; the routes offer tangible and intangible resources and they help the local community to value their local resources.'
The conference continues until Friday May 19, and includes study visits and a walking pilgrimage through the beautiful Kent countryside. Download a copy of the programme here.
What is the definition of a pilgrim?
What – or who – is a pilgrim? That was the question that came up repeatedly during the first day of the European Green Pilgrimage conference in Canterbury, UK, on Tuesday May 16, 2017.
Jose Luis Maestro Castineiras of Xunta de Galicia said its research indicated that only 11% of pilgrims came on the Camino for purely religious purposes. However, 72% cited a mixture of religious/spiritual reasons plus other motivations.
What was clear was that people on the Camino did not want to be regarded as tourists, he said. 'This is a very important issue: we have to treat people as pilgrims and this is completely different from tourism,' he told delegates. 'They are not tourists and all the [324 Friends of Santiago de Compostela] associations around the world say the same: "Don't treat us as tourists". The emotion is so deep that we have to take into account these deep feelings.'
Hans Morten Lovrod, Director of the National Pilgrimage Centre inTrondheim, Norway, agreed. "It's important to stick to the concept of a pilgrim.
'We don't ask people what they are thinking, or what they believe, and people can use the path for what they want, but it's important to us to show that this is a pilgrim route; we are not maintaining a walking track.'
'In my experience, pilgrimage is not going from A to B. It is, first of all, an invitation to encounter a series of interlocking perspectives... It is an invitation to encounter oneself, to encounter others, to encounter the world and to encounter the
'There is a difference between how we treat our pilgrims here and how they are treated in devoted countries such as India. It's important that what is reverent, sacred and holy remains something that is cherished and offered with great heart.'