The current Christian Century has a nifty interview with travel maven Rick Steves in support of his new book, Travel as a Political Act. Along the way, he’s asked about the distinction between tourism and pilgrimage. He describes travel as like pilgrimage:
“The system encourages you to be a tourist, because the system is an economic engine. You are led to believe that you need to be a consumer, that you need a fancy hotel, that you need to take a fancy tour. You will go home having done some predictable things—just what the advertising told you would happen.
You could go to Africa and take in all the finest golf courses and come home having learned nothing. Or you could go to Africa and drink tea with local people, help them out in different ways and gain empathy for them. You’d come home changed. That’s being a traveler. Travelers and pilgrims are people who are connecting, learning, challenging themselves and not doing what’s predictable.”
In the interview he also mentions Americans' ethnocentrism as a besetting sin. We downplay Jesus' option for the poor, and tend not to ask questions about structures of oppression. He suggests that this might be why Mother Teresa was beloved while Oscar Romero was assassinated--he asked the "why?", and she did not. (Or, in the words of the prophet Jackson Browne, "But if anyone should interfere with the business of why there ARE poor, they get the same as the rebel Jesus..") In sum, RIck Steves the Lutheran seems wholly formed in Catholic Social Teaching. Go Rick!
I think we've been pilgrims both in Spain and in Mexico City in Steves' sense. In Spain I suppose we were pretty predictable pilgrims, as pilgrims go. In Mexico City, though, we were engaged more in the kinds of questions that Steves points to--questions of structural sin, especially in the ways the US has affected Mexico. In Spain, a first-world nation like our own, there seemed less opportunity to ask quesitons of whole-nation issues than there was in Mexico. But of course, there are poor folk in Sppain too. Did we meet them on the camino? Not really--on the camino we were comfortable people temporarily uncomfortable by choice. There was solidarity, but not the same sort...