Vacation and Justice


We are well into summer now and many of us have had relaxing vacations already or are excited for an upcoming vacation. We all need a break from the hard work of our lives and vacations offer the opportunity for us to relax and see the world with new, less-stressed eyes.
However, as Christians committed to promoting peace and justice in the world, there is no such thing as a vacation from this committment. In fact, our choice of how to spend our vacations has an impact on other people and the rest of creation as well. In the Vatican’s “Message for 2010 World Tourism Day” (available here:, the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers reminds us of the importance of how we spend our leisure time. I offer the following exceprt for our consideration:
Under the theme of “Tourism and Biodiversity” proposed by the World Tourism Organization, World Tourism Day hopes to offer its contribution to 2010’s “International Year for Biological Diversity,” declared by the General Assembly of the United Nations.This proclamation was born of the deep concern for “the social, economic, environmental and cultural implications of the loss of biodiversity, including negative impacts on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, and stressing the necessity to adopt concrete measures in order to reverse it.”
Biodiversity, or biological diversity, refers to the great wealth of beings that live on Earth, as well as the delicate equilibrium of interdependence and interaction that exists between them and the physical environment that hosts and conditions them. This biodiversity is translated into different ecosystems, of which examples can be found in forests, wetlands, savannah, jungles, deserts, coral reefs, mountains, seas and polar zones.
There are three imminent and grave dangers to them that require an urgent solution: climate change, desertification and the loss of biodiversity. The latter has been developing in recent years at an unprecedented rate. Recent studies indicate that on a worldwide level 22% of mammals, 31% of amphibians, 13.6% of bird life and 27% of reefs are threatened or in danger of extinction.
There are numerous areas of human activity that largely contribute to these changes, and one of them is, without a doubt, tourism, which is among those activities that have experienced great and rapid growth. In this regard, we can look to the statistics that the World Tourism Organization offers us. With international tourist travel numbering 534 million in 1995 and 682 million in 2000, estimates from the organization’s “Tourism 2020 Vision” report are 1.006 billion for the year 2010 and reaching 1.561 billion in 2020, at an average annual growth rate of 4.1%. And to these statistics of international tourism one would have to add the even more important internal tourism numbers.
All of this points to strong growth in this economic sector, which brings with it some major effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and the consequent danger of their transformation into serious environmental impacts – especially in regard to the exorbitant consumption of limited resources (such as potable water and land) and the enormous generation of pollution and residues, exceeding the quantities that might be withstood by a determined area.
The situation is seen to be aggravated by the fact that tourist demand directs itself more and more towards natural destinations, attracted by their beauty, which leads to a major impact on the populations visited, on their economies, on their cultural heritage and on the environment. This fact can actually either be a harmful element or, on the contrary, contribute significantly and in a positive way to the conservation of the heritage. In this way tourism lives a paradox. If on the one hand it emerges and grows thanks to the attraction of some natural and cultural sites, on the other hand the very same tourism can become detrimental and even destructive, and as such the tourism sites end up being rejected as destinations for not possessing their original attraction.
For all of this, we must assert that tourism cannot relieve itself of its responsibility to defend biodiversity. On the contrary rather, it must assume an active role in it. This economic sector’s development inevitably needs to be accompanied by the principles of sustainability and respect for biological diversity.
Francis de Sales was convinced that “We pray best before beauty,” and all of us are naturally attracted to what is beautiful. However, we must always remember that all beauty points us to the beauty that is the love of God, and we demonstrate our love for God by respecting the beauty of all creation. I pray that everyone has a beautiful, relaxing vacation this summer that reverences the Creator behind the created world and renews us for our work to promote justice and peace in the world.

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