The important resource within the Council of Europe Programme, “Routes of faith and meeting”, was launched in 1987. It was the theme of the conference that took place in Strasbourg on Tuesday 27th November, promoted by the Council of Episcopal Conferences in Europe (CCEE) together with the Permanent Mission of the Holy See to the Council of Europe, in collaboration with the Secretariat of the Enlarged Partial Agreement.
The European Association of Via Francigena Ways with President Massimo Tedeschi was present at the meeting. Also present were numerous certified European cultural routes, such as the Via Francigena and the Camino de Santiago.
The opening of the first session “Routes that build Europe: where the past meets the future” was entrusted to Roberto Olla who brought greetings on behalf of the Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Gabriella Battaini Dragoni. Olla recalled how “Young people are invited to follow these paths to build Europe together through tolerance, solidarity and intercultural dialogue. Santiago de Compostela, the Via Francigena, Cluniac sites, San Martin route, St. Olav street, Jewish Heritage, El-Andalusi route, On the passes of the Waldensians and Ugonotti represent important European cultural routes that today more than ever testify how culture in Europe has been traced and fundamentally marked by the paths of faith, of pilgrimages, as well as of course commercial paths”.
Paolo Rudelli coordinated the meeting, in which he recalled the importance of the accession of the Holy See within the Enlarged Partial Agreement of the Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe in 2018, formalised at the forum of Gorlitz (Germany) last September. The Vatican is convinced that the process of European unification is based on dialogue, cooperation and that the initiative of the cultural routes program, launched in 1987, represents a construction site for European development.
The seminar opened with a session on “Routes that build Europe: where the past meets the future”. Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, President of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences, stressed the importance of European heritage as an expression of a past that interacts with the present to generate a better future.
“Pilgrimage routes help us to understand the roots of our history and to shape our identity. Traversing the network of cultural routes means rediscovering alternative forms of secular tourism through a slow and sustainable form, putting the meeting at the centre of our journey. The journey can generate something new in us through a continuous revelation, day after day. Detachment from the world remains a unique experience that accompanies the route; the effort, the dust and sweat, the slow pace along the path finally opens you to the search for God”.
“We must understand Europe – continued Bagnasco – as a community of variegated cultures in which Christianity played an important part. The European cultural routes represent an opportunity for dialogue as well as a moment of training, comparison and growth”.
Stefano Dominioni, director of the European Institute of Cultural Routes of Luxembourg, presented the framework of the European cultural routes programme, focusing on the historical pilgrim routes such as the Via Francigena, which was certified by the Council of Europe in 1994 and which sees the European Association of Via Francigena Ways as the réseau porteur of the route since 2007.
“The European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018 has been a great opportunity to reflect on our millennia-old history, so that cultural routes today are perfectly and naturally inserted into this reflection which helps us build bridges of dialogue” underlined Meglena Kuneva, Head of the Delegation of the European Union at the CoE.
The second part of the meeting involved a discussion on “Tourists and pilgrims: synergies?” in which the cultural routes and European pilgrimage routes were compared. Present at the meeting moderated by Mons. Jesus Sanz Montes, Bishop of Oviedo, were Mgr. Julian Barrio Barrio, Archbishop of Santiago de Compostela; Rev. Ragnhild Jepsen, Canon of the Norwegian Cathedral of Nidaros along the Via di Sant ‘ Olav; Rev. Prof. Roman Bogacz, Director of Religious Tourism Studies at the Pontifical University of St John Paul II in Krakow; and Rev. Michele Falabretti, Head of the National Service for Youth Ministry of the CEI.
Falabretti highlighted how this initiative “wants to bring out the value of the plot that roads and paths draw on the map of Europe, but that then become the basis of relationships constituted of a spirituality that continues over time.” Falabretti’s speech focused on “The paths of 2018” and the experiences the Italian Church has created by involving the dioceses along the paths, from north to south. In addition to the Via Francigena, other paths, sanctuaries and places of spirituality have been touched.