The European cultural routes are the result of a laudable project, launched through the “Declaration of Santiago” in 1987 by the Council of Europe and are the embodiment of the core values of the Council from a cultural and touristic point of view.
The first route to be certified was the Way of Saint James, which became the symbol of the aspirations and of the mutual fates of the European continent, in whose history religion has always played an important and leading role. This idea was also shared by great writer Johann W. Goethe (1749-1832), who once said: “Europe was born in pilgrimage and its mother tongue is Christianity”.
The Council of Europe Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes (the EPA) was launched in 2010 in order to strengthen the programme. The Holy See formally adhered to it on 21st March 2018 to show its commitment to the promotion of the common roots of Europe, which enrich the European identity.
It is worth asking what relationship exists between a pilgrim route and a cultural route. Going on a pilgrimage is different from roaming without destination or from focusing on trade. Pilgrims are essentially those people driven by faith, “whose heart is set on [a] pilgrimage” (Psalm 84:6) to a destiny that transcends them
selves and the world they live in. Pilgrimage becomes the symbol of the path of the Church in the world and of the Christian experience that any follower may enjoy. The ancient pilgrim routes could not fail to be part of the Council of Europe certified routes. They are the historical evidence of how religious experience, especially the Christian one, has also become culture and how culture has found its inspiration in religion.
Religion and culture have always had a dialectic relationship. Religion has always been the pivot and the deepest essence of a lot of cultures. On the occasion of the Conference “(Re)Thinking Europe”, organised by the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (com.e.c.e.) on 28th October 2017, Pope Francis invited the participants to “take into consideration the positive and constructive role that religion generally has in the formation of society”.
We are talking about a dialogue in the name of high values and objectives. It becomes therefore necessary to promote those experiences which have helped create the European identity. And pilgrimage is one of these: on a pilgrimage you can meet, touch and experience the life, history and values of the European peoples who, despite being different from one another, share the fact of having been shaped by Christianity.
We can only appreciate the cultural and religious wealth of these pilgrim routes, which have been rediscovered in recent years also thanks to the programme of the Council of Europe. They are ancient routes due to long-standing evidence and history, but they are also always new and able to modernise since men and women of Europe are still walking them today. Be they pilgrims or travellers, be they driven by religion or by spiritual ideals, these men and women share through the experience of the “walk” those values that belong to the history of mankind and that still help to forge the European identity.
Mons. Maurizio Bravi
Permanent observer of the Holy Seeat the World Tourism Organisation
The article is taken from the latest issue of the official AEVF magazine “Via Francigena”. The magazine, published by Studio Guidotti, can be consulted free of charge online at www.rivistaviafrancigena.it and can be purchased online. Lots of news, information and interviews to read at a slow pace in English, French and Italian.