To Velehrad!

28. 1. 2013

A new feature film, exhibitions, conferences, festive masses and celebrations, and possibly also a tourist game on the principle of geo-caching called CM-caching. That all is in the plan for this year when 1150 years will have passed since the arrival of the missionaries, Cyril and Methodius, to Great Moravia. Perhaps even Pope Benedict XVI will come to the Czech Republic on that occasion. The episcopate invited him to come here more than three years ago, when he came to visit the Czech Republic for the first time. "We do not have any new information regarding the presence of the pope at the celebrations. He usually publishes a plan of his journeys only three months in advance," said the spokesman for the Prague Archbishopric, Aleš Pištora.

If the pope announces that he has accepted the invitation, it will bring apart from spiritual benefits also purely material benefits to the inhabitants of the Czech Republic. Besides the publicity for our country we can count on the presence of pilgrims from abroad who will come in abundant numbers. 300 thousands of them came to the Czech Republic in 2009. If the same number of people came thanks to the potential July visit from the Vatican, it would bring excellent business deals to South Moravian hoteliers and restaurants. To the tourists coming from abroad we also have to add domestic tourists who will come to Velehrad from other parts of the Czech Republic.

Velehrad Transformations

Every year, on the feast day of Saints Cyril and Methodius, about 30 thousands of pilgrims join the pilgrimage to Velehrad. To the concert for people of goodwill, which takes place one day before the pilgrimage, about 25 thousands of viewers arrive. "If the pope came, hundreds of thousands of people would arrive," thinks the secretary of the Velehrad 2013 project and of the above-mentioned concert, Josef Kořenek. Undoubtedly, many Slovaks, Hungarians and Austrians would arrive, and fewer visitors would probably come from Poland, where the Cyrillo-Methodian tradition is not so well-known.

According to Kořenek, conditions at Velehrad have significantly changed in the past twenty years.

"In 1990, when the pope came there and a half million people arrived there, local entrepreneurs were looking forward to great business deals. However, the pilgrims did not count on any offer and they came equipped with snacks. Most of those hotdogs and French fries they offered there, they could throw away," Kořenek remembers. But the place remained practically without any facilities for a long time after that. Only in 2000 the Archbishop of Olomouc grew interested in that and he wondered how to change that. "He was not successful with politicians. It was the period of the opposition agreement and politicians had, obviously, other priorities. The notion of church tourism was not familiar to them and they did not want to hear about that either. Through our own forces and the cooperation with local administrations and with the Zlín Region the change eventually turned out well," Kořenek claims.

These days, there are several hotels, including four star hotels, at Velehrad and its vicinity but also cheaper places for not so wealthy pilgrims. Not far away a new camping place emerged. "Of course, we still have a long way to go – other places of pilgrimage in the central European region have, due to our freezing in the period of communism, a head start," claims Kořenek.

Also the Veligradtour travel agency from Uherske Hradiste is getting ready and asking a question how to attract tourists to the Cyrillo-Methodian celebrations. This year, it has prepared for its clients, for example, a trip to Rome, in the course of which they will follow the footsteps of the saint missionaries. However, attracting clients from abroad to the Czech Republic and, above all, to South Moravia, is much more difficult for the agency. "We tried to attract mainly Italian tourists, by means of Internet advertisement, but we were not successful," says the authorized agent Milena Schneyderová Kubaniková. "These days, when you can arrange everything online by yourself, there is little interest in the services of incoming travel agencies," she thinks. However, she adds that if Pope Benedict XVI eventually came, the interest in their services would probably grow up in a significant way.

Every year, approximately 850 guests, out of whom 95 percent come from Germany, are brought to the Czech Republic by Petr Křížek travel agency from Prague. The agency offers eight standardized trips, but each of them has supposedly its own original program. "There is a great interest in the Czech church history and Czech religiosity in the present. Visitors are interested in meetings with partakers of social and pastoral projects organized by churches and spiritual offers in the style of the Meditation Garden in Pilsen, the way of the cross in the Church of the Virgin Mary the Queen of Peace at Lhotka in Prague, and the like. Also the demand for visiting the regions and Slovakia is going up," says the owner of the travel agency Petr Křížek.

How do German clients learn about the travel agency? "I do not advertise in Germany at all. Eighty five percent of our groups are represented by those, who have already heard about us from somebody who was with us in the Czech Republic – be them a priest from a neighboring village or a congregation from a diocese or any other group of acolytes. They address us on their own. Thus, it is a snow ball effect," says the owner, Petr Křížek.

However, the travel agency does not leave everything to a chance – the remaining 15 percent of tourists who come, react to the "letter campaign" which is organized every year and aims at Bavarian and Saxon dioceses and informs about the program of our trips.

"Last year we were at 'Katholikentag' (a nationwide meeting of Catholics in Germany – editor's note) in Mannheim, but our participation in this event did not have almost any benefit for us," says Křížek.

Pilgrims from Germany are interested also in this year's Cyrillo-Methodian anniversary. "In 2013, several German parishes will set out in the Footsteps of Saints Cyril and Methodius and their Legacy – this is a combined program including Slovakia (Nitra), Hungary (Esztergom) and Moravia (Velehrad and other places). We have only four employees, which is not any strong work force, but if we advertised that program more, it would sell very well," claims Křížek.

Jindřich Miklas, the owner of a travel agency called Miklastour in Prostějov, describes the differences in pilgrim tourism abroad. "In Western Europe there are diocesan or professional travel agencies, which have members or clients they take care of, and they set out on pilgrimages together every year.

In some countries financially less sound pilgrims are even helped from the church tax fund and sometimes it is a bishop who stands in the lead of the travel agency, so there is maximum support on part of the church hierarchy."

Finally the Guide

A proof of the fact that the notion of church tourism slowly begins to settle down in the Czech Republic, is that church tourism had a special division at the fairs Go and Regiontour, which took place in Brno not a long time ago.

Besides other things, a common project of the four Moravian regions was introduced, a guide titled "Spiritual Legacy of Moravia and Silesia". Also this guide directly responds to the 1150th anniversary of the arrival of the Slavonic missionaries to Moravia. A practical aid for both domestic and foreign pilgrims includes suggested trips, map segments with the individual sacred places and places of pilgrimage or pilgrims' paths marked. "Routes among the suggested destinations are described well both for pedestrians and for bikers and car drivers," adds the deputy governor of the South Moravian Region Václav Božek. Those interested will be able to download the guide into their cell phones as well.

It is not clear how many people visit monuments in Moravia and Silesia every year. "The data are recorded only in those places where people pay entrance fees, for example at the Slavic Fortified Settlment in Mikulčice. In the past three years, the number of visitors grew up there and this year, when the anniversary of the arrival of the missionaries will be celebrated, we can expect a record-breaking number of visitors," says Václav Božek, the deputy governor of the South Moravian Region. While in 2010 the Slavic Fortified Settlement was visited by 16,461 guests, last year four thousands more of them came.

Spanish Inspiration

Recently, interest in the so-called Way of Saint James is going up – pilgrimages to the Spanish Santiago de Compostela. Especially in the past decade, it contributed in a large extent to the growth of tourism in Spain. The cathedral is visited by four millions of pilgrims every year, and the number of those who set out on at least a part of the pilgrimage leading from the French Pyrenees, exceeds 300 thousands. In the poorest part of Spain, in Galicia, many local people make their living just from this pilgrims' path.

It is possible to set out on a journey to Santiago de Compostela practically from any point in Europe. Pilgrims from Germany and Poland cross the Czech Republic. A network of hostels is, so far, rather sparse. However, more are added every year. The Ultreia Citizen's Association has already merged with the Club of Czech Tourists and thus it became the only group, whom "tourists" allowed to stick special marks – Saint James's shells – to guideposts marking four various routes leading through the Czech Republic.

Two years ago, the Tourist Authority - East Moravia came with a project called Saint James's Path in South Moravia, within which the route between Brno and Mikulov was marked. A website has emerged. There are descriptions of other routes there, including their connection with the Lower Austria and further on all the way to Santiago de Compostela.

"The South Moravian Region has also become a partner of a project originated by the Zlín Region - the emergence of a European Cultural Path of Saints Cyril and Methodius. Thus, an interconnection of Velehrad with Brno should emerge, as a follow-up to the Saint James's pilgrims' path," Božek explains.

Outgoing enjoys great times unlike incoming services, which Czech travel agencies are not always successful in selling. The interest in pilgrim tourism outside the Czech Republic is great an it keeps growing. In the last few years, Israel leads in attractivity. Petr Křížek Travel Agency, which has been in operation since 2006 and which has also its Czech part, takes pilgrims to Israel several times per year. "In 2009, thirty five persons went with us and last year it was already 256 people," says Křížek, who estimates that about five thousands of Czech pilgrims leave for the Holy Land every year.

Also Miklastour, a travel agency from Prostějov, takes their clients to Israel and to some other European places of pilgrimage like Lourdes, Rome or Santiago de Compostela. It has been on the market for 20 years and every year 600 to 1,000 pilgrims set out on a journey with them.

"For me, traveling has always been a hobby. The uncertainty regarding the number of clients accompanies me at the beginning of every year because I do not look for the pilgrims, they are looking for me," Miklas claims.

In the Czech Republic the number of travel agencies for pilgrims grows every year. "For a long time, I was wondering that, besides my employment, I could begin to do something for myself. This opportunity came, so I decided to go into it after one week's consideration, despite not having any certainty regarding my clientele," says Aleš Kučera, who founded a travel agency in Zlín, CK Kučera, which focuses on Marian places of pilgrimage, only last year. Already in the first year 123 clients went with him to Lourdes.

Source: Tydenik EURO (Weekly), 28th January 2013


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  • Here are our roots.

    (Blessed John Paul II, 22nd April 1990, Velehrad)

    They wanted to become part of those nations and to share their destiny in everything. Here, in this place, at Velehrad, in Moravia, we can feel the historical legacy of the kingdom in a peculiar way – we can feel even those who became its keepers and guardians.

    (Blessed John Paul II)

  • For us, people of the present age, their apostolate contains even the elocution of the ecumenical appeal, i.e. to build unity again, in a peaceful reconciliation, which later after their deaths was heavily damaged, and in the first place the unity between the East and the West.

    (Blessed John Paul II)

  • Their work is also a very important contribution to the growth of the common Christian roots of Europe, which by their firmness and viability create one of the main contact points, which must be respected by every serious attempt at reunification of our continent in a new and topical way.

    (Blessed John Paul II)

  • The story of both brothers, Cyril and Methodius, is a distinct example of unity.

    Saints Cyril and Methodius contributed, to a great extent, to the building of Europe, not only regarding its Christian religious community but also concerning its civil and cultural unity.

    (Blessed John Paul II)

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