For years I’ve been reading about the onslaught of tourists at various sites around the world, and how the numbers of people going to places like Venice and Florence are reaching unworkable proportions.  

    Well, it’s one thing to read about it and quite another thing to experience it!  

    I can now imagine what Italy is like during the height of tourist season, because even in late September/early October, the crowds at the major sites were almost unbearable; and my advice to anyone thinking of going there in peak season: don’t.

    Venice now supports a yearly tourist population of 20 million.  This is on an island that’s smaller than South Minneapolis.  Most of these people go and visit St. Mark’s Cathedral, and although the other main cathedrals in the big tourist cities don’t have quite the same number of visitors, the crowds are still impressive.  

    Long lines of hundreds of people waiting to get in snake through the city streets, while hundreds more follow their tour guide into the special entrance as they have paid more to ‘skip the line.’  It’s amazing.

    On the advice of a friend of our travel companions, we found the best tourist hack ever for this issue: just go to a worship service.  We attended worship at most of the major churches we visited and you can get in for free, no line, pray for awhile, and then walk around much of the church alone because only 5-10 people actually worship in a building built for religious observance.  

    The contrast is staggering: millions of people who wish to see and visit the space but only a handful who wish to use it for its intended purpose.

    What’s going on here?  Clearly the art, architecture, craft, and general spiritual ‘vibe’ that make up these places are highly appealing.  There was, mostly ‘was’ because these buildings and their contents are very old, something about the reality of the Church institution and the world within which it functioned that created things of great beauty and power.  And people still want to come to such places.  

    Yet, these same institutions, at least in the ‘West,’ through scandal, abuse, rigidity of dogma and doctrine, the clinging to an ancient, incorrect view of reality, or maybe just because everything has a life span and their’s is up, have now become small and faded, relevant only to the few rare folks who still derive something from their practice of religion.  

    I’m quite sure that right now there is more viewing of Christian art on Instagram tourist posts than there is in person during worship.  It’s a fascinating paradox.  Some would say that this is simply about people’s lack of true faith or interest in the spiritual.  Maybe.  Or perhaps this is a reflection of people’s legitimate spiritual need and hunger that isn’t being met by any particular institution or community.  I don’t know for sure, but my bet is on the latter and not the former.  

    Either way, the paradox is interesting and very noticeable, and I would encourage anyone involved with spiritual institutions to pay attention to whatever is happening.
    
    Read more of Wolpert’s blogs at http://micahprays.org/blog/