“Experience tourism” combines Roman ruins in the morning, a lecture on abuse at the church in the afternoon | Culture & Leisure


On the first day of their trip, American tourists climbed to the top of St. Peter’s Dome, admiring Michelangelo’s architectural wonder and panoramic view.

On the second day, they met their tour group to visit the ancient Roman aqueducts and enjoy a traditional pasta lunch. And in the afternoon, they listened to a man, who had been mistreated by a Catholic priest, tell them about his own personal hell.

“We came here for St. Peter and the Colosseum, but when they gave us this experience, I just wanted to go,” said Joseph Purdy, 72, a retiree from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

The juxtaposition of the picturesque and the tragic is not new to European tourism. As Purdy noted, “You can go to Germany for beer and castles, but the Holocaust happened there, Hitler happened, so you wouldn’t understand German history if you didn’t take also into account the concentration camps.

But as people start to travel the world again for the first time since the start of the pandemic, there could be an increase in demand for the type of tourism that involves more than stunning sights.

“This is what mass tourism has gradually turned towards,” said Vincenzo Nocifora, professor of sociology of tourism at La Sapienza University in Rome. “I don’t go out to just ‘see’ things anymore. I am looking for an experience. I want to go home enriched with something meaningful.

The United States saw this instinct evident in people making pilgrimages along the new Civil Rights Trail.

US tour operator Overseas Adventure Travel has included what it calls “controversial topics” in its programs for many years. New this year, however, was the hour devoted to “how the Vatican and Italian authorities dealt with decades of allegations of abuse”.

For this, the tour company called on Francesco Zanardi, one of Italy’s most vocal advocates for survivors of religious abuse.

Zanardi, 51, lives in Savona, a town in northwestern Italy. From the age of 11, an altar boy, he says, he was raped by a priest at least once a week for five years.

A framed, smiling portrait of Zanardi from that time was on display in the artist’s studio, where he met visiting Americans on the outskirts of Rome.

He was offered a place to sit, but he remained standing, moving constantly, as he asked if anyone knew why people like him choose to think of themselves as survivors.

The tourists all said no.

He explained that too many young victims try to kill themselves, how often they develop addiction to drugs or alcohol.

“I also had a problem with drugs and tried to kill myself four times,” Zanardi said. “But unlike me, so many other friends have failed. Those who remain are the survivors.

Then, with a down to earth delivery, he told the audience how his mother had taken her own life after she realized what had happened to her son. The tourists audibly gasped.

Bette Robbins, 74, kept backing up and shaking her head in solidarity, as she took in the most painful details of Zanardi’s life story.

Robbins, who spent most of her life in Seattle as a city official, later said it was the fifth or sixth time she had vacationed in Italy, but the first time she had been on vacation in Italy. she was meeting an abuse survivor.

“What I know,” she added.

She said she felt angry at the abuse suffered by Zanardi – and even more angry that neither the Vatican nor Italian prosecutors seemed to take the issue seriously enough.

“The public must be outraged,” she said.

The afternoon session experience would stay with her, she said.

“It won’t go away for long. I won’t forget that.

Not all of the tourists in the group joined the session – two had withdrawn, according to representatives of the tour operator.

“They just couldn’t stand it,” said Simona Salvatori, senior vice president of the Italian branch of Grand Circle Corporation, the parent company.

Anthony Pontorno, 66, Purdy’s husband, of Rehoboth Beach, said he was initially hesitant to go.

But he appreciated that Zanardi had “put a face” on the church abuse scandal.

“It’s not that we never thought it didn’t happen,” Pontorno continued. “But here is this human being – it was no longer a newspaper article.”

Tourists dotted Zanardi with questions: “What does the Pope say?” “Are some countries doing a better job? “Are you going to church today?” “How are your days now?” “

He replied that Pope Francis had not done much to compensate the victims, that Italy was ten years behind the United States in resolving the problem, that he was no longer going to the church but that his days were “perfectly normal”.

“The victims are subjected to psychological, emotional and social deprivation,” he said. “If they learn to deal with it, life can go on.”

At the end of the session, the tourists applauded Zanardi.

There was no time for follow-ups, as a second group was already outside, waiting their turn.

“Have fun visiting Rome!” Zanardi said sincerely.

The tourists returned to their hotel.

The other days of their trip would include visits to the cliffs of Sorrento, traces of Pompeii and the volcano of Etna. They would also discuss the Italian Mafia in Sicily and the murder of an investigative journalist in Malta.

But that night, according to their schedule, there was “time for another ice cream before bed.”

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