Area priest knows value of religious travel

Religious travel is booming.

According to a national group, some 4.5 million persons annually in the U.S. are taking so-called faith-based vacations abroad, and in a few years, it is estimated, some 15.7 million adults are likely to take a religious trip overseas.

It’s big business, too. Worldwide, says the World Religious Travel Association, there is a huge market of 300 million potential travelers interested in faith-based vacations. Economically, this represents an $18 billion expenditure. These figures are no surprise to a Spring Valley Catholic priest, the Rev. Steven Peterson, who has been leading religious tours for years.

"My vocation in life is ministry; my avocation for several weeks a year is travel. And travel gives me the opportunity to view the world from new perspectives that enhance my parish ministry."

"In my groups I have seen faith strengthened, horizons expanded and new friendships made; even marriages have come about," he added.


Peterson began touring in 1989, with a trip to Yugoslavia. After six years as a tour chaplain, he began organizing his own tours in 1999, and they have attracted a total of 1,200 persons.

Most of the tours that Peterson has led — including fall’s tour to Italy, a tour of France scheduled for this fall and a trip to Israel in spring 2009 — include significant spiritual destinations.

"But we always incorporate the important cultural and historical attractions into the itinerary as well. I always think it is important to experience the everyday life of the people we visit to fully appreciate their culture. So we try to spend some time off the beaten paths," he said.

His groups are usually composed of persons from all ages, faiths and occupations. Some of the regulars live as far away as California and Hawaii, while the majority reside in the upper Midwest, with most living in and around Rochester. "There (is) always a great blend of people to get to know and some develop ongoing relationships even after the tour is over," he said.

Favored destinations for religious travel?

Peterson, who works with a travel company that specializes in Christian tours, said his most frequent destinations are within the European nations and the Middle East. Italy and Ireland top the list, while the Holy Land (Israel) has once again become a viable place to visit, he said.

Superferry’s troubles

The Hawaii Superferry — an $80 million high-speed catamaran designed to carry passengers back and forth among the islands — is off to a slow start. A very slow start.


The vessel, with a capacity of some 800 passengers and 200 cars and trucks, was supposed to start operations in fall but was hampered by various environmental suits. The first trips were due to start between Oahu and Maui.

It took a special act of the Hawaii Legislature to clear the environmental obstacles; then mechanical problems arose — the likes of rudder cracks — to sideline the ferry again. High seas were a problem, as well.

The ferry, designed as a modern reincarnation of the double-hulled Polynesian canoe that once plied the Hawaiian chain, is intended to speedily transport residents, tourists, business owners and their wares on daily crossings from Honolulu, Maui and Kauai. A second vessel is planned for service to the Big Island next year.

The ferry is touted as a fuel-efficient alternative to inter-island flights, according to USA Today.

As a result of the various legal challenges and mechanical problems — at last word, it is still in dry-dock — the future of the ferry service is in doubt. We saw the vessel several times tied up in port during our recent Post-Bulletin cruise of the Hawaiian Islands.

Bob Retzlaff is travel editor of the Post-Bulletin. He can be reached by phone at (507) 285-7704 or by e-mail at

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