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For Your Marriage

Marriage Today covers current trends and research pertaining to marriage and family life in today's world.

Join the Pope, Take a Staycation

Is Pope Benedict XVI taking what popularly is known as a “staycation” this summer? Possibly so.

Pope Benedict has gone away for memorable vacations in the Italian Alps in past summers. But Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s official spokesman, explained in early July that the pope decided, for the second consecutive year, to spend his 2011 summer weeks at Castel Gandolfo, the usual papal summer residence.

A staycation is a vacation spent at or near home. In recent years, due to the high costs of travel, summer vacation for growing numbers of families and individuals has become a time to rest and explore opportunities for refreshment near their homes.

Many families eagerly anticipate the fun and relaxation of a vacation. But “fun doesn’t have to be something that’s elaborate or costly,” say the authors of the popular book “Fighting for Your Marriage” (Howard Markman, Scott Stanley and Susan Blumberg).

Indeed, however, just having fun is a challenge for many people, these authors say. That is because while fun “comes naturally to everyone in childhood,” it may take a day or two for adults or couples simply to “switch gears” from today’s “overloaded lifestyle” into the “fun mode.”

It is good news for families that vacations need not be elaborate or costly. Families often know from experience that vacations far from home, in addition to their cost, are complicated and difficult to plan, and can prove stressful.

These people may be surprised to know that they are more like Pope Benedict than they ever suspected when it comes to vacations.

The pope’s decision to spend the summer at Castel Gandolfo significantly simplified the process of planning his time away from home from organizational, logistical and security points of view, Father Lombardi said. One might also surmise that the decision reduced his vacation’s cost.

Apparently, papal vacations, like the vacations of others, are complicated and difficult to plan.

Pope Benedict had a number of reasons to spend his summer weeks in a familiar setting, according to Father Lombardi. In fact, he said, Castel Gandolfo’s very familiarity was a welcome factor in the decision.

The pope enjoys staying at Castel Gandolfo and is confident he will get the rest he needs there, the spokesman explained. In addition, it is a quiet place, where the pope can walk in the gardens, conduct his “intellectual and cultural work,” and spend time in prayer.

Father Lombardi explained, though, that the pope is not one to waste time. At Castel Gandolfo he would make good use of his time to write and plan for upcoming events. Seemingly, for the pope, as for so many others in the 21st century, work is always close at hand, whether on vacation or not.

I don’t actually know if the pope labeled his vacation a “staycation.” But some might say he spent his vacation in the same old place. What is hard not to notice is that he didn’t seem to mind.

Maureen Pratt, whose columns on health and well-being are syndicated by Catholic News Service, has written about staycations. Vacations “can be expensive, difficult to plan and — as anyone who has flown lately knows — uncomfortable and possibly fraught with snags, and, thus, far from stress-free,” she wrote in 2009.

As an “alternative to traveling far from home,” Pratt said that a staycation might include short day trips to sites in the area, movie nights with the family, picnics and recreational activities in local parks and even camping — in the back yard!”

Pratt accented the value of exercise during this time. “A vacation or a staycation is a perfect time to revisit a sport or walk through the neighborhood; any exercise can contribute greatly to overall stress reduction,” she wrote.

And Pratt said that “whether an away-from-home vacation or a staycation …, the important thing is to strive for as little stress as possible” during this time.

Reducing stress is a good reason for couples and families to take a vacation of some sort, according to “Stress-Proof Your Marriage,” a book by Cory and Heidi Busse (Our Sunday Visitor). Vacations do not “have to be fancy,” the Busses wrote. They believe that spending time together during a vacation of whatever sort is healthful for all.

People go on vacation in different ways and for different reasons. But surely one common vacation goal is the opportunity to become refreshed in order to return later in a re-energized way to daily life routines.

In this vein, “rest,” however defined, seems to be a vacation goal for most people. Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household, talked in a 2006 homily about vacations as restful periods. This is a particularly important concern nowadays because “the rhythm of life has acquired a speed that surpasses our capacity to adapt,” he suggested.

For the majority of people, Father Cantalamessa said, summer vacations represent “the only occasion to rest awhile, to converse in a relaxed manner with their own spouse, to play with the children, to read a good book or to contemplate nature in silence; in short, to relax.”