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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 August 2007, 12:39 GMT 13:39 UK
Vatican plans flights to shrines
Pope Benedict XVI leaves Valencia
The Pope normally charters a plane from the Italian national carrier
The Vatican is to launch a low-cost charter flight service to transport pilgrims to holy sites worldwide.

The inaugural flight on 27 August will go from Rome to Lourdes in France.

A small Italian airline, Mistral, will provide the planes, with the interiors decorated with sacred inscriptions such as: "I search for your face, Lord."

Other destinations could include Fatima in Portugal and Santiago di Compostela in Spain, the Holy Land, Poland and a Catholic shrine in Mexico.

The vicar of Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, is expected to be on the first flight to Lourdes, which already attracts eight million pilgrims each year.

Big business

Some of the cabin crew will be "specialised in the voyages of a sacred nature", according Italy's Ansa news agency.

The BBC's David Willey in Rome says religious tourism is already big business, with some 200 million Christian pilgrims expected to visit holy places in different parts of the world this year.

When Pope Benedict XVI travels abroad he normally charters a plane from the Italian national carrier, Alitalia, or from the country he is visiting, our correspondent says.

The Vatican City has no airport, just a helipad used occasionally by the Pope.


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