Chairman’s report to the 2019 AGM


It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all today and to say a special welcome to our guest speakers, Stuart Nelson and Anja Bakker. They are the star attractions, so we will canter through the formalities of the AGM as swiftly as possible.We have received a number of apologies which have all been duly noted. I won’t read them all out, but I would like to convey special greetings from one of the founding fathers of the revived Via Francigena, Alberto Alberti, who is now in Rome looking after the southern route to Bari.

The minutes from last year’s AGM have been circulated and I ask for a show of hands to approve them.

This is the Confraternity’s 12th Annual Meeting and my fifth as Chairman (I took over at the 2015 AGM). Five years is a good innings – sufficient time to contribute but not quite long enough to overstay one’s welcome – and, although I plan to remain closely engaged with the Confraternity, it is my intention to hand over to a successor in the course of 2019.

We have achieved a great deal since I last reported to you in 2018 – all thanks to the sterling work of our Steering Group and thanks also to the active support and participation of you our members.

It is important to underline that this is your organisation and that we are nothing if we do not make it work for you and all the others who share our values and interests.

It is also important for us not to lose sight of that very special experience which draws us all together – the common bond of our pilgrim journey to Rome; the quiet, the hard slog, the reflection, the beauty, the slowed pace, and the arrival.

The headline news today is that we are now a registered charity. Although being a charity will involve us in another layer of bureaucracy, it is an important step. As a charity, we will be able to raise more money and to aim our sights on achieving some major projects such as, for example, setting up or helping to run a hostel for pilgrims, way-marking a pilgrim route from London to Canterbury and becoming more involved in Calais and the Via Francigena route in northern France.

Carlo Laurenzi, who did all the heavy lifting to get us registered, will talk you through some of the background and benefits shortly.In 2018, we also made further improvements to the website and almost completed work on creating an interactive accommodation map. The online photo library was updated and re-labelled.

A total of 1247 have joined us since we founded and we currently have an active membership of nearly 400. A lot of people join at the time they are planning to walk to Rome and then let their membership lapse, and we are looking for ways to retain these members. Staying involved and staying paid up is a very good way of giving back.

Another way is to join our Steering Group. There are a few gaps in our ranks and skills. Please come up to me during the break if you would like to learn more.

Our members include many different nationalities – a total of 34 different countries – and those recently joined come from Russia, Hong Kong, India and Bahrain.

In addition to our own printed and e-newsletters, there is a very active Via Francigena forum on Facebook with more than 5900 members (as this newsletter is published).

As in previous years, Danilo Parisi, the ferryman of the River Po, has shared his statistical analysis with us. He ferried a total of 1405 pilgrims across the river last year, a 15 per cent increase on 2017. Although many more people walk and cycle a shorter distance to Rome, these numbers give a fair indication of the walkers and cyclists making a long-distance journey to Rome – still only a trickle compared to the hundreds of thousands journeying each year to Santiago.

We continued our programme of outreach – donating small gifts both to Danilo Parisi, and to a charity caring for migrants in Calais. With our new status we may not be able to continue to donate directly to this charity, but I think of these displaced and homeless people as the true pilgrims of the 21st century; you will hear more about them in a moment from Mary Kirk.

That’s enough from me and I am now going to invite members of our Steering Group to give you brief updates on their work so that you hear directly from them about the full range of what we are doing.
Treasurer – Robert White
Charity – Carlo Laurenzi
Communications – Jonas Ewe
Canterbury & Accommodation – Julia Lewis
Membership – Stuart Nelson
Newsletters and Calais – Mary Kirk


• If you didn’t manage to make it to the AGM at Southwark in March, you can listen to Stuart Nelson’s talk on CPR’s new Youtube channel as well as two songs performed by Anja Baker.  Visit the page here: