21st century Pilgrims
People today make the pilgrimage from Canterbury (or other starting points in Europe) to Rome for a variety of reasons. For some it is just another long-distance walk. Many, but by no means all, have already walked or ridden the pilgrim road to Santiago de Compostela and would like to experience another of the three great Christian pilgrim destinations (the ultimate one, of course, is Jerusalem). For others, however, the journey on foot or by bicycle will be their first pilgrim undertaking and their motives may be historical, cultural, sporting or religious or some combination of all of these. For many people it may also be a significant action or event in their lives: to mark their retirement, perhaps, to fill the gap between studying and taking a first job, or the opportunity to take time out to decide which way to go next after a turning point of some sort in their lives.
Twenty-first-century pilgrims are people of all ages, from all walks of life and, nowadays, from all parts of the globe – not just from Western Europe. Some travel alone, some in twos and threes, some (in the Italian section in particular) in quite large groups, usually those on foot. Many complete the entire journey in one stretch and this is recommended wherever possible, as otherwise the journey tends to become just a series of disjointed holidays, where the walker never really ‘leaves home’, rather than an actual pilgrimage. Others, though, with more limited time, have to cover a section at a time over several years; many who make their way to Rome in this fashion find it no less rewarding.
Indeed, most of those who walk the Via Francigena, would probably agree that it has changed their lives in some way, even though they may not have set out with this intention.