It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all today to the Confraternity’s 9th Annual General Meeting. We are a mere micro-second in terms of the Eternal City, but this is a special occasion as this year we are celebrating our 10th anniversary.
It is a full year since I became Chairman, and I would like to take this opportunity of saluting my predecessors – William Marques and Joe Patterson, both founding fathers who on 18th November 2006 attended the inaugural meeting which established the Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome. There were just 15 founding members, and they did great pioneering work in putting the CPR on the map.
I am the third Chairman. The number of people who have joined the CPR since we started now exceeds 800 (811 as at 1/2/2016) from 20-plus countries, and we currently have 328 active members. Some 133 new members joined last year.
There is still much to do.
I am going to talk briefly about the changes that we are introducing and about our priorities for the future.
The major change is that we have increased our annual subscription for membership – the individual membership, for instance, is now £20 for one year and £40 for three years – and this is the first AGM at which we are levying a small attendance fee.
The increases bring us more into line with similar Rome pilgrimage organisations in countries such as the Netherlands and France, but we are still charging less than our sister Confraternity of St James (where individual membership is £25 for one year and £67.50 for three years).
We have also introduced a new option of life membership for the bargain price of £100.
Another innovation is that as part of an initiative to create a wider community we have started to put together a list of members who have completed a pilgrim journey to Rome. The CSJ is also assembling a database of completed pilgrimages to Santiago. Our list is on the website, and it is very much work in progress. If anyone has a journey to add, please send us an email with the details.
The numbers walking to Rome – certainly those going all the way from Canterbury or from their homes in England – are still relatively small. The statistics kept by Danilo Parisi, the Po ferryman, recorded just over 900 long-distance pilgrims in 2015 of whom 34 were British. But the underlying trends are encouraging. Year by year Danilo carries more and more pilgrims. In 2014 they numbered 735, and the year before (2013) 520 – so they have almost doubled in two years.
Many more clearly reach Rome after walking smaller distances. We certainly issue many more Pilgrim Credentials – 170 in 2015 and 171 in 2014.
Back home, we are re-designing our website and also, for the next few editions at least, we are publishing a hard copy of the Newsletter.
The decision to print the Newsletter and distribute by post has come about because we realised that very few people were actually reading our Newsletter on the website! Feedback from the first hard copy distribution was positive.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ann Milner who developed, built and ran our original website. It served its purpose well but websites need regular makeovers (the CSJ has a new one, the AVIF has just launched its fourth) – and with Ann' other commitments we felt the time had come to have a professional re-build.
We are also on Facebook, and our presence there is monitored by one of our Steering Group members, Jonas Ewe.
We are nothing without our members and prospective members. Keeping in touch with you and making our work relevant to you is all important.
In addition to contacting and staying in touch with members, I have engaged in outreach with sister organisations – Rome pilgrim groups in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Switzerland. I gave a presentation on our work at the AGM of the Confraternity of St James, and I joined up with a group of French pilgrims walking to Dover and took part in an AVEF meeting in Canterbury. I also plan to attend this organisations 15th anniversary celebrations in Fidenza in April.
Apart from the new website, one of the immediate priorities for the CPR is to sort out our own backyard. There are just 30 kilometres of Via Francigena in England but it may come as a surprise to some of you here today that these 30,000 metres are not all that well waymarked. It took foreign eyes to show us the problems. The group of French pilgrims I accompanied from Canterbury to Dover last year, expressed first surprise and then amazement that there were no Via Francigena signs in Canterbury, no finger posts to Rome, and that the waymarking out of the city was woefully inadequate. As you know we share the North Downs Way to Dover, but there is little or at best dilatory co-branding. I have since made two further visits to Canterbury and spoken about the problem both privately to City authorities and at an AVEF meeting. There are promises that the problem will be fixed and we live in hope, and it is our intention to celebrate our 10th birthday with an organised walk from Canterbury along the new waymarks.
This brings me to our Steering Group.
We met three times since the last AGM – in May, September and January. These are productive sessions.
We have two new members. Julia Peters is a post-graduate student at Canterbury and has joined us as the CPR’s Canterbury representative and she has also volunteered to look after and curate our accommodation list.
Julia is one of our two speakers today. She will be talking about her walk to Rome last year and she will also be telling you about a charity walk she is organising from Canterbury to Dover in a few weeks’ time. Making a departure from our customary accounts of non-stop journeys to Rome, our other speaker today, Charles Arthur, will be talking to us about walking to Rome in progressive stages.
The second new member of the Steering Group is Patrick Tuck. In addition to brewing the best beer in London, Patrick has web experience and is taking over as our new webmaster.
We have a number of departures. Philippe Seurre has left us and Bronwyn Marques is stepping down from her role as secretary. Also moving on are Yvonne Loftus and Alison Payne.
Our two founding fathers, William and Joe, will both be staying on the Steering Group in an ex-officio capacity
That leaves several key roles vacant, so if any of you here in this room feel ready to take up these challenges and give a bit back to Via Francigena please don’t be shy! Please come up to us afterwards. An organisation like ours needs the active involvement of its members, or it withers and fades out.
I would like to thank all the outgoing for their hard work and contribution.
Of those remaining, Jonas Ewe, plays a key role in communicating. As well as administering our presence on Facebook, he also looks after our brand and image.
Jim Brodie has taken over as membership secretary and will be responsible for sending out pilgrim passports or credentials.
Alison Raju, though not here today, edits the Newsletter with Chris George. Among her much feted guidebooks, Alison has written the Cicerone guides to the Via Francigena – the first in English dedicated entirely to walking the route.
Finally Robert White is our Treasurer. He is an invaluable member of the team, and I now have much pleasure in handing over to him for his annual report.