An Italian sojourn to update “The Way of St. Francis”

After the book launch in London on November 5, Theresa, Madison and I headed to France for a holiday. On the 18th I put them on a plane at Charles DeGaulle airport and headed down to Italy to research updates for The Way of St Francis and check in with Italian friends. As I write, I’m in an Airbnb apartment near Castel Ritaldi, more or less near Trevi, and am nearing the end of my work.

Here are a couple things I’ve learned about the Via di Francesco while here in Italy:

  • More pilgrims are walking this trail — Everyone agrees that they’re seeing more pilgrims. Simone Minelli in Gubbio counted over 2,500 helped by his organization this year. Feliciano in Poggio Bustone himself housed over 1,500 pilgrims. That’s great news for the trail. More pilgrims means more infrastructure as people come to recognize it for the delight it is. According to Feliciano, it is mostly German, Dutch, Austrian and French pilgrims. Just a few Americans and no English. Let’s fix that!
  • Signage is improving — The Region of Lazio has made an investment in new signs, and according to Gigi Bettin Umbria is not far behind. Today I saw sparkling new signs pointing the way along the Holy Valley of Rieti walk, now being identified by Lazio as part of the “Via Francigena di San Francesco” and “Via di Roma” group. In a couple of days I’ll investigate whether trail maintenance has improved south of Rieti.

St Francis draft cover.jpgMy book updates will soon be posted to the Cicerone update site. So far I’ve put together a new and improved description of the approach to Poggio Bustone, recorded the new entry to Piediluco, updated accommodation for Consuma, Santuario della Verna, Sansepolcro, Foligno, Ponticelli, Montelibretti and Monte Sacro.

In between updates I’ve rented a car and explored a bit, something that’s not so easy when you’re on foot as I’ve always been while on pilgrimage. So I’ve now added some Franciscan sites to my repertoire, including Montecasale, Montefalco, Greccio and Fonte Colombo. With those done, I’m pretty sure I’ve now visited all the major St Francis sites in Italy.

It was great to see friends like Alec who hosted me overnight in 2014. I checked in with Chiara, Gigi and Beatrice in Perugia and while there had a chance to visit Comitato Linguistico (my language school) and my house mother, Graziella and her son, Luigi. I really enjoyed meeting Bret and Catia and their two kids in Loreto for an American Thanksgiving dinner.

I also connected with the people of Italy Magazine who’ve agreed to publish a couple of articles from me in the next months. I’m about halfway done with research on two articles and I have an idea for a third, so some writing to do yet.

The best part of this trip, though, has been getting to see some of the friends I’ve made over these couple of years of visiting and writing in Italy. I’ve put together a slideshow below of people and places I’ve seen so far. Just one week left in Italy, then it’s back to Seattle. I love this place, but I miss Theresa, my boys and my home town.

Book launch in London brings Italy, UK and America together to promote the Via di Francesco

Presenting The Way of St. Francis at its launch party in London, 5 Nov 2015

Presenting The Way of St. Francis at its launch party in London, 5 Nov 2015

Late Tuesday night, November 3, Theresa, Madison and I jumped on a plane to London to join in the book launch for The Way of St. Francis. After a long flight via Chicago and a short night in our London hostel I dragged myself out of bed and onto the Tube to do a quick drive-time radio interview with Premier Christian Radio. Then it was off to the book launch with Stefan Karol of Karol Marketing who was handling the event.

Radio interview for Premier Radio's drive-time show.

Radio interview for Premier Radio’s drive-time show.

We arrived early and after a cup of coffee at a nearby Starbucks (it’s hard to actually leave Seattle), we headed to Foyles Bookshop, which turned out to be a perfect venue for the event. Atop five floors of books is an ample conference room, looking out through a glass wall to a comfy bookstore cafe a half-story below.

While Stefan’s staffers helped Foyles set up the room I peeked out toward the bookstore’s cafe and was delighted to see the arrival of the Italian contingent of Gigi Bettin, Chiara dall’Aglio, Beatrice Morlunghi, and Bishop Paulo Giulietti. I’d never met Beatrice, who was instrumental in arranging the event, and it had been 17 months since I’d seen Gigi, Chiara and now-bishop Giulietti, so we exchanged many hugs and lots of laughter and joy.

The event would not have happened without the strong support of Chiara, head of marketing for Sviluppumbria, the economic development agency of the Region of Umbria, Italy. Sviluppumbria sees the Via di Francesco pilgrimage route as an important program that will drive tourists and visitors to Umbria. Chiara, Gigi and I had met over Proseco one afternoon in the summer of 2014 in the old town of Perugia while I was researching the guidebook. Gigi had already been helpful in consulting with me on its itinerary, and Chiara immediately climbed aboard the project, saying that afternoon to Gigi and me, “Let’s help market this.” True to her word, Chiara set up the entire launch, made possible with Svilluppumbria sponsorship, and planned it to work with my schedule and to coincide with the Nov 2-5 World Travel Market in London.

It’s hard to imagine a better event.

From left, Gigi Bettin, Chiara dall'Aglio, Beatrice Morlunghi and the Very Rev. Paulo Giulietti.

From left, Gigi Bettin, Chiara dall’Aglio, Beatrice Morlunghi and the Very Rev. Paulo Giulietti.

After my reunion with the Italians, Jonathan and Lesley Williams of Cicerone Press arrived. Jonathan is publisher and overseer of the print project, and Lesley is marketing director of the family-owned company that now boasts over 350 guidebooks covering outstanding hikes, treks, climbs and pilgrimages around the world. Jonathan had given The Way of St Francis the green light back in December 2013, nearly two years ago, and Lesley had overseen the UK participation in the event, working with the Italians and the UK pubic relations team to ensure its success. With their arrival we were ready to begin.

By 11:00 a group of 60-70 journalists and student journalists had arrived in the upstairs conference room that by now was set up with display banners, gift bags stuffed with Umbrian delights, a video screen and projector, and ample copies of the book. Jonathan introduced Cicerone Press and the book, I spoke for 30 minutes about the Via di Francesco and the book project, then I was followed by Mauro Agostini of Sviluppumbria and finally by Don Paulo Giulietti, who oversees the consortium of public, private and religious organizations that run the Via di Francesco. Afterward I answered press questions and signed complementary copies of the book for attendees.

Slide detailing distance, regions, stages and sections of the Way of St Francis (Via di Francesco)

Slide detailing distance, regions, stages and sections of the Way of St Francis (Via di Francesco)

After the launch, Theresa, Madison and I were treated to lunch by Jonathan and Lesley. Then Theresa and Madison, exhausted from the flights, headed back to the hostel for a rest before dinner. I took a quick walk to Trafalgar Square to catch some air (and try to remain awake) then met Jonathan and Lesley again to discuss the book over drinks with leaders of the British Confraternity of St. James, the organization that supports pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Gosia Brykczynska, Sheila and Russell McGuirk and Alyson Raju joined us for a lively discussion. Sheila, Russell and Gosia had walked from Assisi to Rome last year, so they were thrilled to share their experiences. I asked many questions about details of their walk and they later sent notes with accommodation information — one of the important aspects of ongoing research about this still-developing pilgrimage.


Theresa, Madison and I tour the Tower of London the next day.

A now-rested Theresa and Madison rejoined Jonathan, Lesley and me, along with their daughter Maddie, over a delicious dinner at the Pig and Goose Restaurant atop The George Pub in the Blackfriars neighborhood. By the time dinner was over I was beginning to fade — too many flights, interviews, talks and walks. I went to sleep, though, knowing that the book had received a serious and splashy launch and was well on its way to becoming known as a worthy and welcome guide for pilgrims on the Via di Francesco.

Heading into the weekend, Theresa, Madison and I would welcome my camino friends — Sebastian, Martin and Jacqueline — for a tour of London sights. We all welcome the opportunity to relax and enjoy life a little after a whirlwind book launch.


Clockwise from upper left: Banner for the event; me with the overview slide; gift bags with wine, complementary book and Umbria delights; me introducing the book.