Another Shock from the “Chaos Pope”: Francis Will Walk the Camino to Santiago

Rome, April 1

The “Way of St. James” to Santiago, Spain is one of the oldest and most famous pilgrimage routes in Christendom. Of the many routes of varying length to Santiago, “The French Way” is one of the most popular. (The Spanish for “way” is “camino.”)

And in the latest shock in a papacy of many shocks, Pope Francis announced this morning that he will walk the final 36.5 kilometers (c. 22 miles) of “The French Way” from Arzúa to Santiago during this Easter season as a pilgrim on foot.

The announcement was made Monday morning at a hastily called Mass at St. Martha’s Guesthouse to which Pope Francis invited members of the Waldensian community in Rome. The Waldensians are a heretical group against whom St. Francis of Assisi preached in the 12th century.

At the Mass, Pope Francis did not issue an invitation to Communion to members of the breakaway sect. But it raised eyebrows when he freely offered Communion to those who came forward, the majority by far of the congregation of approximately 50 people. He made the shock announcement after Communion.

It seems that the 76-year-old pope made his decision to go on pilgrimage entirely spontaneously, without prior consultation of Vatican security forces or officials in the tourist industry or police force in Spain. Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi admitted that he had not known of the Holy Father’s plans before Mass, but he stressed that the decision had been made “in a spirit of serenity and with due consideration of its various aspects.”

Early reactions to the announcement varied.

“It’s simply wonderful,” said social justice advocate Sister Simone Campbell of “Nuns on a Bus” fame, tearing up as she spoke. “Brother Francis is walking at our side as our equal. For this, the nuns will get off the bus and walk right with him.”

Liturgists were cautiously supportive of the Pope’s move. “I don’t necessarily see this as a return to the devotionalism of John Paul II,” said  Fr. Mark Wedig of the Catholic Academy for Liturgy. “The eucharistic celebration, the paschal mystery, will loom larger than the saint’s bones.” Citing the work of Fr. Ed Foley, Wedig underscored that the eucharist is a verb, not a noun. “Francis knows that, and that’s why he doesn’t genuflect in the eucharistic prayer.”

“There are several things to watch for in this developing story,” observed Vatican commentator John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter. “Will Francis comport himself in quiet prayer, or will he speak out to a national church roiled by controversies about same-sex marriage and other social issues? Which curial cardinals will accompany him, either on foot or being transported by limousine to each of his stops? Is this a one-time thing, or will it become a regular hallmark of this papacy, like World Youth Day for JP2 or ever more antiquated liturgical vestments for B16?” Allen cautioned against reading too much into a story that may prove to be, on balance, rather uneventful.

Popular conservative blogger Fr. Z sees more at play. “This pilgrimage will be really bad news for liberals,” he predicted. “Pope Francis will experience real old-time Catholic piety up close on the camino, and it will change him. We’re talking rosaries, frequent confession, that sort of thing. The people who go on pilgrimage to a saint’s shrine aren’t the kind of people pushing for women priestettes and approval of gay pervert shenanigans. I know this region very well – it’s not that far from Velletri-Segni. People will look back on the Supreme Pontiff’s time with real Catholics in southern Europe as a game-changer for this papacy.”

But Jeffrey Tucker, advocate of traditional sacred music at the Chant Café, downplayed the announcement. “There’s no story here,” he said. “None. If the media would stop playing up this story, if the public would stop being interested in this story, it would evaporate. Look, a pope does 25 or 30 unprecedented things in a few days, and everyone jumps up and down like it’s a rupture or something. It’s not.” Kathy Pluth agreed, stating “Benedict!” and then adding more softly, “Benedict… Benedict…”

Fr. Anthony Ruff of St. John’s Abbey said that he sees no connection to the new English missal in the pope’s announcement, and consequently he could find no comment to make about it.

The pope is expected to wear comfortable walking shoes on the camino, but it is not yet known whether these will be black or brown. Pray Tell will comment on this, as well as the amount of lace worn by acolytes at every liturgical event, while of course avoiding placing undue emphasis on superficial or secondary aspects of the spiritual event.

It has not yet been announced when the Pope will set out on foot as a pilgrim. Easter season extends through Pentecost Sunday, which falls on May 19 this year.


  1. In the grand tradition of pranks on Easter Monday, to honor Christ’s having the last laugh on Death, as it were.

  2. I was totally suckered until the third paragraph. Which is a testimony to the fact that almost nothing Francis does would surprise me at this point.

  3. Oh! Oh! Oh! You mean it isn’t true? It’s not going to happen? What got me was the comment that since this Camino Walk has nothing to do with the new Missal, Father Anthony has nothing to say. . . yo there!
    ho ho ho nice Poisson d’Avil / April Fools Day. Quaeritur: is this an ancient tradition associated with Easter Monday? You know, one of the finest reads, of many, were the pope’s comments to the question of the boy in prison “Thanks for coming, Father. But..why did you come?” Real. human, loving. . . “it comes from the heart” and touches the heart. Avanti. . avanti. . keep moving. . don’t give up hope!” eh bene, bene. . .

  4. Actually, I don’t appreciate a poor attempt at humor. Sorry, Anthony, but this story is completely credible and you turned it into an April fools joke. Are you thinking that everyone reads the small print beneath the headers.

  5. Except for the fact that he’s in his 70s, is missing a lung, and the obvious security problems, it’s a great idea. 🙂

    1. @Charles Day – comment #9:

      My first thought – before the prank became apparent – was the precarious state of his health, too. If he has to hobble just to reach the altar right now…

      John Paul II could have done this, physically, in his first years as Pope. Otherwise, there are good reasons why we don’t see Popes do anything like this that have nothing to do with lack of personal piety.

      I have always wanted to walk the Way, as much of it as I could manage. One day, perhaps.

  6. The “Waldensian” community bit bewildered me, nevertheless you had me right up until “gay pervert shenanigans” which sounded strong, even for Father Z. Then I remembered what day it was.

    Very cute. I got a kick out of my own gullibility.

  7. I do read the tag lines, so the intrigue was prepared for. I, for one, support this sort of “detente” and “beer summit” Onion sort of leg pulling. Funniest part was the Tucker/Pluth bit jibing my comrade friends idiomatically, and I think without any hint of mockery. I’m even more amused Fritz was had for a while! AWR, I think you should have had a Martin Sheen “coda” in there somewhere, though. Nicely played, sir.

  8. +1 Anthony! Will help us all to remember to lighten up a bit.

    However, when you do have another Pope of hope story to break, like Francis appoints a woman to head a Vatican dicastery; or he scraps the current English transliteration of MRIII, or he decides to relax the discipline on clerical celibacy even further, we’ll be slow to believe you. 🙂

  9. Grateful thanks; clever from many angles. And I learned a lot too–formerly thought that the Waldensians were an order in Velletri-Segni diocese. Might be inspired to make a pilgrimage of my own; Mother Cabrini Shrine is 29.5 miles away . . .

  10. I swallowed it hook, line and almost sinker ’til I read down toward the end, lol…like others, it sounded to me like something he would do…relieved it’s a joke….Pope Francis takes too many liberties with his personal security already…

  11. I actually stayed at the Waldensian College in Rome two summers ago. I had a chance to meet the pastor and some of the ministry students. All were very gracious hosts and accommodations were quite fine. I am not sure if Pope Francis will be invited to the college, but I certainly do hope he will be sometime.

  12. If Fr Z really thought that his diocese of Velletri-Segni is anywhere near Santiago then he’d be even more ignorant than some already think he is.

  13. My personal favorite:

    “Allen cautioned against reading too much into a story that may prove to be, on balance, rather uneventful.”

    I think you’ve got John Allen’s number…

  14. I am — should say, WAS — dumb enough to be taken in my your sad attempt at humor. Just wrote an apology to the group of my friends that I shared it with. I am sad and angry that your “humor” was at my expense, and others like me, who are enthused and energized by the new spring that Pope Francis is bringing into the Church. “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on me.” I will not be reading Pray and Tell anymore.

    1. @Ken Lovasik – comment #27:
      Then, Rv/Mr. Lovasik, be prepared to bear the loss of a great deal of valuable, informative and challenging discourse due to an oversight and subsequent decision to share that was not spurred upon by AWR, but by yourself.
      I am not regarded by the predominant bloggers and commentators of this blog as anything but a non-scholastic, plebian memeber of the loyal opposition who tries to keep up with the lofty discourses, pour water on unnecessary flame wars, poke holes in logical or charitable faux pas that frequently appear, and most of all seek to maintain dialogue with colleagues, peers and mentors with whom I philosophically disagree. Even those who’ve, in the past, responded to me with open derision and mockery. So what? Shall you really cut off your nose to spite your face?
      You were not “fooled.” Don’t choose, for the love of God and Mother Church to play one by a dramatic resignment.

  15. Charles, I want to thank you — sincerely — for caring enough to respond to my ‘rant’ yesterday: your caring, along with prayer and a good night’s sleep, enabled me to see things with more perspective.
    So, thanks to a brother’s love (agape), you have helped me remove the ‘speck’ from my own ‘eye’. I hope to meet you often on PrayTell and to continue our sharing. To all the other bloggers, I apologize for my rash response. Ken

    1. @Ken Lovasik – comment #29:
      Ken, ain’t God good, all the time? And believe me, I’ve had many “Why can’t I quit you?” moments with PTB, being on the conservative side of most issues. But somebody has to keep an eye on Father Anthony! 😉

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