Walking with...Ivo Gabrielli, the pilgrim host in love with the Via Francigena

Being a host is pure volunteering and when I do it, in that moment, it is the walk that comes to me". Today’s interview takes us "Walking with..." Ivo Gabrielli, a hosting pilgrim in love with the Via Francigena.  

For five years, Ivo has dedicated himself to welcoming pilgrims in Italy for the Society of Friends of Santiago de Compostela.  Alongside 14 other trainers, he guides courses for pilgrims who would like to become volunteers.  His 'mission', began at 52 years old after his first walk and arrival at Santiago de Compostela.

“I started with the Route of Santiago six years ago - says the host - from then on I began walking and after having journeyed along the Assisi route I fell in love with Italian walking itineraries.  From landscapes to culture, food and people with large hearts, Italy is unbeatable.  I became interested in the Via Francigena, I did the course to become a host at Altopascio, I then met Giovanni Corrieri (the ambassador of the Via Francigena) who with me found a fertile terrain."

What pushes a pilgrim to become a host? "You decide to give some of your lifetime to others for free.  It's something that you have to feel, it's not a trend - Ivo explains - In my case I said to myself "Why not give back that which I have been given?”  I think hostels and parishes that work via donation offer a unique form of hospitality, and it is this which I have always looked for as a pilgrim".  

To become a host you must have done at least one walking route.  It is a fundamental requisite.  But what does volunteering involve? “Every day new pilgrims arrive with different stories.  It's for this reason I say that walking comes to me.  In the morning they leave with a smile and this brings me a lot of satisfaction.  However being a host also requires sacrifices.  Every day you start again.  You clean, reorganise and welcome new pilgrims.  For two weeks you live a determined routine and you could disagree with a co-worker.  We say that even if the first experience doesn't go well, to never give up and to try again.  In any case, it is a free choice, not an obligation." 

The Society of Friends of Santiago de Compostela has 6 thousand volunteers around the world.  There are around 400 Italians who have done the course and at least one turn.  At what point is the Italian hospitality? 

We only manage donation hostels. For 4 years we have been responsible for Valpromaro (half way between Pietrasanta and Lucca in Tuscany) that has by now become our mother town, we also manage a hotel at Vercelli and this July and August we will give the Casa di Lazzaro at Acquapendente a hand too. The first year at Valpromaro 250 pilgrims passed between Easter to November, last year we reached over a thousand.  Many believe that there isn't hospitality for pilgrims but now their ideas are changing. - comments Ivo - From this point of view, I'd like the Via Francigena to become like the Camino de Santiago.  This type of structure for pilgrims should be increased.  It will take time but I have faith".

A last question: Ivo Gabrielli, do you feel more like a pilgrim or a host? “Let's say that I enjoy being a pilgrim and at certain points during the year I enjoy welcoming people - he concludes - but when they ask me how many walks I've done, I reply that I cannot count them.  For me, being a host is like walking".

For information on courses to become a host contact: accoglienzapellegrina.corsi@gmail.com

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