News from the Pilgrims Office in Santiago (May 2019)

The report came from one of our forum members that is currently (May 2019) volunteering at the pilgrims office in Santiago:

I have been working as a volunteer since 6 May. My final day, this time, is 20 May.

I return again to work my annual one-month volunteer stint from 15 July – 12 August.

Every time I come here, I learn something new. There are some tidbits I thought I would share.

1. The arrival rates and pilgrim queues now, in mid-May are near what I am used to seeing in mid-July. The queue to get a Compostela seems to get to two hours each day about 13:00.

2. That long queue is usually worked down to a < 30-minute wait by about 17:00 or so.

3. We had been suggesting that pilgrims consider coming back at opening, 08:00 the next morning. However, that notion went south on Tuesday, when some 100 pilgrims decided to avoid the lines, and “come early.” In addition, the French now have a Catholic Mass at 08:00 in the Pilgrim Office chapel. After that Mass, a couple dozen newly arrived pilgrims get on the queue for Compostelas.

4. Presently, the best advice to avoid overly long queues is to come between 17:00 and 19:30. After then, security is likely to close the outer doors / gates so the paid staff can complete processing all the pilgrims then inside, and get home to their families at the 21:00 official closing time.

5. Chatting with staff over the past week or more, I was informed of some planned changes, as part of the effort to ramp up in time for the coming 2021 Holy Year. Here is what I have been reliably told or personally seen:

5.1 I was informed that they were planning on having Wi-Fi for pilgrims. My immediate reply was that: (a) they were crazy as pilgrims would NEVER leave the premises, and (b) this ONLY made sense if the open Wi-Fi was to support automated Compostela processing.

5.2 This week, I learned, and was shown, a prototype web page to collect all the “estadillo” data via the internet, before the pilgrim arrived at the office. This is the form you complete at the counter, while staff reviews your credencial and finds your Latin name.

The internet application I was shown collected the information then gave a pop-up telling you the likely Latin first name and asking for concurrence. If you did not agree, you were prompted to key in the name YOU wanted as your given name.

Once past this, another pop-up asked if you wanted a distance certificate (@ €3,00). Once past this, the system would produce a QR code and and an ‘on or after’ reporting time.

Returning on time, you would show the QR code to security. Once past security, you would be immediately sent to the express processing area. There, your QR code is verified, credencial checked, and you are handed your laser printed, custom calligraphy, Compostela and Distance Certificate(s).

I estimate the total contact time at about one minute, versus the current 7 – 10 minutes per pilgrim at the counter.

Groups are still handled offline. I do not know if automated processing will be extended to groups, but it DOES make sense.

When greeted by security, pilgrims without QR codes, smartphones, lacking internet skills, or simply preferring the old method, would be sent to the standard queue.

The current issue is the need to raise this automated option and process to senior levels of decision making, in the Archbishop’s administration in Santiago. We must remember that we are talking about a two thousand year old church that does not do change well, or rush to adopt technology. Local senior leadership behaves much the same way. We need to be patient.

I am NOT involved in developing this option or getting it approved, and I am only reporting what I know to be correct. I will not name names or positions.

My sense is that if someone screws up the courage to approach senior leadership, this new process MIGHT be useable sometime this season. Personally, I prefer testing and then running a beta in the off season, after September, when the daily numbers are low.

My recommendation would be to hit the ground running, with the new processes, for the 2020 season, as a full performance test, preparatory to the coming surge in the 2021 Holy Year. Current estimates are that we could well see 650,000 or more pilgrims in 2021.

Hope this helps. I also hope this does not annoy anyone in administration who might see, or be told of my post. But, I thought this was news worth reporting.

Read the responses to this report from the Pilgrims Office in Santiago here on the forum.