James Joseph is dressed as Jesus in Philadelphia, where Pope Francis gave his final homily in the United States. (Terrence McCoy/The Washington Post)

The Jesus Guy has a name, and it’s not Jesus. It’s actually Carl. But he doesn’t like that one, either. He likes the latter half of his name: James Joseph. It’s more Christian that way — and his decision to neglect his first name might be the least radical thing he has done in the name of faith.

Nearly 25 years ago, Joseph began a pilgrimage without shoes, without money and without a place to sleep — and wearing a white robe. It has taken him from Mexico to Jerusalem and — after a barrage of press coverage — has ended with him taking the nickname of “Jesus Guy.”

As in — Just who is that Jesus guy?

People ask that question all the time when they see Joseph, and more were asking it on Sunday in Philadelphia as thousands waited for Mass with Pope Francis. Is this some costume?

The answer: It’s not.

Joseph was born 51 years ago in Detroit into a family, he said, that, surprisingly, wasn’t that religious. But Joseph said he had a calling to faith and ultimately started working for a Christian organization in New York City. He found it stifling.

“I felt a calling for something real,” he said. “More real instead of being isolated and in an office and inside a building. Now my life is spent outside and living with people and it has resulted in a dramatic increase in my faith.”

But it resulted in a decrease in everything else. Joseph started living this way around 1991, and people at first couldn’t understand what he as doing. Didn’t he have somewhere to sleep?

“The son of lamb had nowhere to rest his head,” he said. So he wouldn’t, either. He made his way down to Mexico, he said, and spent his time walking from town to town without shoes and in a white robe. Then he was in Jerusalem, doing the same there.

And now he’s here. Without a phone or e-mail, he found out about the pope, he said, through word of mouth. And began his pilgrimage.

“It’s the freedom,” he said. “I started out without shoes, and without a coat and money. If Peter says Jesus can walk on water, why can’t I walk without shoes.”


James Joseph is dressed as Jesus in Philadelphia where Pope Francis gave his final homily in the U.S. (Photo by Terrence McCoy)

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