By Ian Bush
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — As many as two million people are expected to be in Philadelphia for the visit by Pope Francis and the World Meeting of Families in September. But it’s unlikely any of them will have a journey as long — or as remarkable — as one family from Argentina.READ MORE: Philadelphia Police Officer In Stable Condition After Shot In Overbrook, Police Source Says
Packed in a 1980 VW minibus are Noël Zemborain; her husband, Alfredo Walker (nicknamed ‘Catire’); and their four kids: Carmin, 2; Mia, 5; Dimas, 8; and Cala, 12.
“It’s a very big family,” says Noël. “A very intense family experience.”
That’s putting it mildly.
In March, mom and dad ditched their jobs, drained their savings, and told their three girls and one boy that they were about to embark on the trip of a lifetime.
“We are traveling all through the continents toward Philadelphia,” says Noël. “We are meeting people, we are learning things about them, and getting to know other ways of living.”
I caught up with the Walker family over Skype as they set up camp in Iquique, Chile. Weeks into the journey, they’ve had their share of bumps in the road.
“Our van broke several times,” explains Noël, “But we also were in the middle of a natural disaster here in the north of Chile. Ten days ago, there were very heavy rainfalls and there were mudslides. We were quite afraid because many cities and small towns were covered with mud. Very huge losses and very sad stories, but we met wonderful people who were able to help and were helping each other.”
To get to Philly, why spend months on the road instead of hours on a plane?
“Many are like, ‘you’re crazy!'” says Noël. “But it’s a family experience, leaving everything behind and learning to travel light. It’s a way of meeting other people, other countries, of sharing our story, our history, and sharing moments with others.”READ MORE: 'They Want Me Dead': Nearly Dozen Philadelphia Families Fearing For Lives After Cooperating In Criminal Investigations
When they can’t find a place to stay, the VW seats transform into beds: three sleep in the minibus; the other half, under a tent. But the Walkers have found people intrigued by their trip are more than willing to open their doors to the family.
“At the beginning — the first week that we were in Argentina — they were friends, or friends of friends,” says Noël. “But then in Chile, we started to broaden the circle, so it was maybe a relative of a friend, or even people we didn’t know at all. In Concón — a small town near Santiago — we went to the local parish and introduced ourselves and a lady invited us into her home.”
“We have people sending us messages, inviting us to stay in the States or Panama or Colombia,” says Noël.
The family shares its Argentinian heritage — and philosophy — with the man they’re driving thousands of miles over half a year to see.
“We’re very fond of Pope Francis, not only because he’s Argentine, but because the way he talks about things,” explains Noël. “He’s very simple, down to earth, and a loving pope, and he’s promoting and defending and taking care of families. As a family, we feel backed up by him — that he understands, and that he wants to take care of families all over the world.”
The Walkers hope to address the Argentine delegation and others at the World Meeting of Families, which Noël says will be the “perfect ending point” to their odyssey. But she’s careful to note that their trip is not about proselytizing strangers.
“The soul of this trip is driving and building this experience toward Philadelphia,” Noël says. “We just wanted to show our testimony as a family that can live happily, you know? We want to share this happiness of being a family.”
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