From Argentina to Philly: A 6-month pilgrimage

If one were to ask for driving directions from Buenos Aires to Philadelphia on a typical Internet app, the standard response is an error message.

Such small details did not deter a family from Argentina.

Like many families coming to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, Alfredo “Catire” Walker and Noël Zemborain dressed their children, packed their things and began a journey to a great event to be capped off by a papal visit.

Unlike many families, however, they left their house in March.

That was when Noël and Catire decided to drive with their four children — Cala, 12; Dimas, 8; Mia, 5; and Carmín, 2 — from their home in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Philadelphia.

Setting off

It all started last August. Noël and Catire were discussing long-term dreams of taking a big trip when the kids got older. But that seemed far into the future.

Then the idea came to them, “Why don’t we take the trip now, with the kids?” At that point, the wheels started turning. “At the beginning, we didn’t know where we wanted to take the trip,” said Noël, a marketing professional. “But once we discovered the World Meeting of Families, that settled everything.”

That discussion took place while the couple sipped mate, a popular tea, in a plaza in Buenos Aires. Catire, a culinary consultant, gave a simple response: “Hagamoslo” — “We can do it.”

Thus began the process of organizing their lives to accommodate a six-month journey from home to Philadelphia. Their children were thrilled. Their friends and family had a different response: “What?”

“They were surprised at first,” she said. “But afterward, they were supportive.”

Among their many important decisions, Noël and Catire had to choose a mode of transportation. Obviously, they could not travel for six months in one of the tiny cars popular in South America. They settled on a 1980 Volkswagen Kombi Microbus, which Catire has nicknamed “Panchita,” a shortened form of Francisca.

On Aug. 30, the family tweeted that their trusty Volkswagen had crossed into the United States after stopping in Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico along the way.

Following the journey

Social media has been very helpful in making their dream a reality and in sharing their experience with the world. They have a website ( and accounts on Facebook ( and Twitter (@americayfamilia), and an Indiegogo site that enables others to donate money to their travel fund (

Through these means, one can read about the family’s adventures as they admire the Incan capital of Cusco, enjoy the sites of Cartegena and tend to a sprained ankle of their daughter, Mia.

For accommodations, the family has relied on the kindness of friends and strangers, slept in empty rooms in rectories and (in a pinch) has made use of family hostels.

Noël ascribes their successful journey thus far to heavenly assistance. “It always seems like a friend’s hand is helping us. It is certain that the Virgin is accompanying us.”

Of course, unlike most pilgrims, Noël, Catire and their children are coming to visit a pope they know fairly well. After all, they are members of the archdiocese where Jorge Bergoglio was archbishop from 1998 until his election to the papacy in 2013. They are excited to see their former archbishop, who is visiting the United States even before he journeys back to his beloved Argentina. If they get the chance, they would like to “embrace the pope that supports and defends the family so much,” Noël said.

The family will fly back to Argentina from Miami in November, and another family member will drive the bus home.

Celebrating the family

Their journey highlights the bond between North America and Latin America, a relationship that, despite past tensions, is becoming more critical than ever, both in terms of geopolitics and ecclesial life.

Noël, Catire and their children are looking forward to the same incredible experience in the United States that they have experienced during their first part of the journey.

“The best are the encounters with other people and families,” Noël said. “We are learning so much, sharing so much.”

So why are they doing this? Their answer relays a sentiment undoubtedly shared by many of the thousands of pilgrims coming to Philly.

“To celebrate the family,” Noël said. “This is what is most important for us, to put [the family] as a priority.”

Eric Banecker is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Coming From Canada
The Diocese of Hamilton, Ontario, is sending more that 160 people — including three bishops — to the World Meeting of Families. Teresa Hartnett, director of the Office of Family Ministry in Hamilton, has the task of coordinating this pilgrimage. This covers everything from the bus ride (eight hours each way) to hotel rooms outside the city. Still, Hartnett is just excited about the great response from the people of the diocese, especially considering the significant cost.

Watching From Afar
Mary Wilkerson of the Archdiocese of Detroit would like nothing more than to be among the many pilgrims attending the World Meeting of Families from the United States. There’s just one problem. Her family is welcoming a new member in September.