— It took 194 days and 12 border crossings, but a family from Argentina on a papal pilgrimage has arrived in Philadelphia after a 13,000-mile trip in an old Volkswagen van.

It has been the trip of a lifetime for Catire Walker and Noel Zemborain, who quit their respective jobs in food service and marketing to lead their four children on an unforgettable tour of the Americas.

Their destination: The World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, a Vatican-sponsored conference designed to strengthen family bonds. Pope Francis will close the event at a Saturday night festival and celebrate a public Mass the following day.

“I think this kind of meeting shares the same spirit we want our journey to have — to meet other families, to know other families,” Zemborain said. “The (World Meeting) slogan is ‘The Family Fully Alive,’ and that’s how we feel as a family.”

They stayed with dozens of host families, did lots of sightseeing and documented the trip online. Memorable encounters include suspicious police in Ecuador who threatened to cut into the van’s roof to check for contraband; celebrating Walker’s 41st birthday in Panama; and attending Mass with new friends in New Orleans.

Although the 1980 van named Francisca broke down a few times, guardian angels always seemed to be on hand to fix it.

The hardest part, said Zemborain, was making the decision to go. It not only required using their savings and soliciting donations, but also schooling their children — Cala, 12; Dimas, 8; Mia, 5; and Carmin, 3 — with the help of a distance learning program.

“There were many things that stopped us, many fears,” Zemborain said. “We decided it was worth it, to take the risk.”

Zemborain, Walker and the kids plan to continue traveling until November.


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