An 8,000-mile journey of love
75-year-old walks across 12 countries to remind those living in poverty that they are not forgotten
For more than 17 months, Bob Hentzen's day began around 2:30 a.m., when he woke up in an old Toyota camper. He took a moment to pray, enjoyed a nice cup of coffee, and kissed his wife before hitting the road.
Pictured above: Bob Hentzen, one of the founders of Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, a lay Catholic sponsorship organization serving families living in poverty in 22 developing countries, recently trekked 8,000 miles from Guatemala to Chile to highlight the plight of poor families and children. (Photos provided by CFCA)
Hentzen, 75, walked an average of 20 to 25 miles daily as he made his way through vast terrains – from beautiful farmland and mountains, to treacherous highways and deserts. If you ask Hentzen why he decided to walk for more than a year and a half, he'll tell you, "It's about love." As president and co-founder of Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, a lay Catholic sponsorship organization serving families living in poverty in 22 developing countries, Hentzen has devoted most of his life to serving those in need.
Although he is no stranger to life on the road, his latest trip and means of transportation represented a whole new set of challenges, but also rewards. In December 2009, Hentzen embarked on a nearly 8,000-mile walk from Guatemala to Chile. Known as Walk2gether, the trip was intended to shed light on the struggles of families trying to survive in extreme poverty – often on less than $2 per day. Walk2gether, which crossed 12 countries, was Hentzen's unique way of putting Catholic social teaching into action by walking in solidarity with the poor to show that we are one human family, despite our national, racial, economic and religious differences.
"If the Lord gave me good health and long legs, it was for a reason," Hentzen said. "By walking with people living in poverty we are saying, 'You are not alone; we are listening to you and learning from you.'"
Hentzen hopes that his efforts will inspire people in the U.S. to act on the Church's teachings, which ask us to prioritize the needs of the poor and vulnerable. This is why Hentzen is asking people to join him, not by walking, but by sponsoring at least one child through CFCA for each of the 8,000 miles he walked during Walk2gether – 8,000 miles for 8,000 kids.
"Sponsorship says, 'We are equal in the eyes of God and we need each other," Hentzen said. "We are interdependent.'"
Despite the constant mental and physical demands required to complete the nearly 8,000-mile walk, Hentzen found the time and energy to mingle with some of the 182,000 families CFCA serves in the countries he walked through.
Bob's wife Cristina traveled with him and often walked with him to encourage him and others who joined the walk.
"I'm grateful to people living in poverty for all that they have taught me about life, faith and unconditional love, even under the toughest of circumstances," Hentzen said. "I enjoy the time we get to spend together because they give me the energy to keep going."
On any given day, dozens to hundreds of men, women and children made their way to Hentzen to support and encourage him in the same way that he did for them. This is no simple task, considering that many of them lived miles away from the walk route and had very limited time and resources.
Leaving her mountaintop home at midnight in the rain to be a part of Walk2gether was no harder than any other day for Cumanda, a single mother from Ecuador, who normally begins her day around 5:30 a.m. to work as a day laborer.
"Due to my lack of education, I work long days hoping to be able to earn what I need to provide for my girls," Cumanda said. "I want for them the opportunities I did not have growing up.'
Always looking for ways to give back to CFCA, which helps provide her daughters with food and school supplies, Cumanda was eager to meet Hentzen and join him on his walk through communities where CFCA works. And though her worn shoes offered minimal comfort, she was grateful for the opportunity to show her love and admiration for the man who has devoted his life to families like hers.
"We feel supported, cared for and loved," she said.
More than 3,000 sponsored children, youth and elderly people gathered in Valparaiso, Chile, on June 6 to watch Bob take the final steps of his nearly 8,000-mile journey. CFCA's Hope for a Family sponsorship program connects individual sponsors with a child, youth or elderly person in need to provide basic resources and support needed to create a path out of poverty. More than 94 percent of CFCA's expenses go toward program support.
"I know that not everyone can walk 8,000 miles to show their support for people living in poverty worldwide," Hentzen said. "But I want to ask those who are willing to help to make a difference by becoming sponsors, and helping to provide children with the basic resources, education and moral support they deserve."
-- Christian Foundation for Children and Aging
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