Teenager crosses South America on foot to see Pope

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jul 26, 2013 / 05:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Unable to afford transportation, a teenage boy traveled 1,829 miles to Rio de Janeiro by foot, hoping to meet Pope Francis during World Youth Day.

Young Facundo spent one month horizontally crossing almost the entire South American continent – from his hometown of Jujuy, Argentina to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – to take part in the July 23 – 28 global youth event.

“I wanted to come with the people of Jujuy but I couldn’t because I would have had to pay 7,000 pesos ($1,280 U.S. dollars) and that’s a lot of money,” said Facundo.

“I kept asking them if I could come with them, but they wouldn't let me,” he told CNA July 26.

Facundo, who graduated high school last year, was only guided by a route that his local priest mapped out for him.

“I was very lost in Argentina and I just let myself be guided when I got to Brazil,” he said. “But I was so lost in the big cities, like Sao Paolo because I had never been out of my town and I’d never taken a metro.”

The teenager touched on the angst he felt months ago when he felt called to go to World Youth Day but was afraid of traveling alone.

“No, I can’t because I don’t have enough money,” he remembers saying aloud. 

However, on March 19, “I entered in a Church to pray on my birthday,” he said. A “priest was there and I began crying a lot but I didn’t know why.”

After the priest asked Facundo why he was crying, Facundo did not know what to reply so he said he wanted to confess.

“After confession he asked me if I wanted to go to World Youth Day and I looked up and saw a picture of Pope Francis with his arms extended and I said 'yes, I’m going.'”

Warning him of the dangers, the priest said that strangers could rob him. “I replied 'I don’t care,'” Facundo recalls.

The priest was reluctant because he did not know where the boy would sleep or what he would eat, and his mother told him he was crazy. Facundo said he left Jujuy “very excited” on July 1, telling his family just the day before.

“My family asked me why I was leaving so early and who would be traveling with me and I said I would be traveling with Jesus,” he stated.

“My family began crying because they were very scared, especially my grandmother who got sick because of this.”

His mother, however, gave him 600 pesos ($110 U.S. dollars) and he began his walk to Rio de Janeiro.

“A backpacker depends on money, but I became a real pilgrim because a pilgrim just depends on faith,” remarked Facundo.

“I would go into churches to pray and everyone would look at me, but I didn’t care because I just wanted to fill myself up with more faith.”

Facundo said that when he reached the border with Brazil, he only had 100 pesos ($20 U.S. Dollars) so he decided “to not depend on money anymore, only on prayer.”

He walked passed the statue of Our Lady of Itatí and he would then always repeat to himself “Our Lady protects me and Jesus accompanies me.”

“The biggest challenge was entering Brazil, with just $13 U.S Dollars, going hungry and not knowing the language,” said Facundo.

The boy hitchhiked and a bus driver gave him a lift, who left him at a Cathedral of Iguazu where he heard his first mass in Portuguese and slept in a Franciscan school.

Those at the school offered him a direct flight, but he decided to tag along with other monks who arrived from Boston and were walking to Rio because he thought it would be a better and “more beautiful” pilgrimage.

He traveled day and night and when he was scared, he would pray constantly the Rosary.

“At one point I felt I couldn’t do it anymore and I just kept crying and praying for Jesus to protect everyone and for his will to be done,” said Facundo.

After two days going hungry and his toes bruised and blistered, a man traveling to Sao Paolo gave Facundo and the monks a ride.

“It was very dangerous because we didn’t have a place to sleep but I just kept praying the rosary,” he said.

He arrived the day before World Youth Day to the Marian shrine of Aparecida. “There was a festival going on and I realized how close I was so I began crying,” said Facundo.

“I met another Argentinian priest and we went hungry, but we finally made it to Rio,” he said. “I was hungry but I was happy.”

The Pope, he said, always says a Christian is happy adding “money isn’t worth anything, it just gives you security, but Jesus gives you trust and hope.”

Facundo met a volunteer of World Youth Day who sent him to a convent opposite the beach in Rio to sleep for a week.

“But before seeing the beach, I prefer to see the Pope,” he said. “I couldn’t see him when he went along with his Pope mobile the other day.”

“I had to choose between seeing him another day and going to Mass, but I chose the Eucharist,” he said.

He stressed that he hopes to tell the Pope that he is right, “we should let ourselves be guided by Jesus and I did that.”

“I would like to meet the Pope because priests and Popes don’t notice poor people and he lived directly with the poor people like if he was their brother,” Facundo said.

“It’s worth seeing a Pope who notices poor people and that’s why I would like to meet him,” he said. “I would really like to tell him how nice it is to follow Jesus and that he is right.”

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