Rome, Italy, Sep 23, 2014 / 10:26 am
Nicknamed "the Pope's mailmen," a group of five Argentinean fathers traveled on bicycle from Buenos Aires to the Vatican to deliver letters from 70,000 students to the Holy Father.
Juanjo Vargas, Manuel Fernandez, Rodolfo Deccico, Santiago Fernandez and Pablo Pascual arrived in Rome on Sept. 18, after bicycling across Argentina, Spain, France and Italy, covering more than 3100 kilometers.
The men are part of the initiative "Crossing for Education," aimed at promoting education in Argentina.
They began by visiting all the schools in the province of Cordoba, inviting students to answer the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and to send the answer in a letter to Pope Francis.
Some students decorated their letters with the colors of the San Lorenzo Almagro soccer team –the Pope's favorite – others left their phone number and requests for the Pope to call: "Call me between 9 and 12 because my mom is home." Other sent rosaries and holy cards of the Virgin Mary.
"The aim is to inspire kids to dream, so they'll say, 'The Pope is going to read my letter.' Many of our kids don't dream big, and that's how the idea came about. It was amazing to see the kids waiting for us with their letters. It was moving," Vargas told CNA.
"Pope Francis was a huge motivation. We not only received letters from children but also from adults, families, the sick…and we began to encounter the reality that perhaps the Pope is experiencing," he added.
The 44 year-old Vargas said the ride was not easy. He missed his family, his wife and six children, whom he has not seen since Aug. 25, the day the journey began.
After riding 800 kilometers across Argentina, the group flew to Madrid and began their European route, which included stops in Loyola in Spain, Assisi in Italy and St. Martha's Residence at the Vatican.
"When I see Pope Francis, I will simply be just another mailman. We came to deliver the kids' letters. That's what a mailman does. When he comes to a house, he knocks on the door and says, 'Here is your letter.' We are surely bringing small, personal messages and longings that we are going to share with him, but the reality is we going to share letters and dreams," Vargas explained.
The five friends who made the trip said the experience was very moving.
"We met fathers, mothers and teachers, and when we collected their letters, their eyes filled with tears," the mailmen said. "When people found out where their letters were going they said, 'Thank you for getting my kids to dream.' That is the task of parents, teachers, of all of us, but this was an incentive."
During their travels, the group never made reservations for lodging anywhere, but they were never left without a place to stay. They spent the night in convents and the homes of family and friends along the way.
"In Manresa, Spain, we were riding up a mountain and at the last ascent we were met by a man who was applauding," Vargas said. "We looked at him, thinking he was crazy or that he was a cycling fanatic, but he turned out to be an Argentinean who heard about us online and he stood there, moved to tears and applauding. We got off our bikes and hugged him. He told us, 'Thank you for believing in hope'."
The journey of the Pope's mailmen came to an end on Sept. 19, when they rode into the Vatican and delivered their letters to Pope Francis.