by Bob Hart
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — He talks the talk — and he walks the walk. Bob Hentzen is living his faith these days on the back roads and rocky paths of the developing nations it has been his life’s mission to serve.
Hentzen, 74, who with two of his brothers and a friend co-founded the Kansas City-based Christian Foundation for Children and Aging in 1981, set out from his home in Guatemala last Dec. 29 for an on-foot journey that will take him through El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and Chile over a period of 16 months.
He is accompanied at all times by his wife, Cristina, and at various times by CFCA project coordinators and other staff.
“I walk in gratitude for all the poor have taught me,” Hentzen said on a recent visit to CFCA headquarters. “By walking with those living in poverty, we are saying, ‘You are not alone. We are listening to you and learning from you.’”
Hentzen undertook a previous “Pilgrimage of Faith” in 1996, completing a walk of more than 4,000 miles from CFCA’s offices on Elmwood Ave. in Kansas City, Kan., to Guatemala.
Serving children and elderly through sponsorship in 23 countries, CFCA is “a lay Catholic organization working with persons of all faith traditions to create a worldwide community of compassion and service,” according to its Web site. It currently has nearly 270,000 sponsors, most of them in the United States.
Hentzen is visiting multiple CFCA mission sites along the way and adheres to a strict schedule that usually involves rising at 2:30 a.m. and taking his first step before 4 a.m. He sleeps in seminaries, parish buildings, individual homes and the occasional small roadside hotel.
“Lightning,” he said with a laugh, “that’s about the only thing that stops us.”
Trailed by support vehicles including a 1983 camper purchased on eBay, the walkers have long since learned to do without such luxuries as hot water. Hentzen said he relies on a special concoction created by his wife to provide energy for the long days.
“I call it ‘Popeye juice,’” he said. “It’s got beets, carrots, apples, papaya — I’m not sure what all. Very high in vitamins.”
Most items lugged along serve multiple purposes. For instance, an all-important fan is used not only to keep cool while sleeping, but also to dry hair and clothes and keep the mosquitoes at bay.
Hentzen said he often thinks of CFCA sponsors, as well as the poor they serve, when he’s on the road.
“Our sponsors are salt-of-the-earth people of good heart,” he said. “They recognize that CFCA is low-key, calm and good at what we do. We’re not on TV; we’re not taking up collections in the parishes where our preachers speak. Instead, we’ve really identified a way to help the poor in all these communities and to do it in a sustainable way.
“I know this [walk] is sort of a radical act — going on foot for what most people would consider a very long trip in an airplane,” he said. “But it’s our way of declaring that we care about the people. We mean it.”
For more information about CFCA or to become a sponsor, call (913) 384-6500 or visit its Web site at: www.cfcausa.org.