Pedaling priests to bike across diocese April 24-28 seeking vocation prayers

In training for their 350-mile ride across the Diocese of Peoria, (from left) Father Tom Otto, Father Adam Cesarek and Father Michael Pica pause long enough for a photo in front of the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria. (Provided photo/Amy Chovan, Office of Priestly Vocations)

Being a priest has made Father Michael Pica, Father Adam Cesarek and Father Tom Otto so happy that they are preparing to share their joy with people from Rock Island to Danville — literally.

The three priests will spend the Second Week of Easter riding their bikes 350 miles across the Diocese of Peoria to raise awareness for vocations and show people that priesthood is a wonderful life. Along the way they plan to stop at schools and parishes to encourage prayers for vocations and tell the story of their own call to priestly service.

To learn more about the ride, the route or ways to pledge support, visit the website for the Office of Priestly Vocations at comeandfollowme.org.

A passage from Matthew’s Gospel provides the theme for the journey and will grace the cycling jerseys they wear and the t-shirts they hand out: “Ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest!”

“We love being priests. This is the absolute best thing that has happened to us in our lives and cycling is just sort of the vehicle that’s going to get us to these schools and these parishes to share that with people,” said Father Otto, who was ordained in 2013 and serves as parochial vicar at Immaculate Conception in Monmouth and St. Patrick in Raritan.

(Related story and video: Students from Immaculate Conception School in Monmouth make video of song to support the pedaling priests.)

RAISING PRAYERS, NOT FUNDS

The idea came from Father Pica, who was ordained last May and assigned to St. Patrick Church of Merna in Bloomington and St. Mary in Downs. The three priests like to ride and as they were cycling during a Young Clergy event last summer, he asked Father Otto and Father Cesarek if they would be willing to use their hobby to benefit vocations.

“There are people who bike across Iowa — what if we bike across the diocese,” he proposed, referencing the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, also known as RAGBRAI.

As they developed the idea, the three priests realized more money wasn’t the answer to promoting vocations. Instead of a fundraiser, they decided to make it a prayer-raiser.

“We’re not doing this ride just to get attention. We’re doing this ride to get prayers for vocations,” Father Pica told The Catholic Post. “We want people across the diocese to pray for us while we’re doing this, but not just pray for us. We’re asking them to pray for vocations during this week of riding.”

He said they would be sending out prayer cards and asking the students and parishioners at each stop to consider what prayer or sacrifice they could offer to make vocations more plentiful.

“Prayer is powerful and prayer is effective and when we trust in that, when we pray with faith, God answers our prayers,” Father Otto said. “The more people we have praying and sacrificing, asking God to send us more priests, that’s going to directly help the young men who are being called to be priests to discover that and to say ‘yes’ to God’s call in their life.”

Father Cesarek said another important aspect of the ride is showing young people that “priests do exciting, cool things, too.”

“Yes, the most important things priests do are celebrating Mass and the sacraments and taking care of their people,” he said, “but this will let people see, especially young people, that priests do fun, normal stuff. As a kid, I never would have known that was the case.”

If he had witnessed something like this when he was 8 years old, he might have pursued his priestly vocation much earlier in life, said Father Cesarek, who was ordained in 2015 and is parochial vicar for St. Mary in Pontiac, St. Paul in Odell, St. Joseph in Flanagan, and St. John in Cullom.

RIDING RAIN OR SHINE

Starting on Monday, April 24, they will travel from East Moline to Monmouth, which is about 70 miles, and then from Galesburg to Peoria, about 60 miles, on Tuesday, April 25.

“We’re not doing this ride just to get attention. We’re doing this ride to get prayers for vocations.” Father Pica

The following day will be a distance day, with the intrepid cyclists taking “the scenic route” from Morton to Pontiac to Bloomington. While not quite a “century ride,” which is typically 100 miles, Father Pica said they expect to travel at least 90 miles.

“We’re not going after the other 10,” he said, with a laugh.

They will cover about 40 miles each of the next two days, going from Bloomington to Champaign and then finishing in Danville on Friday, April 28.

Some priests, deacons and parishioners who are cycling enthusiasts have indicated that they would like to be part of the journey, if only for a few miles. Fathers Pica, Cesarek and Otto said they would make the ride “rain or shine.” The only thing that would take them off the road is lightening.

“It’s going to involve some suffering. We’ll have problems along the way, but that’s sort of the journey of life,” Father Cesarek said. “Hopefully the Lord uses this in powerful ways.”

Father Timothy Hepner, diocesan vocations director for recruitment, is confident that will be the case.

“These three priests are inspiring to me and to all of the faithful around the diocese,” said Father Hepner, “and it’s great to see other people getting on board to offer their sacrifices and prayers in union with them.”

If the cycling priests don’t come to your community this year, be patient. All three priests said they hope to make this an annual event, taking a different route each year. In the meantime, pray.

“That’s something everyone can do,” Father Otto said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To learn more about the ride, the route or ways to pledge support, visit the website for the Office of Priestly Vocations at comeandfollowme.org.

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