‘Priests Pedaling for Prayers’ set to ride through diocese again April 16-20

A scene from the first leg of "Priests Pedaling for Prayers" last April shows (from left) Father Michael Pica, Father Tom Otto and Father Adam Cesarek tackling one of the major hills they encountered in central Illinois. They are preparing to ride again April 16-20, this time traveling from Nauvoo to Mendota. (The Catholic Post file photo/Jennifer Willems)

Here they go again.

Three young priests of the Diocese of Peoria are preparing to climb on their bicycles and cross central Illinois to raise awareness of and prayers for vocations. This year’s route is expected to cover as many as 275 miles as it takes Father Tom Otto, Father Adam Cesarek and Father Michael Pica from Sts. Peter and Paul School in Nauvoo on Monday, April 16, to Holy Cross School in Mendota on Friday, April 20.

For information about this year’s route, visit comeandfollowme.org.

Along the way, the “Priests Pedaling for Prayers” will make stops at schools and churches in Macomb, Peoria, Washington, Streator, Ottawa, Oglesby, LaSalle and Peru for assemblies, Masses and Holy Hours for Vocations. (For the schedule, visit the website of the diocesan Office of Priestly Vocations at comeandfollowme.org)

One special stop will come the first morning as the priests visit the grave of Msgr. Gregory Ketcham in Hamilton. Msgr. Ketcham, who died Feb. 8 after a 20-month battle with brain cancer, was known for promoting vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life and this year’s ride will be a tribute to him, according to Father Otto, parochial vicar at Immaculate Conception in Monmouth, and St. Patrick in Raritan, and chaplain at the St. Augustine Newman Club at Monmouth College.

HONORING LATE PRIEST

“Even before he passed away we said we should do the ride in his honor, praying for him and inspired by him,” Father Otto said, adding that their jerseys will have Msgr. Ketcham’s name on one sleeve and his motto, “Jesus Reigns,” on the other.

“It wasn’t even a question. It became, ‘Of course. Why wouldn’t we do it for Msgr. Ketcham?’” said Father Cesarek, parochial vicar at St. Mary, Pontiac; St. Paul, Odell; St. Joseph, Flanagan; and St. John, Cullom.

“He’s one of those guys you look at and kind of hope to be when you get a little bit older in the priesthood. He never lost touch with the seminarians. He never lost touch with the young priests,” Father Cesarek told The Catholic Post. “He always made us feel welcome.”

“I think the big thing is how he impacted the diocese and how he’s impacted priests across the country, but mostly in Illinois,” said Father Pica, parochial vicar at St. Patrick Church of Merna in Bloomington and St. Mary in Downs, and part of the chaplain team at Central Catholic High School, Bloomington. “That has been the biggest gift and it’s a tribute we want to give back to him.”

Msgr. Ketcham was the pastor when Father Pica was assigned to the Bloomington and Downs faith communities as a newly ordained priest and Father Pica said that was “a great blessing. . . . I learned a lot of things from him that you don’t get to learn from your first pastor just because of his situation.”

MINISTRY ON WHEELS

The inaugural ride for “Priests Pedaling for Prayers” took place April 24-28, 2017. That trek covered 340 miles, starting at the Mississippi River and the Quad Cities and ending at the Indiana state line, just beyond Danville.

Chris Gavin, a bicycling enthusiast and trustee at Immaculate Conception in Monmouth, joined the priests the first day last year and will ride with them again on April 16.

The logo that will grace the jerseys worn by Deacon Matthew Levy and Chris Gavin and the t-shirts given away at stops along the “Priests Pedaling for Prayers” route was designed by Mark Burkholder.

Part of this year’s team for the entire route will be Deacon Matthew Levy, who serves at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Silvis and St. Patrick in Colona. The former captain of the U.S. Navy’s cycling team, he also rode for the United States Cycling Federation and seriously competed for a time.

Deacon Levy is currently training to ride in Paris-Brest-Paris, a 1,200-kilometer (750-mile) journey through France next year, but said the trip he will make through central Illinois in two weeks is no less important.

“I think this presented an opportunity for me to be a living witness to what a deacon on a bike is – a domestique,” he told The Post, explaining that on cycling teams this is the person who sees to the needs of the others.

“Being of service to the priests and carrying the water bottles and protecting them from the wind and being their cheerleader and encouraging them and making sure they get to the finish line – I think that’s what I’m looking forward to the most,” Deacon Levy said.

“I’m looking at this as a pure, joyful opportunity. My goal is to make sure that we have a lot of fun and we bring a lot of glory to God,” he said. “It will be great. It will be ministry on wheels is what it’s going to be.”

“IT’S ALL ABOUT THE PRAYERS”

The priests said that sense of joy was evident at every stop they made last year and they’re looking forward to meeting people across the Diocese of Peoria again this year.

“We want to emphasize how overwhelmed we were by last year – by the support, by the number of people who were praying, by the effects that I think we’ve already felt in our diocese from those prayers,” Father Otto said. “That’s going to be for me – I think for all of us – a big part of what we’re taking into this year, just how extremely encouraging that was last year.”

“We know that part of the graces we received last year and the graces we will receive this year is from the people of God praying for us,” Father Pica said. “But mostly, the reason we’re doing this is to get prayers for those young men who are discerning the priesthood and for their openness to discerning the priesthood, so that more priests will come and fall in love with the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”

Pledge cards will be sent to schools and parishes again this year so that people can indicate what prayers they will offer and sacrifices they will make to foster a culture of priestly vocations. It is also possible to do this online at comeandfollowme.org.

“It’s all about raising prayers, not money,” Father Otto said. “If people want to donate they can. That’s available through the website, too. But really it’s all about the prayers.

“You can’t buy vocations to the priesthood, but you can pray them into being, so to speak. That’s what we’re looking for,” he said.

While they hope people will join them for the many prayerful and social events of the week, the three priests said numbers don’t really matter.

“The excitement is to get places excited, no matter where they are in the diocese, about vocations, about the priesthood, about our Catholic faith,” Father Cesarek said. “Being inspired by the faith of the good people of the diocese is what I’m looking forward to again this year.”

Sponsors for “Priests Pedaling for Prayers” include OSF HealthCare, Knights of Columbus councils around the diocese, and Re/Max Sauk Valley, which is co-owned by Jim Cesarek, Father Cesarek’s father.

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