Pedaling priests to again ride across diocese for vocation awareness, prayers

Members of the track team from Holy Cross School in Mendota ran with Father Michael Pica, Father Tom Otto, Father Adam Cesarek and Deacon Matt Levy as they completed last year's Priests Pedaling for Prayers ride across the Diocese of Peoria. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

As the Priests Pedaling for Prayers prepare to embark on their third bike ride across the Diocese of Peoria to raise awareness of and prayers for vocations, they’re looking to Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen for inspiration and support.

The jerseys for the 2019 ride, which begins in Rapids City on Sept. 30 and ends at the Indiana state line on Oct. 4, will have “JMJ” printed on the back, just below the collar, according to Father Michael Pica. Archbishop Sheen was known to print those initials for Jesus, Mary and Joseph in chalk at the top of the blackboard he used during his television show, “Life Is Worth Living.”

Father Pica, the chaplain at The High School of Saint Thomas More and parochial vicar for St. Matthew in Champaign and St. Boniface in Seymour, said the jerseys will be in the diocesan colors of blue and gold. They will continue to bear the words “Jesus Reigns,” the motto of the late Msgr. Gregory Ketcham, an avid supporter of vocations, that was adopted for the 2018 ride.

Making the trip again this year are Father Adam Cesarek, administrator of St. Mary in Pontiac, and Father Tom Otto, parochial vicar for the parishes in the LaSalle Catholic Community.

And fresh off of the 800-mile Paris-Brest-Paris ride through France, Deacon Matt Levy of Silvis will join the priests for a second year.

“Last year, it was one of the highlights of my whole year,” he said. “I loved spending time with these three men. They are holy, wonderful, God-filled men and I enjoyed every moment with them, every moment.”

New to Priests Pedaling for Prayers in 2019 is Dr. Michael Cruz, CEO of OSF HealthCare’s central region, who is a bicycling enthusiast, and Axel Jiminez, a State Farm agent from Bloomington who will be providing social media support.

WILL COVER 350 MILES

The itinerary for the trip will take the cyclists 350 miles with stops for school assemblies, Masses and Holy Hours at Geneseo, Kewanee, Wyoming, Chillicothe, Peoria Heights, Peoria, Pekin, Lincoln, Bloomington, Normal, Thomasboro, Rantoul, Champaign and Philo. They will conclude their trip by taking in a football game between Central Catholic High School of Bloomington and The High School of Saint Thomas More of Champaign at Central Catholic.

While each stop will provide many memorable moments, Father Otto said he is particularly looking forward to the Holy Hour for Vocations at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria on Tuesday, Oct. 1, the Feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Not only is she the patroness of vocations for the Diocese of Peoria, but this time of prayer will bring them to where Archbishop Sheen is now entombed, he said.

Will the priests be coming to a town near you? Check out their itinerary here.

“That’s going to be quite a momentous occasion and we’re hoping that word gets out and people all across the diocese can see it as kind of a pilgrimage to pray for vocations,” he told The Catholic Post.

Father Otto noted that it would take place just 11 days after the centenary of Archbishop Sheen’s ordination at St. Mary’s Cathedral, where he and Father Cesarek and Father Pica were also ordained.

“The cathedral is just a special place for all of us, for all priests of the diocese,” he said. “It’s where God changed our lives in a really dramatic and beautiful way.”

The priests will be sharing those stories even as they try to build a culture of prayer for vocations to the priesthood.

“The whole point is to get them thinking about their own vocation,” Father Otto said. “It doesn’t matter if someone is 9 years old or 90 years old, prayer is powerful and it’s effective. So we want to get everyone to pray for more vocations.”

“EVERY PRAYER COUNTS”

One of the things Father Cesarek looks forward to each year is seeing the joy on the faces of the children when they visit the schools.

“We’re inspiring some young people to recognize that Jesus can work in profound ways, in ways they may not have thought of before,” he said, adding, “We didn’t know what God was going to do with it.”

Father Cesarek also considers it a “profound blessing” to be able to see the vastness of the Diocese of Peoria, including places off the beaten path where they encounter “the good people in all the corners of the diocese.”

With this ride, the Priests Pedaling for Prayers will have visited most of the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Peoria, and many of the parishes. They have been able to do it each year because the response has been overwhelmingly positive, said Father Timothy Hepner, vocation director of recruitment.

He sees that in the Priests Pedaling for Prayers t-shirts that started to show up at Emmaus Days this summer and in the increasing numbers of seminarians. “Every prayer counts,” he said.

Those who would like to pledge prayer support may visit their page at comeandfollowme.org, the website for the Office of Priestly Vocations, and click on the link for “Join them in prayer.” There is also a link for monetary donations, with everything received over and above the cost of the ride going to the Msgr. George A. Carton College Seminarian Scholarship Fund.

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