By Brenda L. Rascher | Special Contributor
I bought the bicycle in March and started the cross country bicycle tour from San Francisco, Calif., to Washington, D.C., in June 2003 – 15 years ago. It was the Brake the Cycle of Poverty tour sponsored by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). We were raising awareness of poverty in the United States.
At the time, I was a legal service attorney. All my clients struggled with poverty, hunger and a constant threat of homelessness. So, going across country to raise awareness about poverty with the CCHD made sense.
I trained hard to be physically ready for the challenge of riding 3,000 miles. However, the physical challenge was the least of my worries. It was the mental and emotional challenges that proved the most difficult.
Feelings of isolation, fear and hopelessness were constant. At the same time, I was hearing the stories of families living in poverty and feeling those same emotions every day of their lives.
As a slower rider, I rode major stretches of road alone. There was a support car driving the route back and forth all day, but in-between its passing, I was alone with my thoughts of the families I’d met and all those emotions and fears – theirs and mine. Prayer became my constant companion. And we hadn’t even hit the mid-point of the country yet.
We had just entered Missouri. They were already charging at me when I saw them – four Rottweilers, a Doberman Pinscher and a Great Dane. When it was over, I had 12 puncture wounds.
I could have flown home out of St. Louis. Until we got there, though, I spoke with family and friends, did lots of praying and lots of thinking about the families I met.
Was this what struggling with poverty is like? Constantly feeling isolated, afraid and hopeless? Constantly trying to figure out how to get through the day? What do people struggling with poverty do when the Rottweilers of the world attack them?
The hunger pangs they hear coming from their children’s tummies. The inability of parents to buy the most basic necessities. The daily struggles to keep a roof over their heads and the lights on. The awful decisions they have to make: Do I pay the rent or buy the expensive medicine my son needs that are not covered by health insurance? Struggles and questions I repeatedly heard from people living in poverty across our country as we rode.
This is their life – constantly fighting off the Rottweiler called poverty! They can’t get off the ride and fly home. They are home, and this is what living in poverty means.
Riding the second half of the country was difficult, but I did not ride alone. A couple of riders slowed down to ride with me. Maria was always one of those riders. Her companionship riding beside me through each day’s ride was such a blessing.
Although that was 15 years ago, there is still poverty across this great country, including here in our state and in our Diocese. And I am asking you to be a companion to help change it. No, you don’t need to ride a bicycle across country. But you can join me in supporting and enabling the work of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
The campaign is all about breaking the cycle of poverty. The CCHD enables those living in poverty to have their own “Maria” to accompany them as they struggle to break out of poverty – to give them a helping hand as they fight off their own Rottweilers.
But the work of the CCHD is only made possible by the generous support of Catholics throughout the United States, especially through its annual parish collection. Here in the Diocese of Trenton, the collection will take place at all Masses on Nov. 17-18– the weekend before Thanksgiving. Please prayerfully consider contributing as much as you can to enable this important work through your donation to this year’s collection. Help the CCHD actually work toward a world where the Rottweilers called poverty will no longer be able to attack our brothers and sisters. Please join me in making a difference.
Brenda L. Rascher is executive director of the diocesan Office of Catholic Social Services.