How far would you go to make a difference? For a group of dedicated cyclists, the answer was pedaling 3,880 miles during the summer of 2003 in the Brake the Cycle of Poverty Tour.
Though the bikers had little in common – they ranged from 19 to 73 years old, came from different parts of the country and had varied cycling experience – they all shared that their passion for social justice is what brought them together.
The trip, sponsored by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, strove to raise awareness of poverty in the United States and to promote social action to combat it. As the domestic anti-poverty campaign of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, CCHD provides grants to grassroots community organizations that have been vetted and that continue to be monitored according to Catholic social teaching. These grants are made possible by the generous donations of parishioners across the country on the national collection date, which usually takes place in November.
This year, marking the 20th anniversary of the Brake the Cycle of Poverty tour, the Diocese of Trenton will host a cross-diocesan ride Oct. 7. More information is forthcoming, but people are encouraged to offer their support either through their presence at a parish “rest stop” along the bike route, or through monetary donations to CCHD on the national collection date, which this year is Nov. 19.
In 2003, the riders departed June 1 from San Francisco, Calif., and pedaled into Washington, D.C. on Aug. 1. The two months and nearly 4,000 miles in between were filled with physical and mental challenges, but overall, a sense of community and companionship prevailed among the riders and with the people they encountered in the communities along the way.
A core group of a couple dozen riders made the entire trip. The cyclists, led by organizer Mary Wright, included a Maryland native college student; a 73-year-old resident of Phoenix, Ariz.; a De La Salle Christian Brother; and Brenda Rascher, who currently serves as executive director of Catholic Social Services for the Diocese. As a group, the cyclists faced challenges – inclement weather, flat tires and difficult slopes in the Appalachian Mountains. One rider was even attacked by a dog in rural Missouri but was able to continue after a few days of rest.
The ride snaked across the U.S., through 12 states and more than 30 Catholic dioceses, all the while championing an important cause. The ride had a dual purpose: to educate the national public about domestic poverty and to familiarize the riders with the many communities that they were serving through their advocacy work.
For the riders, a typical day was waking up before sunrise and getting on the road by 6 a.m. with the goal of averaging 80 to 100 miles. Their evenings were spent educating the public about CCHD’s goals and mission in local parishes. Their accommodations ranged from mostly sleeping bags or cots in parish halls to being welcomed in the homes of generous parishioners. If accommodations weren’t available, they stayed in tents that they brought with them.
When asked their reasons for embarking on such an ambitious journey, the cyclists shared having a God-given desire to make a difference. Each rider recognized the experience was for a greater purpose.
Information about the Diocese’s participation in the Brake the Cycle of Poverty tour on Oct. 7 will be in a follow-up story to be published on TrentonMonitor.com and in the September issue of The Monitor Magazine.
Elise Stankus is serving a summer internship in the Office of Catholic Social Services.