By Christine M. Williams, Anchor Correspondent
WAREHAM, Mass. — Two priests and three seminarians from New York biked 1,400 miles up the East Coast earlier this month in order to promote vocations. Their effort to highlight the importance of responding to God’s call mirrors the everyday efforts of Catholics in the Diocese of Fall River.
From May 17 to June 14, the Biking 4 Vocations team pedaled from St. Augustine, Fla. to Rockville Centre, N.Y. traversing as many as 85 miles in a single day. The pilgrimage spanned 11 states, and the men made many stops at parishes to meet with youth groups and discernment groups. They also attended Mass and prayed the Liturgy of the Hours five times each day. They wore white T-shirts with Matthew 28:19 “Go and make disciples of all nations” emblazoned on the back.
Afterward, the men — who represent the Archdiocese of New York, the Diocese of Brooklyn and the Diocese of Rockville Centre — talked about the physical challenges they faced on their arduous journey, adding that at particularly trying moments, they took a break for prayer.
“Many people are asking why we are biking up the East Coast when we could just drive,” said Father Marc Swartvagher, who teaches philosophy to seminarians at Cathedral Seminary House of Formation in the Brooklyn Diocese. “We believe there is something unique about the physical and sacrificial element of biking to our pilgrimage. Our mission is one with physical, emotional and Spiritual dimensions. We feel strongly about our task to promote vocations, and we truly intend to give our all, including physically, to this journey.”
The men have also challenged others to join in their effort by spending 45 minutes in prayer or exercise for vocations. Already many have responded, including Archbishop Secretary for Seminaries for the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy Jorge Carlos Patrón Wong.
Father Kevin Cook, director of the Diocese of Fall River’s Vocations Office, called Biking 4 Vocations a “unique” way to promote vocations. Speaking about vocations is not just a “nice, pious idea” but a “central part of the whole life of the Church.”
Each summer the Vocations Office leads Quo Vadis Days for young men discerning a call to the priesthood; the next one will be held from July 6-10. The majority of attendees leave with a greater openness to praying about the Lord’s call in their lives. There will also be a discernment retreat for young ladies in August. The goal of promoting vocations should be to help all Catholics be more attentive to God’s Will, he said.
“God has created us not only to come to know, love and serve Him but to serve in a particular way,” Father Cook said. “The reality is that whatever God moves us towards, if we respond to it, is going to be the path of greatest joy.”
Parents must pray for their children’s vocations at home as well as provide good examples of how vocations are lived, including joy-filled, healthy Marriages. Faith communities need to support those efforts as well, he added.
“The parish has to be praying for vocations. If the parish isn’t praying for it, well then, there’s not going to be an awareness about speaking about it in the home,” he said.
Paula Wilk, director of Faith Formation and Youth Ministry at St. Patrick Parish in Wareham, said that prayer for vocation discernment is woven into the fabric of the entire parish community.
St. Patrick’s has a Vocations Prayer Group, vocation dinners and a weekly vocation Rosary. Families can take home a vocations chalice to aid in their prayer for vocations. The back of the missalettes features a special parish vocation prayer. The Faith Formation program features vocation lessons for all grades, and in seventh grade the boys visit the seminary and the girls visit a convent.
“Vocation work is not just a prayer; it encompasses everything,” she said. “It’s not just to pray for our own specific needs but the needs of the greater Church worldwide.”
For a chronicle of the biking pilgrimage, visit www.biking4vocations.org.