Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared regularly in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in one of Connecticut’s largest news dailies. He holds BS and MS degrees and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside in Connecticut.
Once the wheels get turning on a good idea, there’s no telling how far it will travel.
This year, 10 young men and women are donning jerseys emblazoned with “Biking for Babies” logos and pedaling 1,150 miles to bring a life-affirming message across five states.
Starting May 21 in New Orleans, Biking for Babies’ co-founders, Jimmy Becker and Mike Schaefer, are leading the ride, which averages 130 miles a day, through Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri and Illinois. They are scheduled to finish in Chicago on May 29.
The group hopes to raise $40,000 for eight pro-life centers. Not bad for something that began as a one-time shorter ride on Becker and Schaefer’s 2009 spring break at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
For that 636-mile ride in Illinois, the pair raised nearly $15,000 for Living Alternatives Pregnancy Resource Center in Waterloo, Ill., and Students for Life of Illinois.
They never anticipated the ride to continue, but the support from the people of Champaign and family and friends was so great that Becker now says, “We thought and prayed about it, and if God was going to continue to bless the work, we would continue to do the best we can. This would be our way to help in transforming the culture.”
God continued to bless their efforts. In 2010, they raised more than $15,000. Last year, with a couple more riders and an expanded 860-mile route from Covington, La., to Champaign, Ill., they raised more than $21,000.
With Biking for Babies on a roll, Schaefer said this year they upped the goal. “With people becoming more cognizant of what we’re doing, riding the distance and spreading the word, we felt it possible to increase our goals and raise more for pro-life charities,” he says.
“We wanted to expand the geography of the ride and the charities receiving, too.”
Among this year’s recipients will be the John Paul II Life Center in Austin, Texas.
“We’re hoping to get the word out about what they’re doing,” Becker says about the new center that aims to build a culture of life through the Catholic faith, pro-life medical care and chastity education.
John Paul II Life Center co-founder Tim Von Dohlen calls Biking for Babies a tremendous project.
“It comes at a critical time in our country,” he says. Biking for Babies is “a wonderful opportunity to awaken the sleeping people across the United States about what’s going on across the country concerning the growing disrespect for life.
“With the religious issue facing us, talking about faith, family and freedom is crucial, particularly for youth. And older people respond to youth very well. I applaud them for coming up with this idea and getting it done.”
The expansion is exciting for the co-founders. “We wanted to get the word out more than just in Illinois,” says Becker, who just finished his third year as a missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students at the University of Texas in Austin. Schaefer just completed a stint as associate director of the Newman Center at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., and will begin graduate school this fall.
“As we’ve gotten the word out, people have jumped on to get involved,” says Becker.
One rider is Jeremy Winter, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Mobile, Ala. When he was a student at Auburn University, he was a runner, did triathlons, and was involved with pro-life efforts at the college, including attending the national March for Life.
“I felt this was perfect for me,” Winter says. “It’s a way I could use my strength in a small yet significant way to help the pro-life cause.”
Becker emphasizes, “This is an opportunity for catechesis and evangelization; it’s more than just a fundraiser.”
The riders attend Mass every day and pray together during the ride, especially the Rosary.
“From my past year in seminary I know how important prayer is for everything,” Winter says. “Prayer is vital. There’s no way to succeed without prayer.”
Once in Chicago, the co-founders invite people to join them on May 29 at Blue Star Restaurant to hear pro-life speaker Jason Jones, the producer of Bella. Then the group will go to Mass at St. Stanislaus Parish down the street.
Already, Becker and Schaefer are looking ahead.
“Our hope and goal is to make this ride coast-to-coast,” says Becker. “We’re working up to that in baby steps, this time by going from south to north.”
Schaefer also hopes for “a network of rides all converging on Chicago the same day from cities around the country, as a well-articulated symbol of unity of the pro-life movement.”
Joseph Pronechen is the Register’s staff writer.
Visit BikingforBabies.com for lots of information, contacts, short videos covering the day’s highlights, and ways to donate.