National Catholic Register


Priest Cycles to Change Poverty

BY Joseph Pronechen, Register Staff Writer

| Posted 9/3/10 at 1:05 PM


On Saturday, Sept. 4, Jesuit Father Matthew Ruhl and his 11 fellow cyclists finished their Cycling for Change 99-day odyssey across the United States when they reached the southernmost tip of our country in Key West, Fla.

To make it official, Father Ruhl touched his bike’s tire to the buoy marking the southernmost point in the continental U.S.

But their 5,025-mile journey to bring attention to Catholic Charities USA’s Campaign to Reduce Poverty didn’t end there. After a little celebration at the spot, they got back on their bikes and rode to the St. Francis and St. Bede homeless shelters in Key West, which are run by Catholic Charities of Miami.

“That was a very fitting end, literally corner to corner in this country showing how Catholic Charities is answering the cry of the poor,” said Kathleen Conwell of Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., the home base for the Cycling for Change mission. She traveled to Florida to be on hand for the final leg of the cycling mission.

“We were there to proclaim that to the country and showcase it,” she reflected. “That’s why we made our official ending point the Catholic Charities center.”

Everyone connected with the marathon trip had lunch with the St. Francis and St. Bede residents, then got a tour.

Father Ruhl celebrated Mass for everyone. On Sunday he celebrated Mass at Key West’s Mary Immaculate Star of the Sea parish.

Recapping the ride, Father Ruhl said, “There is no doubt that we live in an incredibly beautiful country, but at the same time, it is devastating to see the struggles of hardworking families in every state we visited.”

“It’s also been inspirational to see the work being done by Catholic organizations across the country to answer the cry of the poor. Above all else, it is who we are as Catholics,” he added. “We can and should be the leaders in the campaign to reduce poverty in this country.”


Talk about monumental efforts.

On Thursday, Jesuit Father Matthew Ruhl and his fellow cyclists completed the Miami to Key Largo, Fla., leg of their 5,052-mile cycling trek to do something about reducing poverty in America.

With 100 miles to go, their 100-day Cycling for Change pilgrimage that started Memorial Day in Cape Flattery, Wash., ends Sept. 4-5 in Key West, Fla.

Three years in the planning, the ride’s mission is to raise awareness of Catholic Charities USA’s Campaign to Reduce Poverty by 50% by 2020.

Because Father Ruhl witnessed the devastation on human lives caused by poverty while working many years in inner-city parishes, he considered this campaign a most daring venture. Eager to join in, he proposed a cycle ride diagonally across the United States.

“The work we do for the poor in this country is amazing, and it’s a shame more people don’t know about it,” said Kathleen Conwell of Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph, the home base for the ride. “So this ride is a great tool to spread the word about the work Catholics are doing to address the needs of the very poor in this country.”

By all counts, Father Ruhl, his 11 fellow cyclists — who range in age from 24 to 63 and include doctors, lawyers, social workers, photographers and retirees — and his four-member support team have been doing that remarkably everywhere they stop across the United States. Along the way, dozens of other cyclists joined in for short distances.

They’re not only well-received everywhere, but countless people helped by Catholic Charities are telling their stories at stops in every state.

“It’s unbelievable how many people in this country have been helped by Catholic Charities,” Father Ruhl has discovered. He hears how Catholic Charities helped with one family’s autistic child, helped a couple adopt a baby or others aided in innumerable ways. “The country is filled with people who have a great deal of gratitude in their heart for the Catholic Church and Catholic Charities.”

The Catholic identity of the project is foremost. Father Ruhl said it was 5,000 miles of Catholics being Catholics, and from coast to coast he told people about the beauty of the Gospel. He celebrated Masses everywhere, such as with prisoners during the tour’s stop at the Louisiana State Penitentiary.

Among many highlights, one special stop was at the St. Patrick Center in St. Louis. Said Father Ruhl, “They are an unbelievably effective Catholic Charities agency.”

Fellow rider John Mocella of Overland Park, Kan., a Catholic Charities volunteer, was also highly impressed by Centro Hispano Catolico Child Care Center in Miami. Of the children who enter this preschool for poverty-level families, 92% eventually go on to graduate from high school.

Mocella signed on for the ride “for the mission first and foremost,” he said, “and the personal challenge.” The results have been exceeding his expectations. He is amazed by the impact Father Ruhl and the other cyclists are having.

“This attracts the local media and shines the light on centers where people are doing something for the poor,” said Mocella.

Cycling for Change has been promoting the Campaign to Reduce Poverty the entire way by encouraging communities to commit time and talents to this campaign, highlight local poverty and raise money to help local programs., which has been detailing the journey, has attracted nearly 2 million visitors since the ride started on Memorial Day.

“People are paying attention,” said Father Ruhl.

In sight of the finish line, he reflected, “First, this is a remarkably beautiful country. No question God has shed his grace on us. Second, given God’s graciousness on us, we really should return that graciousness to the poor and the hungry.”

Third, he said, people’s attention is often diverted from the constant issue of poverty: “Let’s quit the diversion and focus on this.”

Cycling for Change has. “It has really been an incredible catalyst for highlighting the work of Catholic Charities across the country,” said Conwell, who personally observed the gratitude people expressed on the road. “It makes me so proud to work for Catholic Charities, and even more proud to be a Catholic.”

Staff writer Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.