IOWA CITY, Iowa (CNS) — They arrived outside St. Mary Parish rectory practically incognito: 13 smiling clergy and laypeople wearing sun glasses and bike helmets and ready for the Bishop’s Bike Ride.
Their bright T-shirts, jerseys, shorts and some spandex looked perfect for bicycling, but nothing you’d typically see at the chancery or in the parish.
The July 6 ride served as a cycling send-off for Davenport Bishop Thomas R. Zinkula, spiritual director of the “Pedaling to the Peripheries” team for the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. Best known as RAGBRAI, the event starts July 22 in Onawa and ends July 28 in Davenport.
Bishop Zinkula sees RAGBRAI as an opportunity to go out to the peripheries, like Pope Francis, to encounter people and to set an example as a joy-filled Catholic. He’ll be dressed like everyone else, but his role as bishop of the Diocese of Davenport probably will come up in conversation. If people have questions, he’ll be glad to provide answers. He’ll also celebrate Mass at a parish in each town that serves as an overnight stop.
The Bishop’s Bike Ride consisted of 16 miles up and down hills between Iowa City and North Liberty with a half-way stop for refreshments. It was all about fun and exercise. As some of his fellow cyclists huffed and puffed up those hills, Bishop Zinkula joked, “These are hills?”
“Isn’t it great to have a bishop who is not only willing but able to be a good example to his priests and to all of his people in regard to working on healthy lifestyles,” said Father Steve Witt, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Iowa City. “I sat next to him at the turnaround, but most of the day all I could see was the back of him as he killed the hills!”
Father Witt, whose parish hosted the event, designated Father Bill Roush to lead the cyclists. Father Roush, pastor of parishes in Riverside, Richmond and Wellman, took the assignment with gusto. One of the cyclists casually asked if he works out on a regular basis. The wiry priest smiled.
Father Jeff Belger, director of the Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City, experienced his share of mechanical challenges. He had a flat tire — before the ride started. He repaired the flat in no time, with assistance from Father Dan Dorau, parochial vicar of Divine Mercy Parish in Burlington and St. Mary Parish in Dodgeville. Later on, the chain on Father Belger’s bicycle broke. He managed to coast back to the rectory where a feast awaited the cyclists.
“It certainly was a motley crew! By that I of course mean merely, diverse,” Bishop Zinkula said. “A bunch of priests, a few laypeople, a woman religious, a deacon and a bishop. After some very hot and humid weather early in the week, we were blessed with an absolutely gorgeous day. At the end of the ride, it was a pleasant surprise to be treated to a nice meal of sandwiches and all the fixings prepared by a group of people, including a few Clinton Franciscans.”
Jim Tiedje, who organized the ride with Father Witt, quipped, “I think it is really neat that Bishop Zinkula is able to ‘let his hair down’ along with his fellow priests and clergy.” (The bishop is partially bald.)
“I am looking forward to riding RAGBRAI with team ‘Pedaling to the Peripheries,'” added Tiedje