By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
“We are companions on the journey,” Bishop Thomas Zinkula sang, leading the gathering in the opening hymn as he processed to the altar for the RAGBRAI Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church in DeWitt.
RAGBRAI, the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, made DeWitt the final overnight stop (July 30) for the weeklong bicycle ride. The DeWitt parish had the privilege of offering riders food for the journey: turkey stuffing sandwiches for physical sustenance and the Eucharist for spiritual sustenance.
The parish’s leadership invited Bishop Zinkula, an avid cyclist, to celebrate Mass in DeWitt, which became a host community because another town bowed out. The bishop appreciates the sense of community he has experienced on RAGBRAI, which is why he chose “Companions on the Journey” as the opening hymn.
His homily extended the concept of companions on the journey by addressing an issue he thought many Mass-goers could relate to — family members who have fallen away from the Catholic Church, particularly non-practicing adult children. The sixth chapter of Mark’s Gospel, proclaimed during the RAGBRAI Mass, spoke of a prophet being without honor in his native place and among his own kin in his own house. Similarly, sometimes parents find themselves unable to convince their non-practicing adult children to return to the Catholic Church, the bishop said.
Often, it takes someone from outside the family to inspire the non-practicing member to renew a commitment to the church. The bishop shared a story from his family. Shelby, his niece, had not fallen away from the church but re-energized her commitment to the faith through the inspiration of a roommate. It takes a village to build community, he said. For people of faith, that village is the Communion of Saints, the faithful on earth and in heaven, who come together mystically each time the Eucharist is celebrated.
On RAGBRAI, riders become a village, companions on the journey, helping one another. The bishop encouraged Mass participants to help one another by praying for a faithful Catholic to inspire a family member to return to the church. At the same time, he asked each Catholic to be that person who inspires a non-family member to return to church.
After Mass, Bishop Zinkula joined RAGBRAI riders enjoying a meal of turkey stuffing sandwiches, corn on the cob, fruit spears and dessert in the parish hall. Volunteers of all ages assisted with a variety of tasks to satisfy the hungry riders.
Organizers planned for months and felt good about the effort. “We saw this as an opportunity to fundraise that kind of fell into our laps,” said Jasmin Tone, the parish’s director of faith formation and its youth minister. She and Kate Kramer, president of the St. Joseph Home & School Association, and Lisa Reyna, a school board member, led volunteers in organizing the parish’s food stand for RAGBRAI.
Tone said she was grateful for her volunteer experience with Midwest Old Threshers Reunion while growing up in Mount Pleasant because it helped with planning for the RAGBRAI food stand. Proceeds from the food stand will go toward youth ministry, particularly participation in the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) this fall, and the Home and School Association, which financially supports a variety of school needs.
“We’ve all been able to build off each other’s strengths,” Kramer said. “Jasmin, who’s so close to the church here and knows what’s going to work best, Lisa is familiar with catering and I’m happy to get volunteers.”
Kramer was especially pleased with the many volunteers who showed up — to work or to drop off homemade pies and other desserts. Father Stephen Page mentioned that someone dropped off two pies in front of the church that morning.
Tone was a little worried when the anticipated donation of corn on the cob did not materialize a week ahead of RAGBRAI. In the final days and hours, the corn arrived, more than anticipated. Figuring out how much food to serve was challenging. RAGBRAI planners advised the community to expect 15,000 to 20,000 riders. One-hundred vendors would be in place, but not all of them provided food, Tone said. The parish organizers decided on 700 sandwiches, figuring that some riders might be hungry enough to order two. On the day they served the sandwiches, Kramer said someone told her, “That is delicious. I’ve never had anything like that before.”
After 16 months of the pandemic, Reyna appreciated “the community being able to come together again and having people come out and work together. The sense of community is coming back.”