A group of seminarians is on a “pedaling pilgrimage” throughout the archdiocese, raising awareness of vocations while getting to know the flocks they will someday serve.

The third annual Biking for Vocations tour kicked off yesterday at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, with rector and Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Senior blessing the group of 10 cyclists as “missionary disciples” sent forth “to strengthen the bond of communion in our local church.”

Amid cheers and cowbells, the riders exited the seminary grounds for one of two routes – perimeter and interior — that will see them cover a combined total of about 370 miles from Aug. 4 to 8.

Seminary dean of men Father Christopher Cooke is cycling with the perimeter team, whose stops include two locations in the Allentown Diocese. Father David Friel, director of the Vocations Office for the Archdiocesan Priesthood, is heading up the support vehicle fleets for both teams, and Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop John McIntyre – a cyclist with some two decades’ experience – accompanied the interior team on its first day and a half.

“I told the riders, ‘Don’t lose the bishop,’” joked Susan Matour, associate director of the archdiocesan vocations office and a key coordinator of the annual event, which requires some 12 months of meticulous planning.

Along their routes, the seminarians are stopping at various parishes for Masses, holy hours, prayer services and discussion sessions with area faithful. The perimeter and interior groups will rejoin each other for the tour’s conclusion Aug. 8 at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, where Archbishop Nelson Pérez will greet and bless the men.

The ride itself, which can average from 20 to 60 miles in length per day, is “a metaphor of what the seminary and the priesthood is about,” said Bishop Senior.

“It’s a wonderful image of the journey to the priesthood, of discernment and of clarifying an authentic call, and then (developing) the discipline and the perseverance that’s necessary to be formed and to live the priesthood,” he said.

The ride’s kickoff coincided with the memorial of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests – a fitting start, said Father Friel.

Like Vianney, who spent hours hearing confessions and counseling parishioners, the seminarians have been able along the way to engage lay faithful in conversations about the spiritual life, Father Friel said.

During an Aug. 5 stop on the “Biking for Vocations” tour, seminarians handed out lunches to clients of St. John’s Hospice, an archdiocesan Catholic Social Services ministry to men experiencing homelessness located in downtown Philadelphia. (Gina Christian)

During last night’s evening panel discussion at Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in South Philadelphia, attendees had the chance to “just get to know the seminarians,” he said. “One woman asked about their greatest surprise on entering the seminary, and they all had different answers. They and the parishioners really enjoyed just being present to each other.”

Seminarian Alex Cross — who trained by riding to and from his summer assignment at St. Cyprian Parish in Philadelphia — was seeking just that when he signed on for the ride.

“I’m looking forward to seeing parts of the archdiocese I’ve never seen, and meeting all the people I can,” said Cross.

And that includes those who are in most need: earlier today, riders from the interior route prayed at the newly dedicated shrine to addiction recovery patron Venerable Matt Talbot, located at St. Gabriel Parish in South Philadelphia – a site Father Friel called “a shrine for our times, with the incredible number of deaths related to drugs and alcohol.”

Immediately afterward, the group traveled to St. John’s Hospice, an archdiocesan Catholic Social Services ministry to men experiencing homelessness.

“Having the presence of future priests here helping to feed the poor and feed their future sheep is wonderful,” said hospice manager and permanent Deacon Anthony Willoughby. “The church serves the community, and our community just happens to be those who are disenfranchised.”

Given such great needs, the ride underscores the importance of “praying for laborers to be sent for the harvest,” said Bishop McIntyre.

At the same time, the bands of bicyclists are “a witness to the joy that is being a seminarian and following the will of God,” said Thomas Cipolla, now entering his fourth collegiate year at St. Charles Borromeo. “I love being a seminarian!”