They’re all 15 years older now, but what began as a bike ride to the nation’s capital in 2003 has become an annual mission for three men from St. Bridget Parish in Manchester, who once again will pedal some 300 miles through the Archdiocese of Hartford and beyond June 24-29.
John Ryan, Lou Terzo and Bob King will again pedal away as part of a Brake the Cycle of Poverty ride through Connecticut to talk about their passion: ending poverty.
“We ride to spread the message about poverty, that it’s huge, it’s anti-Christian and it’s something that Jesus commanded us to address,” said John Ryan, pastoral associate at St. Bridget Parish. “We’re one of the richest countries in the world and there’s something like 45 million people, or 14 percent of all Americans, who live below the poverty line. That’s ridiculous.
“So we try to spread the word so that people become aware of the problem,” he continued. “It’s important to change the system, and it takes many people to do that. Plus, it’s part of our Catholic-Christian calling.”
Brake the Cycle riders schedule a five-day trek, riding during the day and stopping in the evening at a parish, homeless shelter or soup kitchen, according to organizer Lou Terzo. They share a meal, attend Mass, give a presentation, stay overnight at a host parish or home and pedal on the next morning after breakfast for the next leg of their journey.
The group stops at the offices of U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy every year during the ride.
Among parish stops this year are St. Mary in Branford and possibly St. Ann in Avon and St. Margaret Mary in South Windsor.
“Every year, we get re-motivated by the people we meet along the way or the clients at the shelter,” Terzo said. “It could be you or me. We think about a third of the country lives paycheck to paycheck. Poverty is something that people just don’t get. So we feel we have to be a voice for those who don’t have a voice. Someone has to speak for the less fortunate. That’s why we do it, and it’s life-changing.”
Terzo credits a 30-week JustFaith seminar he took through the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Social Justice Ministry as his turning point. “It changed my mind-set as far as social justice is concerned,” he said. “It’s something that we, as Catholics, are called to do, to act out what Jesus wants us to do.”
One story stands out for him.
“We were on our first ride, to D.C., about 15 miles into our ride ... and I tell people now that I met Jesus on that ride,” he said.
“We had just left Hartford going to Wethersfield, and I saw this cyclist on the side,” he continued. “I just breezed right by him, but he pedaled up to me and said, ‘Hey, what are you guys doing?’ I shouted back, ‘We’re going to D.C., doing a ride for poverty.’ And he said, ‘Well, then you’re doing this for me.’ I said, ‘Are you crazy?’ I noticed he had two plastic bags on his handle bars and had been collecting empty bottles; and it shocked me. I was embarrassed. He yelled back, ‘Hey, what’s your name?’ I said, ‘Lou; what’s yours?’ And he said, ‘Matthew.’ I was stunned. Matthew 25 is the Gospel we use every time in our presentation.”
Fellow rider Bob King is equally invested in the annual effort and in advocacy, which he believes is the solution to poverty.
“It’s been in my blood now since 2003,” he said. “I do it because there’s no other solution to poverty in our society — not government, church or another large institution — that’s going to solve it. But what will solve it is if we put people together like in Matthew 25, and bring about change by doing it for the least of our brethren.”
He said the Brake the Cycle riders encounter poor people during their trips. “It makes you uneasy initially, but we let them know that we’re advocates, that we are as poor in some areas of our lives as they are.”