When the Communicators for Women Religious decided to hold their 2017 conference in Niagara Falls, Ont., a group in Erie, Pa., had a crazy idea.
"Somebody made the comment that, 'It's close enough that you can ride your bikes,'" said Stephanie Hall, director of Communications and Public Relations for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Northwestern Pennsylvania. "Some of us took it a little more seriously, and we went with it."
The idea resulted in a group of 12 people making a 100-mile bike ride from Erie to Niagara Falls on Oct. 2, the day before a five-day conference begins across the boarder. The group took several breaks along the way to rest and pray, including a stop at the Outer Harbor in Buffalo. With the trip entitled "Cycling with Sisters," they also decided to make their adventure a mission as well.
"It occurred to us that if we are going to do it, we should do it for a reason and make it a pedaling pilgrimage to focus on the social justice issues that Catholic sisters are working for," Hall said.
"There is a need for women in religious communities to commit their lives to this line of work, but we do it together," said Sister Linda Romey, OSB. "It takes all of us, who call ourselves Christians, are called to live the teachings of Jesus and to deal with these people; the poor, victims of violence and trafficking, with our earth and the environment."
The group is working toward social justice issues like the end of human trafficking, poverty, violence, hate and racism, while advocating for the environment and immigration reform. During each of their five stops, they paused to pray and reflect upon the issues, but also noted how to advance their causes.
"Prayers are important, but so is action," Sister Linda said. "At each of these stops, we're reading what some of the actual concrete actions that women religious communities and their collaborators are involved in across the country and in Canada. For immigration, we have sisters working with refugees and helping new immigrants become citizens. They have shelters, training, and advocacy for DACA and immigration reform. It's not just a matter of offering prayers, but also doing the work. Again, it's the Gospel that's our guide."
"Cycling with Sisters" was a pilgrimage that caught people's attention, beyond the hot pink gear the team was wearing. By building their trip around movement, it defies the statistics that communities of women religious are just elderly.
"What we do everyday is to fight that stereotype. We look for new and creative ways to get the stories of Catholic sisters and the work they are doing to the forefront. (We) recognize that unfortunately, sometimes the only portals in the media are of the elderly and retired sisters. They've done a lot of great work in their lives, but there still are a lot of other sisters out there doing the work. That's what this organization (CWR) does to promote."