By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Bishop Thomas Zinkula made a confession during the final “RAGBRAI Mass” last Friday evening at St. Mary Catholic Church in Iowa City: “I have a love-hate relationship with RAGBRAI.” Many of the 250 Mass-goers could relate. They had bicycled 360 miles of the weeklong Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa and were anticipating the final 68.9-mile leg the following day, July 28.
This year on RAGBRAI, “It’s been mostly love,” the bishop said, referring to the sunny days, moderate temperatures, low humidity and favorable wind conditions. “It’s like the rich soil we heard about in the Gospel reading,” he added.
This spiritual component of RAGBRAI resonated with the bicyclists, including Bishop Zinkula’s Pedaling to the Peripheries team, a group of 20 people connected in some way to the bishop, organizer Jim Tiedje or the editor of The Catholic Messenger. The bishop, an enthusiastic bicyclist, viewed RAGBRAI as an opportunity to follow Pope Francis’ call to go to the peripheries, to be in the midst of the sheep, to have the smell of the sheep, to be in touch with the world outside church walls.
“The daily Masses brought a whole new dimension to my RAGBRAI experience,” Tiedje said. “It was great having so many people show up for Mass. I think for some they found the bishop to be a real down to earth human being — someone they could relate to. I can’t help but believe that good things will come out of last week’s ‘Pedaling to the Peripheries.’”
The bishop “is one awesome person in his approach to connect with people and his messages on living a life in service and support of others,” team member Tim Arland said. “Pretty cool how he did the entire ride, presented Mass each evening and visited with people in each community daily. He also invested time with everyone in our group, (talking) about many things in life like leadership, integrity, humbleness and helping others in need.”
A shepherd goes out to his flock
Bishop Zinkula prepared his RAGBRAI homilies ahead of time, but added to their rich soil as the bicycling experience unfolded. He flipped pancakes with the Knights of Columbus in Harper and strolled through the massive tent city at St. Mary’s in Sigourney. He stopped by the home of 10-year-old Zach Santos in Hills for cookies and lemonade. Zach had a poster on the lawn welcoming the bishop. The bishop also paid a visit to 101-year-old Mary Hurt, who attends daily Mass at St. Joseph Parish in Hills. A parishioner told the bishop that Hurt would like to meet him.
What was really neat,” Hurt said, “is that (the bishop) is Czech and my husband was pure Czech.” Learning of that connection, Bishop Zinkula greeted her in Czech: “jak se máš” (how are you) and she responded in Czech: “dobře” (good). “He took my hand; it was very sweet. My husband would be just thrilled to death.” Hurt said she prays for the bishop daily, but now, “I know who I’m praying for.”
Bishop Zinkula had dinner with people in every parish before Mass: St. John in Onawa; St. Rose of Lima in Denison; St. Joseph in Jefferson; St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames; Sacred Heart in Newton; St. Mary in Sigourney; and St. Mary in Iowa City.
“They were having a meal and so I thought I’d have a meal with them and hang out with the parishioners and then celebrate Mass. I figured that would be something that they would enjoy and appreciate. I wanted to support them just by being there.”
A call to disciples
The themes of his homilies related to each day’s Scripture, centered on evangelization, salvation, family, leadership, looking and listening and preparing the soil of our lives. He summed up the homilies during the last evening Mass with a call to action for the RAGBRAI family of faith:
“Having personally accepted God’s offer of salvation and joined the family of God, may we be servant leaders in the church and in the world who look closely to see God’s presence in our lives and listen carefully to hear what God speaks to our hearts. May we prepare the soil of our lives so that we bear more abundant fruit by becoming more committed disciples of Jesus Christ and by evangelizing others as we share the joy of the Gospel.
“If we do that, as Julian of Norwich (a Christian mystic and theologian) said, ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”’
For Pedaling to the Peripheries team members, “all manner of thing” turned out well: the ride, weather, accommodations, hospitality and the opportunity to bond with the bishop and one another after Mass. No one had to spend a night outdoors in a tent, and on all but one night, showers were available.
Camaraderie ruled the day among bicyclists on the road and in the towns where they stopped to fuel up on grilled cheese sandwiches, pork chops on a stick, homemade ice cream, huge slices of pizza, smoothies, beer and other refreshments. “You’re with 20,000 friends you don’t know yet,” Bob Quast of Team SAU (St. Ambrose University in Davenport) said at the start of RAGBRAI.
A vision for the future
At RAGBRAI’s conclusion, Bishop Zinkula and his brother, Jerry, dipped the front wheel of their bicycles in the Mississippi River in Davenport at the Marquette Street Landing.
“Where we go from here is Vision 20/20,” Bishop Zinkula said, referring to a diocesan journey of revitalization of faith and a renewal of grace in the spirit of Pentecost. Vision 20/20, still in its formative stages, aims to fill every heart and life with the joy of the Gospel through a fresh encounter with Jesus Christ.
“You could look at our RAGBRAI experience as preparing the soil for Vision 20/20,” the bishop said. “As we continue to talk about Vision 20/20, hopefully this gives people some ideas. We all need to be creative in reaching out to people and evangelizing in whatever way might work for a parish.”