Parish spreads mercy between two wheels, two pieces of bread

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Gerry Greathouse, a parishioner at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale, pedals through nearby El Dorado Park in search of anyone who might look hungry. He hands out homemade lunches weekly through a new Pedal-ers of Mercy Ministry. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

It’s undoubtedly biking weather in the Valley of the Sun.

From the Bike MS Arizona and American Diabetes Association’s Tour de Cure in March to this month’s El Tour de Mesa to Maricopa County’s Bike to Work Day April 18 and an ever-changing array of locals and visitors cruising around on personal or rental bikes, two wheels — or occasionally three — are increasingly a preferred way to get around. Even the preschoolers at Sacred Heart in Prescott are preparing for their annual trike-a-thon April 27.

Preschoolers support the annual Trike-a-thon at Sacred Heart in Prescott in this undated photo. They’ll ride again April 27. (courtesy photo)

A couple of Catholics discovered bike riding doesn’t just count as exercise, sight-seeing or even fundraising. It can just as easily count as a corporal work of mercy.

Pedal-ers of Mercy

Help feed the homeless by donating sandwich items, volunteering to make sandwiches or delivering them by bicycle on Saturday mornings. Meet at 10 a.m. at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale.

Info: Sr. Mary Elizabeth at (480) 947-4331

“It’s pretty much just a solo act — me and sister,” said Gerry Greathouse of the emerging Pedal-ers of Mercy Ministry based at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale. A family at the adjoining school donated funds to the church with two stipulations: the funds launch a ministry open to families of all ages and its mission helps the homeless.

As its name implies, the ministry’s main outreach is pedaling along the southern part of Scottsdale’s greenbelt toward Tempe offering food to anyone who might look hungry along the way. The Pedal-ers of Mercy has some adult tricycles with baskets on the back to transport sandwiches and safety vests for the riders.

Greathouse Sr. Mary Elizabeth Lawrence, coordinator of mission outreach at OLPH and other occasional volunteers, spend a few minutes on Saturdays spreading peanut butter and jelly on bread before they pedal out to spread the love of God.

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They welcome additional volunteers with some coming on board. Pamela Contu-Owen, a staff member, often rides alongside her husband.

“I particularly like serving in this ministry because it gives me direct contact with those I don’t usually meet face to face,” Contu-Owen said. “I recall a woman I met on the corner. I approached her and told her my name and asked hers. She replied, ‘Tammy.’ I read what she had written on a box. ‘I wonder if I will eat today?’ I said, Tammy, God has answered your prayer. Here is a lunch for you. We continued our brief conversation and said good bye. On my way back to OLPH I passed by the same corner. She was the first to call my name. It was then that I recognized Him!”

Greathouse brings extra bikes for volunteers to borrow. He is optimistic that once volunteers get into it, that they will return — though he understands that pending triple digit temperatures could put the brake on the ministry until fall.

“One thing I do know, the more we do it, the more often we see individuals over and over again,” Greathouse said.

Gerry Greathouse, a parishioner at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale, pedals through nearby El Dorado Park in search of anyone who might look hungry. He hands out homemade lunches weekly through a new Pedal-ers of Mercy Ministry. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

If more riders geared up, he’d send some north of the parish too. They spot people in need at bus stops, in parks and strip malls along Hayden Road.

“I call them brother or sister. I tell them, ‘I work at the church. We make food to give out. Are you hungry today?’ Some say yes or no,” Greathouse explained.

Changing Gears

A look at how other Catholics across the country use pedal power for more than just exercise:

Mercy Pedalers — supported by the Sisters of Mercy of the West Midwest

Pedal-powered prayer — Washington parishioners travel by bike between Stations of the Cross

Pedaling to the peripheries — Bishop to lead bike team across Iowa

“It’s always a ‘God bless you’” before Greathouse pedals on, he said. About 75 percent return the blessing. The Pedal-ers of Mercy began cycling around in December right about the same time Greathouse became an OLPH parishioner.

He always did some kind of outreach when he lived in Roswell, New Mexico, and loves being able to do the same along the greenbelt. He wouldn’t mind change of scenery even now and then though.

“It’d be nice to load up a bunch [of sandwiches] and ride to downtown Phoenix and hand them out along Central,” Greathouse said.

Sr. Libby Fernandez, a Religious Sister of Mercy, founded a similar ministry in the Sacramento area last year. Her “Mercy Pedalers” take two-hour shifts seven days a week.