WASHINGTON — Father Christopher Heanue started his morning July 27 by celebrating Mass at 5 a.m. and then took off on a 100-mile bike ride.
It wasn’t just any ride. Father Heanue called his journey “100 Miles of Hope,” which was a fundraiser to help support his parish, Holy Child Jesus, in Richmond Hill, New York, in the Brooklyn Diocese. He is the administrator and a parochial vicar of the parish in the New York borough of Queens.
Holy Child Jesus has faced some challenging months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the food pantry and parish outreach programs in particular affected.
Joined by parishioners Paul Cerni and Tom Chiafolo, Father Heanue, 32, did the ride to provide hope and optimism in addition to raising money.
“I was very, very nervous entering into the ride. The week before, I read some articles about how to prepare for a century ride,” as a 100-miler is called by cyclists, Father Heanue told Catholic News Service. “One of the main components that the writers kept saying was that you need to have a whole week of good rest.”
Father Heanue wasn’t sleeping well during the week leading up to the ride because he was so nervous. In fact, the best sleep he got was the night before the ride.
“I’ll tell you all of the fears and all the nervousness and anxiety that I had entering into the ride seemed to dissipate once we began,” said the priest, who was ordained in 2015 for the Brooklyn Diocese.
The ride took place on a very hot day, and Father Heanue said many people were praying for him and the other two riders. The trio left Queens around 5:45 a.m. and arrived at their destination, Most Holy Trinity Church in East Hampton on Long Island, around 4 p.m.
The total amount of bike time was around seven hours and 45 minutes, according to Father Heanue. The rest of the time was filled with stops for breakfast, lunch and water breaks.
Father Heanue said he has driven the same route to the Long Island church but on a bike everything was more eye-opening and gave him a new perspective. He mentioned the change of neighborhoods you see while biking — and hoping for flat terrain and no hills to make the ride easier. He called the ride an “extraordinary experience.”
One Bible verse accompanied Father Heanue along the way — Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Father Heanue said he had never been on such a long bike, but he took up the challenge to not only ask for support and prayer but also to ask for donations for the parish and its outreach programs.
“We set up a GoFundMe page and I started with a goal of $1,000. That quickly was raised. I raised it and tried for $5,000 and in three days we hit $5,000. I tried for 10,000 and today we’re at about $9,400,” he said when he spoke to CNS July 28.
As of Aug. 6, he had raised over $20,000 with his GoFundMe page — https://www.gofundme.com/f/100-miles-of-hope — and through Facebook and GiveCentral.
As he was bicycling in the heat and humidity, “exhausted and sweaty,” he said, he was thinking about the fundraiser, then got a text about a donation.” “It was quite an inspiration for me, and I mentioned it to the guys that someone else just donated!”
When asked if he had ever done a long bike ride for a charity before, Father Heanue chuckled. “I’ve never ever done that. I wouldn’t consider myself to be very athletic or sports driven. This was something I picked up more recently through the coronavirus pandemic. I almost found it to be more safe than walking on the street.”
He got into biking because he enjoys the peace and tranquility it offers. He also described some of his training before his long journey.
“I started riding 10 miles or started bicycling to my parents’ home, which was five miles, then five miles back again (to his parish). Then I tried to increase the distance and ride from my parish to our local beach, which is called Rockaway Beach, which is about 14 miles away. I would sit on the boardwalk for a bit and bicycle back. So that was 28 miles.”
The farthest Father Heanue got in his training was a 52-mile round-trip ride. He admitted he felt awful afterward, which only added to his nervousness.
Father Heanue saw the 100-mile ride as a challenge and an accomplishment.
“Hopefully, it inspires people to challenge themselves but to realize they’re not doing it alone. Through this pandemic we’ve felt very lonely, it’s been very isolating and we’ve had to find new ways to create community,” he said. “The church was closed so the priests went online. We took to Facebook and live streaming. We took to Zoom calls to keep a sense of community because we realized how much we need each other.”
He added that he believes many times we are weak and fall into sin but by motivating and pushing ourselves, it’ll bring us to fulfillment and a better spiritual life. And he hopes his journey encourages people in this way too.
At the end of the interview with CNS, Father Heanue gave a little insight about who he was biking and praying for. The priest had in his heart a young boy who had lost his father because of COVID-19, a couple who was having pregnancy issues, and a woman who had just lost her child through complications of her pregnancy.
So he rode 100 miles for hope, as he dubbed the journey from the get-go, raising funds for a worthy cause and generating prayers for those who needed them.