KC priest bicycling across country for charity

KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Five years ago, Matthew Ruhl, a 51-year-old Catholic priest, was riding a bike on the Katy Trail in Missouri on an early spring day when he had an inspiration.

"I would love to cycle across the country," he said. "And then a thought came to me that I could maybe do a lot of good for somebody. So I said to my little angel who suggested this, 'You show me what you want me to do and I'll do it.' "

Several months later, he listened to a presentation on a major poverty program by Catholic Charities and knew that the angel had answered. The goal of this national program is to cut the poverty rate in half by 2020.

"I wanted to promote Catholic Charities USA Campaign to Reduce Poverty," Ruhl said. "I just thought that is the most worthy and audacious endeavor I have heard of in a long time."

He began training shortly afterward for a 5,092-mile journey from Cape Flattery in Washington state to Key West, Fla. He recruited 11 other people to ride with him on the 100-day trek, which began Memorial Day weekend and is to end on Labor Day.

Recently, Ruhl completed his final Mass as pastor of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, 5200 Troost Ave., and retired after serving the parish for more than eight years.

The team of 12 cyclists will have plenty of support for their journey.

"We have two vans, a trailer and a little chase car that will all be keeping an eye on us," Ruhl said.

He said all of the paths his group will follow on their journey are designated bicycle routes. Eleven members of the Cycling for Change team are from the Kansas City area. The 12th member is from Colorado Springs.

Thousands of additional riders are expected to join the team for segments of the ride as it moves across the country. Events supporting the poverty initiative have been planned in 85 cities along the way. Each rider raised $10,000 in private donations to defray the costs of the trip.

Ruhl said the team will ride from Atchison, Kan., to the Kansas City area on July 17.

"We'll have a huge event," he said, adding that there will be a fair in Kansas City and a party at a hangar of Wheeler Downtown Airport.

Another part of the preparation for the trip was prayer.

"I've sweated rosary beads over this," he said.