During the warm months, you may have seen a group riding their bikes around Buffalo on a slow roll, checking out the scenic city. On Holy Thursday, some of these people will take a "Holy Roll" through the seven Catholic churches of Buffalo's Polonia and Kaisertown districts.
The idea for the ride came from Will Pearson, a member of Slow Roll Buffalo and lifelong Catholic. He wanted to take part in the tradition of visiting seven churches on Holy Thursday and share his faith with his biking buddies. The riders will trek a nine-mile route starting and ending at St. Bernard's on Clinton Street. Other churches on the run include St. John Kanty, St. Luke's, St. Adalbert's, Corpus Christi, St. Stanislaus' and St. Casimir's. Riders may go inside each church to pray, admire the artwork or just enjoy the quiet.
"I didn't want them to think that it was me forcing my religion on anybody, but a lot of people were interested because they like exploring Buffalo, they like seeing new things. People even ask me about my religious background," Pearson, 32, said while planning the route.
Pearson's family had often taken part in the Seven Churches tradition, but he never had. Being a cyclist, he is always trying to find new paths and trails to view and share his hometown. With the Lenten season approaching, he put two and two together and came up with seven.
"Being part of the cycling community, one day I came up with the idea," he said. "I'm always coming up with new rides and ways for people to see Buffalo in a new way. I really want to do Seven Churches. What's a better way to do it?"
The regular Slow Roll has no religious affiliation. It's more of a community builder, which the Holy Roll is also meant to be. There is no pressure to participate. Pearson expects far fewer people than the 1,000 - 2,000 that Slow Roll sees every week.
"For me it will be a spiritual thing. I don't know how any of the other riders are going to be," Pearson said, adding that some of his friends are atheist. "When I explain to them why I believe in my faith and show them the things that I do, some of them are really intrigued. This is a way to spread the Word of the Lord."
Father William "Jud" Weiksnar, OFM, from St. Patrick Friary in Buffalo, has taken part in all but a few of the Buffalo Slow Roll rides. He helped Pearson select the seven churches they will visit.
"Slow Roll is not in any way religious. It has no religious connections," Father Weiksnar emphasized. "But, when you're a priest and people find out that you're a priest, spiritual stuff comes up all the time." At a wake for a squad member, he was asked to say a few words and was able to connect cycling with spirituality.
"I talked about how it is a spiritual experience when you get on your bicycle. It's a liberating feeling. This person's soul has been liberated and gone home to God. So, bicycling, itself, can be a spiritual experience."
Slow Roll started in Detroit as a non-profit organization in 2010 that promotes respect for the community and bike safety. It also brings together people of different backgrounds, races and neighborhoods to explore their common ground together.
"Slow Roll is a weekly community bike ride, whose purpose is to get people out on their bikes to enjoy the city at a slower pace, so they can better appreciate the sights and sounds and people, and connect with the community in ways only bicycles can," explained Seamus Gallivan, co-founder of Slow Roll Buffalo.
Each Monday night ride takes a different route and has a different host venue. Riders visit local landmarks, parks, restaurants and bars. "It's not a traditional sightseeing experience. We do stop multiple times and give the platform to many community stake holders to discuss their work in whatever area we stop. It's more of a social event than a guided tour," explained Gallivan.
"It's been one of the most successful ways of getting people on their bikes and getting interest in the city of Buffalo in recent memory. It gets about 1,000 people a week from the beginning of May through the end of October riding about an eight- to 10-mile ride every Monday night for 26 weeks," said Father Weiksnar. "It gets people from, not just the city, but I would guess that half the riders are from the suburbs, to see neighborhoods in the city that they may have never seen before or not seen in decades. So there's a renewed appreciation of the city. It brings people, from all ages, all religions, all economic backgrounds, all educational backgrounds. If you look at Slow Roll you have a representation of pretty much everybody in Buffalo. It brings people together. It builds community. It's opening. It's welcoming. It's participatory. You wonder what goes into a good parish, a lot of those same qualities are in Slow Roll."
Father Weiksnar finds it interesting and perhaps a little odd that 1,000 people can make time to ride their bikes, but not find time to go to church, even though they both take the same commitment.
"I think the Church needs to be open to saying, 'What's attracting people?' 'What's getting people to make a commitment in a healthy way?' I think Church can learn some lessons from Slow Roll," Father Weiksnar said. "With church, people say, 'I can't do it. I have to go shopping, whatever.' So, when something gets commitment from people to do something healthy. It's building community. It's getting people to do service and outreach, like building little lending libraries, doing neighborhood cleanups. Bring black, white, Hispanic people together, people from the suburbs and the city."
The Holy Roll riders will meet up at St. Bernard Church beginning at 8 p.m. The ride begins 8:30 p.m. and concludes at 11 p.m. Participants are asked to bring helmets and lights for their bikes.
For more details visit https://www.facebook.com/events/794118694075620/.