It all started in 2002 when confreres Fr. Justus Rottuk and Fr. Narciso Cellan pedalled their way from Nairobi, Kenya to Arusha, Tanzania for two days in an attempt to raise some money for the communications apostolate in the province. Although they were amateur cyclists, they had no escort vehicle to board, they nevertheless succeeded to reach their destination.
The following year, the two SVDs made a reverse journey from Arusha to Nairobi, and the year after that (2014) they cycled from Arusha to Simanjiro, the latter covering a distance of about 120km across rocky, dusty and hilly surfaces. They were joined that time by confreres Fr. Peddy Castelino, Fr. Michael Shaji Michael Areeparampil, Fr. Noel Dacquel, Bro. Lawrence Kibaara Kithinji, and Fr. Arata Sato. From then on, a group now dubbed as “SVD Cycling Team” was born, with a few more confreres coming in later.
“The contagious good of cycling”
Over the years, members of The SVD Cycling have come and gone. Some confreres, especially Fr. Francisco Gonzalez, have been associated with the group for giving logistical support. This time around, the most active SVD cyclists are Fr. Arata Sato, Bro. John Wachira Gichuki [Bro. Mike], Fr. José Eudes R. dos Santos, and Fr. Narciso Cellan.
Spinning the wheels on the “svd roads”
The first ever adventurous cycling experience is what remains in the memory of the ‘pioneers’ Justus and Narciso. It was and still is what continues to fuel the desire to keep spinning the “SVD wheels.” At least once or twice a month, the cyclists come together for a spin within the vicinity of Nairobi. Cycling creates a special bond among us cyclists, and the other activities we do together during cycling, meals and conversations, provide us with opportunities to get to know each other. Common memories are formed, and they become part of us as SVD confreres.
Cycling for a missionary cause
There was an occasion when the SVD Cyclists committed themselves to cycling for a cause. The plan was made and the campaign begun. The purpose was to raise funds for a missionary institution for children with disabilities run by the Dominican sisters at Loitoktok, Kenya. We took the Arusha (Tanzania)-Moshi-Loitokitok-Emali (Kenya) route, pedalling a distance of about 300km. To start off our journey, we first had to travel to Arusha from Nairobi in a van to Arusha, and from there the cycling began early the next morning in the coldness of the rain. We spent three days and two nights for this particular ride. As a result of it, the team was able to fundraise about US$ 3,000 for the children. Our hearts were full of gratitude, as well as of sense of fulfilment.
The svd road and its surprises
Each cycling event we took leaves a mark in our heart. Yet nothing was as memorable as the day we went to a Kenyan national park in Naivasha and cycled there. The park is called ‘Hell’s Gate’, and appropriate so because that is where Fr. Augustine Rodriguez breathed his last. That morning, five of us SVD cyclists gathered at the provincialate for breakfast and then travelled to Naivasha by van loaded with our bicycles to a place called ‘The Fisherman’s Camp’. It was from this camping site that we started cycling, with a plan for an overnight stay in the camp and then go back to Nairobi the following day.
The late Fr. Augustine Rodrigues was officially invited to drive the support vehicle during our cycling. Half of the day we were cycling until we got to the specific spot of Hell’s Gate called Gorge. There, Fr. Augustine parked the van and with our bikes as well and all descended into the Gorge on foot. We walked, jumped, climbed up and down, and everything was a fascinating adventure for us in such a magical place. Yet as we hiked back and a few metres before scaling the wall of the Gorge that would take us back to the entrance, our dear late Fr. Augustine suffered a fatal heart attack. Instantly, he collapsed and fell to the dry river bed of the Gorge and died in my own hands. Things were too sudden. He was walking and chatting with us a few seconds before, then very swiftly he was gone. We were all astounded and helpless, and all our efforts to revive him were fruitless. He died in my arms. After that, we managed to bring him out of the Gorge and took his body to a local hospital, where he was officially pronounced dead. After filing the police report, we all headed back to Nairobi that very evening with the body of Fr. Augustine in another vehicle. It took us a while to recover from the shock, and when we did, we found ourselves challenged by our Christian faith to be always ready to face all sorts of tragedies in life with faith, hope and happiness, assured that indeed the Triune God is the one in control of everything.
LAUDATO SI: Cycling from Narok to Naroosura
We call it the Laudato Si Cycling, named after Pope Francis’ encyclical which talks about our natural environment and care for God’s creation. We surmised that integrating fun, physical exercise and ecological concerns would be a great idea.
Thus, we set out on our bikes from Narok town to Naroosura near Maasai Mara. On the first hour of our cycling, we were picking up discarded plastic bags, cans, bottles and other litters along the way. It did not take us long to collect close to five sacks of trash, which we loaded into our support vehicle, driven by a staff from Naroosura mission school. A total of 65 kilometres were pedalled on that day!
At the end of the day, we four SVD cyclists (Bro. Mike Wachira, Frt. Borice Randrianirina, Fr. Narciso Cellan, and myself were welcomed by SFIC sisters and school kids into their community. Sumptuous supper was served for us, during which we were able to share our experience and pray together, inspired by the Papal Encyclical Laudato Si. After a deserved restful night, we drove 95km to a place called Mulot. From there, we once again hopped into our bikes and pedalled on a rough road for about 35km, mostly uphill, and reached the mission area of the Missionary of Catechism Sisters. The sisters and their secondary school students welcomed us, and after filling up our empty stomachs and recharging our tired muscles, we headed back to Nairobi by our support vehicle. Filled with a sense of accomplishment, we were glad to have once again continued spinning the SVD wheels of our “eco-bikes.
“Svd wheels spinning on romans road”
The SVD Cycling Team continued to accumulate more miles in the months to come. After the Interculturality Workshop held in Nemi, Rome in January 2015, two SVD confreres, name Fr. Narciso and myself took the opportunity to explore Rome on rented bikes. It proved to be an exciting, cost-efficient, fast, and healthy way of visiting some historical monuments and sites in the Eternal City. We did it in about three hours, after which we took a train back to the Generalate, in preparation for our flight back to Nairobi that evening.
“SVD Wheels spinning on the roads to Lake Magadi, Kenya”
It is indeed a day to remember. It is 85km from Kiserian to Lake Magadi. The road is partially tarmacked clothed with potholes. The three SVD Cyclists plus the support confrere named Fr. Arata, Fr. Narciso, Fr. Francisco and myself successfully reached the destination and had great time together. Swimming, sharing life experiences, relaxing and getting to know more about the place.
“SVD Wheels Spinning in the Karura Forest – Nairobi, Kenya”
On September, 12th 2016 – the SVD Cyclists were on the road to one of the most beautiful reminiscent forests within Nairobi town – the Karura Forest! It was a day to commune with nature and be reenergized. The team was composed of 4 cyclists, namely Fr. Arata, Bro. Mike, Fr. Narciso, and myself, plus Fr. John as the driver of our support vehicle. The group got time to relax and spend quality time of togetherness.