By Sister Libby Fernandez
When the United Nations decided to declare June 3 World Bicycle Day as “a symbol of human progress and advancement promoting tolerance, mutual understanding and respect and facilitates social inclusion and a culture of peace,” they had no idea that we would use our bikes every day to promote just those ideals through a new ministry in MERCY.
As a Sister of Mercy for over 29 years, I have been given the opportunity to create an innovative ministry called “Mercy Pedalers.” We are all volunteers full of passion and desire to connect with our most vulnerable men and women experiencing homelessness in Sacramento, California.
We use bicycles and tricycles to reach out to those we encounter on the streets, sidewalks, alleys and parks. It is a ministry of presence and action based on the “Works of Mercy” and emphasizing “Welcoming the Stranger.”
As Fr. Henri Nouwen, a Catholic theologian, once said: “Welcoming a stranger is not to change the person, but to offer the person space where change can happen.” It takes time and commitment to build a sense of trust between the Mercy Pedaler and the person experiencing homelessness.
Once trust is established and the individual has a sense of their own dignity and worth, then the Mercy Pedaler can build on the relationship and offer resources that may help the individual get off the streets.
Every morning as the sun rises, I pedal down K Street and approach someone just waking up, packing their bags and getting ready to move on from where they slept that night. Usually, they sleep under a business doorway or on the sidewalk next to an office. As I approach, I say “Good morning. I am Sister Libby, a Mercy Pedaler, would you like a good hot cup of coffee?” Often the person smiles and says, “Oh, how wonderful, I would love a cup of coffee with a little cream and sugar!” I then ask the person’s name and inquire if there is anything else I can help them with for the moment. I carry nutritional bars, toothpaste and toothbrushes, soap, and even socks, hats and gloves.
I meet over 100 homeless men and women daily as I pedal downtown. Some, I have known for over a month and we are now beginning to develop trust and genuine care between us. As I said goodbye recently to one woman and told her that I wish her well and that maybe I will see her tomorrow, she said, “I hope so, because you are my friend.” She then reached out and gave me a hug!
Although it’s a new ministry, begun September 1, 2017, there are now more than 75 Mercy Pedalers. We pedal and connect currently in the city and county of Sacramento, including downtown, midtown, the Alhambra corridor, Broadway and East Sac, Arden-Arcade and Carmichael, for those who know the area. As the ministry grows, more neighborhoods and areas will be reached. Just think, maybe you, too, can start a Mercy Pedalers Team in your town!
Visit our website to learn more about us: www.mercypedalers.com