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Priest is ready to pedal

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Gloria and Leigh Blacka and their children, with Levi on the right. Photo: Copyright Gloria Blacka, used with permission
Gloria and Leigh Blacka and their children, with Levi on the right.
Photo: Copyright Gloria Blacka, used with permission

A humble – but fit – clergyman is planning to ride 1000 kilometres for a noble cause

For Wagga priest Fr Thomas Casanova, charity begins at home – and it begins with him.

This October, 55-year-old Fr Thomas is planning to ride 1000 kilometres in the Great Cycle Challenge to raise funds for children’s cancer research.

And it’s because of a very personal connection with his pastoral work – a Catholic family who discovered their child had cancer. Leigh and Gloria Blacka’s son Levi had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia – a form of cancer that affects the bone marrow and blood cells.

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It is more common in children than in adults – about two-thirds of all cases are children aged under 14.

Fr Thomas recollected, “I was celebrant for Gloria and Leigh’s marriage and had baptised Levi. I cannot forget the phone call in which Gloria told me the news she had just heard.”

“I was inspired by the family’s courage as they made so many adjustments around treatment in Sydney with time off work (months), expenses, the highs and lows of treatment.”

It was for Levi and children like him that Fr Thomas decided to take on the Great Cycle Challenge.

“If research could make that journey shorter, easier, and more successful, what a great cause. If it can lead to medical breakthroughs in the cure and prevention of cancer, what a great investment!” Fr Thomas said.

“At one stage we had seven of us racing with the Ararat Cycling Club, alongside future Olympians Jamie and Shane Kelly.”

He is no stranger to hard work, or endurance sports. He was born in Western Victoria and grew up on a sheep and cropping farm along with five brothers and four sisters, children of John and Helen Casanova.

He trained for the priesthood with the Confraternity of Christ the Priest in Melbourne and was ordained at St Michael’s Cathedral Wagga Wagga by Bishop Brennan in 1996.

Growing up, the Casanova family were a sporting crew.

“Our family were good cross-country runners and cyclists. At one stage we had seven of us racing with the Ararat Cycling Club, alongside future Olympians Jamie and Shane Kelly.”

Fr Thomas took a break from cycling when his priestly studies took priority.

Then about ten years ago, he picked up a discarded bike from the Wagga tip for ten dollars.

“Cycling is much better than running for my knees – very important for the liturgy!”

Things took off from there. When Fr Thomas went to Rome for a formator’s course, he bought a second-hand bike through Facebook and used it for a month. He took it on the train to Naples and rode to Pompei and back, accidentally losing his passport on the side of Mount Vesuvius. He also cycled around Rome at a cracking pace.

Have bike, will ride: Fr Thomas Casanova with his bicycle on a hill above Rome.
Have bike, will ride: Fr Thomas Casanova with his bicycle on a hill above Rome.

But cycling isn’t just exercise and relaxation – it’s also part of Fr Thomas’s prayer and devotional life as parish priest of Holy Trinity Church, West Wagga Parish.

“I really enjoy the sensation of flying when going downhill. Uphill I find is good training for perseverance at tasks which are difficult. Long rides (when I get the chance) are times of prayer.”

Fr Thomas’ longest bike ride was on a day off after Lent and the Easter Triduum when he rode from Canberra Cathedral back to Wagga and a bit more, 303km.

When he told one family, a child asked, “Were you riding to raise money?”

That got Fr Thomas thinking. Then in 2020, during COVID19 restrictions, he heard about the Great Cycle Challenge and raising money for childhood cancer research.

He’s been involved ever since. In 2020, he cycled over 2000 kilometres and raised nearly $14,000. Last year, he cycled just over 1000 kilometres and raised around $4500.

“I am certain that the greatest help I can give people, children included, is to help them on the road to heaven through the unique and indispensable service of the priesthood. But we priests care for all the concerns of people, especially their sufferings,” Fr Thomas said.

“I offer the inevitable effort of early morning or late evening rides to reach my 1000km target in October and the prayers I can say during those rides, that those suffering from cancer will be healed.”

“Maybe readers can encourage their parish priests to ride for the cause, even if they only did fifty kilometres? I know a few priests and bishops who ride.”

“Maybe readers can encourage their parish priests to ride for the cause, even if they only did fifty kilometres?”

Fr Thomas added that he would love to see a group of priests take up the challenge.

“Maybe readers can encourage their parish priests to ride for the cause, even if they only did fifty kilometres? I know a few priests and bishops who ride.”

If your parish priest is not keen, he might find an alternative way to help, such as donating to sponsor Fr Thomas’s rides instead.

To find out more, and to sponsor Fr Thomas, visit the Great Cycle Challenge website.

You can see Fr Thomas’s proposed cycle routes and dates of his rides, and the rides he’s already completed.

The total distance he’s ridden will begin to show on the website from 1 October.

https://greatcyclechallenge.com.au/Riders/FrThomasCasanova

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