McCOOK — Revs. Juan Manual Salazar and Greg Labus hopped on their bikes around 8 a.m. Friday morning, intending to ride from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church here to San Isidro Catholic Church as a pilgrimage made in prayer for rain.
At a glance, two priests pedaling through the countryside doesn’t have anything to do with the weather. One might even consider it a laughable thought that the men really intended to bring in a stormfront by biking 21 miles.
When Saturday morning rolled around, however, the priests’ mission seemed much less laughable. Whether divine intervention or sheer coincidence, the morning after the priests rode for rain, a deluge of near Old Testament proportions with thunder and lightning swept across the Rio Grande Valley, filling rain gauges, watering crops and greening browned lawns.
Salazar, who joined the small country parish of farmers and ranchers two months ago, says he was charged with praying for rain from his first day on the job.
“When I first arrived, they said, ‘Father, your first duty is going to be to pray for rain, cause we need it. We haven’t had it in a while,” Salazar said.
According to Salazar, rain is uniquely important to his congregation of rural Catholics.
“The farmers depend on it,” he said. “Without that rain, basically they don’t have crops and they don’t have a livelihood. They lose out on the crops and the seed and the investment they put in.”
Salazar remembered the assignment his parishioners gave him, and thought about it for a while. He brought it up a little over a month later with Labus, who preaches in Edinburg.
“We had the idea to do a novena, nine days of prayer for rain,” Salazar said. “We recorded the devotions on a daily basis and we were going to end with a Mass on Friday. In the process of discussion, he came up with the idea of riding from McCook all the way to San Isidro, from one parish all the way to another.”
According to Salazar, the bicycling symbolizes pilgrimages that have long been a tradition in the Catholic faith — a good way, he said, to cap off the nine days of prayer.
“The bike ride symbolized a procession,” he said. “It’s like a short pilgrimage, and in this case it was also us making an effort, a sacrifice, a penance.”
The priests gathered in front of Immaculate Conception Church in McCook at about 7:30 a.m. Friday morning, joined by some parishioners and two other bicyclists who would escort them. The small group prayed briefly in front of a statue of St. Isidore, the patron saint of Farmers.
Salazar confessed he hadn’t been on a bike for a long time.
“1999 was the last time,” he said.
The bicyclists took off, followed by a sheriff’s deputy and a few of the parishioners. Three hours later, they completed the pilgrimage and prayed again in the hamlet of San Isidro.
“We give thanks to God for the blessings that he gives to us, and for family, for life — and San Isidro, intercede for us for rain!” Labus prayed.
Just under 24 hours later, that prayer was answered and McCook got its rain.
“It poured, and there was lightning and the whole deal,” Salazar said. “The ground got soaked. In some parts there was an inch and a half, in other parts three inches, it just depends where you were at.”
Whether it was a coincidence or a minor miracle, Salazar says he’s a firm believer in the power of prayer, enough so that he hopes to make the ride an annual tradition.
“We’re hoping to make it a bigger event next year,” he said.