Story by S.L. Hansen
LINCOLN (SNR) - North American Martyrs Parish in Lincoln has organized another “Witness Through Fitness” event to raise money for people in need while building fellowship as a parish family.
The event includes a barbecue and pasta dinner Friday, June 23 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the parish. On Saturday, June 24, there will be a 5K Fun Run and1-mile walk beginning at 9 a.m. in Lincoln’s Fallbrook neighborhood.
While the emphasis is on fitness, people of all ages and all capabilities can participate. If running or walking doesn’t appeal, there’s always a cheering section to join. A person could also support the fundraiser by volunteering at one of the events, coming to the Friday evening barbecue, purchasing a commemorative shirt, or making an online donation.
North American Martyrs has held Witness Through Fitness each year since 2011 to support families in the parish who faced challenges ranging from cancer to Lyme disease, and head injuries to genetic disorders. Father Brian Connor, pastor, said it’s really brought the parish together as a family.
“I think every family knows how hard it would be to have these special challenges, and so it’s been edifying to see parishioners’ response and their desire to witness love and concern,” he said.
Witness Through Fitness gives everyone in the parish the opportunity to learn the stories behind the names lifted up to God during the Prayers of the People at Mass.
“It knits us together,” Father Connor said. “When we are weak, we are strong, and when we are compassionate toward the struggling members of our parish, then we show more love.”
This year, the two designated recipients are parishioner Ron Polivka and Villa Marie Home and School for Exceptional Children.
Polivka suffered a severe injury in early March. He was using his Bobcat to move dirt on his property, when the bucket crashed down on him, breaking his neck. After three surgeries, Polivka and his family are adjusting to his hearing and vision loss, limited walking ability and other issues.
Villa Marie School was chosen as a beneficiary shortly after the boarding school for children with special needs suffered extensive damage due to a burst pipe. The school’s three classrooms were temporarily rendered unusable. Furniture and classroom materials were also damaged and must be replaced.
Witness Through Fitness has always had at least one child with special needs named as an honoree this year, so organizers are happy to be able to multiply their support.
“It’s a great way to support 23 special needs students and families,” said parishioner Julie Crawford.
Since Villa Marie serves families across the Diocese of Lincoln, event organizers, along with their pastor Father Brian Connor, are expanding their vision by inviting people from every parish to participate.
“Villa Marie has had... students from almost all parishes over their 50-plus-year history,” said Crawford, one of the event organizers.
Witness Through Fitness has also expanded with a new team concept. Parishes, schools, and other groups can create a team so people can participate together. Already, teams from Blessed Sacrament, Cathedral of the Risen Christ, Cristo Rey, Immaculate Heart of Mary, and the Newman Center have registered to participate.
Organizers have also registered with the NE150 Challenge. As part of Nebraska’s Sesquicentennial year, the Nebraska Sports Council, in cooperation with Governor Pete Ricketts, is encouraging everyone in the state to complete 150 miles or more of physical activity during the year. The miles can be completed in any form of physical activity that has a distance element: walking, running, swimming, biking, kayaking, and so on.
Father Connor coined the title, “Witness Through Fitness” himself when the fundraiser was just an idea. The word “martyr” means “witness,” and as the parish council was planning a fun run as the centerpiece to the fundraiser, the rhyme just made sense.
He said that physical fitness should be a component in every Christian person’s life.
“God gave us our body, mind and soul, and it’s our responsibility to be the best stewards we can of what He has given to us,” he said. “ Every age presents different opportunities to try to remain active in mind body and spirit, whether we are children or middle aged or older.”
Thanks to the support of many business sponsors, the parish is able to maximize the financial gift they can give to each recipient. Still, Father Connor said he hopes that many people will join the North American Martyrs parish family in raising funds for this year’s honorees.
“There’s always more need then resources available,” Father Connor lamented. “This is really a way of showing love and compassion.”
Suggested donations for the meal, run and walk are $10 each. Commemorative t-shirts can also be purchased for $10.