Pedaling priest treks cross country for Christ

Aspen priest seeks to raise funds for church renovation, foster the new evangelization

UPDATED: After a prayer and warm send-off from locals, Father John Hilton dipped his bicycle tire in the Pacific Ocean and embarked on a 3,500-mile bike ride across America.

Father Hilton, called the “pedaling priest” in some circles, began his journey across the northern states—from Anacortes, Wash., to Bar Harbor, Maine—June 2 to raise awareness of Christ and the need for a strong Catholic presence in Aspen where he is pastor. He hopes to finish by the end of July and raise money to support a renovation of his parish, St. Mary Church.

The Boulder native, who turns 60 in August, will travel about 90 miles a day and will stay at hotels along the way. Some are almost speechless when he tells them his plans.

Father Hilton says it’s his obligation to engage in the battle for souls and witness to the love and salvation of Christ.

“Hopefully what people will do is say, ‘Here’s a priest doing something unusual or extraordinary across the country,” Father Hilton told the Denver Catholic.

He wants his bike ride to prompt lay people to ask themselves what they can do to help make the world holy.

“The Lord is calling us to be creative and do extraordinary things for him,” he said.


As pastor of the small parish for four years, Father Hilton said he wants to make the parish more relevant to the mountain town’s trend-setting community.

Aspen is an affluent and highly-educated town known for its breadth of physical activities and outdoor sports including skiing, hiking and mountain biking. It is also known for intellectual conferences and cultural events. Father Hilton said residents can be skeptical of organized religion.

“In Aspen the mentality could often be, ‘I’m a spiritual person, but I don’t see a need for attending  church,’” he said.

Aspen is highly cultural, he said, and the Church should be active in the community.

“I think Aspen is one of those places where culture is formed,” he said. “The challenge for us at St. Mary’s is to be relevant to the life of the people here. It would really be a tragedy for the Church to not be engaged in the culture.”

One way he hopes the church will grow in relevance is by undergoing a $4 million renovation. The church, founded in 1892, needs rehabilitation and a new pavilion that would serve as a parish hall and conference center to host regular speakers and conferences.

A strong parish community filled with well-formed parishioners will help bolster the Catholic presence in the town, he said.

“What Aspen needs is the Catholic Church vitally engaged and relevant and providing the finest Catholic teaching, spirituality and training for the new evangelization,” he said.

Father Hilton is partnering with the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation—an online educational and enrichment program—to draw leading Catholic speakers who can offer spiritual training and formation for the community.

The new construction would be home to a campus where the Institute would provide graduate-level education and spiritual formation.

St. Mary’s will kick-off its conference ambitions by hosting a series of speakers Aug. 13-15. Dan Burke, founder of the Avila Institute, and other leading Catholics will give talks at the parish.

Father Hilton is asking for donations and prayers for his bike ride and the success of the new evangelization in Aspen.

“As Catholics, we must be engaged in the world,” he said.


Father John Hilton’s cross-country bike ride
June 2 through mid-July

St. Mary Parish conference
Aug. 14-16



COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash