After a blessing, motorcycles roared their engines and drove out of St. Richard Catholic Church in Palmetto Bay to participate in the first Motorcycle Poker Run organized by the Archdiocese of Miami.
Heading the bikers: Archbishop Thomas Wenski wearing a biker’s leather jacket and riding his black Harley-Davidson Street Glide motorcycle.
“Bikers are people that are accustomed to praying because if you’re going to ride a motorcycle, you should know how to pray,” said Wenski, who has been riding his motorcycle for about 10 years. “This is a way to bring some good attention, find financial support for St. Luke’s Center [Catholic Charity] and have a good time.”
Behind him, more than 60 other riders followed for about 90 miles through South Florida roads.
“Today he is not just my spiritual leader,” said Natacha Quiroz, one of only two women driving a motorcycle on her own. “He is my road leader.”
At every stop, including Robert Is Here, the fruit and vegetable farm stand in Florida City, Cafe 27 in Weston, and Peterson’s Harley-Davidson in Miami Gardens, the contestants picked up a card, eventually collecting a complete poker hand.
The bikers were also able to interact with the archbishop and others while competing for the $500 Harley-Davidson gift card.
But Wenski’s favorite stop was at the Schoenstatt Center in Homestead, where riders were able to stop at the chapel, say a private prayer and enjoy refreshments.
“It’s always good to ride with good people,” said Bob Borges of Hollywood, who rode with his daughter. “The problem with a lot of other rides is that they all go from bar to bar to bar, and I don’t drink when I ride.”
The Chrome Knights Motorcycle Association and other groups helped the archdiocese organize the poker run and guided the inexperienced drivers. Volunteers from the organization also helped guide the riders and stop traffic at intersections.
For Quiroz, who had never experienced riding in a group, the privilege of riding with the archbishop was indescribable.
“My heart is pounding so hard,” said Quiroz, who took out her motorcycle from her garage for the fist time in more than a year. “My motorcycle is the tiniest among these huge machines, and if you see me I look like a butterfly among eagles.”
The Poker Run, according to the Rev. Luis Rivero, was also a way to show others that following Christ can be fun.
“It’s a way for us to learn to use the tools of today, speak the language of the younger generations and bridge the gap between the ancient and the new,” said Rivero, who has been riding his three-wheeled Spyder for the past three years. “The archbishop makes fun of me and says that because I have three wheels I’m still in training.”
The proceeds of the run will go to programs that help people in the community recover from various types of addiction, and Wenski is hoping to establish the poker run as annual event to support St. Luke’s.
“Many people know I’ve been riding a motorcycle for some years now, so hopefully they’ll support it even if they don’t ride a motorcycle,” Wenski said. “I pray before, during and after I ride my bike.”
A previous version of this article misstated the number of women in the ride.