KEYPORT, N.J. (IOCC)
With the Atlantic Ocean behind them and 3,500 miles of land in front of them, the five volunteer cyclists of the "Race to Respond" got a hope-filled sendoff on Friday for a journey that will bring hope to hurting people around the world.
The cyclists are riding cross-country starting today (Saturday) to raise awareness and support for the people served by International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), the official humanitarian aid agency of Orthodox Christians.
During the kickoff ceremony in the picturesque shore town of Keyport, N.J., IOCC Executive Director Constantine M. Triantafilou wished the cyclists "Godspeed. Thanks for your dedication and commitment to helping IOCC help others," he said.
Among those in attendance on a hot Friday evening were Keyport borough officials and business leaders, IOCC staff members, Keyport townspeople and parishioners of New Jersey Orthodox parishes.
The Rev. George Dounelis, pastor of Kimisis Tis Theotokou (Dormition of the Theotokos) Greek Orthodox Church in Holmdel, N.J., gave the invocation with prayers for the blessing of a vehicle and for the start of a journey.
"Lord Jesus Christ our God … bless these bicycles," he prayed, "and grant that your servants may use them with joy and finish the course and the service which they were given by you."
Keyport Mayor Kevin Graham then read a proclamation declaring Aug. 2, 2002, "International Orthodox Christian Charities Day" in Keyport, N.J.
"We are really proud that you chose Keyport for the start of this race," Graham said. "I convey to the volunteer cyclists the very best wishes of our community for a safe and fulfilling journey. We will be with you in spirit."
With Graham were Keyport borough councilmen Bob Hyer and Brian Stalter, and Jeff Fink of the Keyport Business Alliance.
Brian Robinson, executive vice president of Advantage Plus, the presenting sponsor of the race, also gave his best wishes to the cyclists. "May the roads be smooth, may the weather cooperate, and may you have a tremendous tailwind," he said.
Triantafilou presented Robinson with a framed "Race to Respond" jersey as a token of IOCC's appreciation for Advantage Plus' sponsorship.
After the ceremony in tiny Beach Park, the cyclists took their bicycles to the bottom of the boat ramp and dipped their tires in Raritan Bay. They walked the bicycles up the ramp, past a ceremonial "Race to Respond" ribbon.
Escorted by Keyport police, the cyclists then road four miles to Kimisis Tis Theotokou Church. There, they attended a prayer service and reception. Fr. George prayed for their safety and sprinkled them with holy water.
After nearly two years of planning and training, the cyclists officially began the "Race to Respond" this morning (Saturday) from Keyport. Day 1 will take them across central New Jersey, over the Delaware River at Washington Crossing, and north of Philadelphia, where they will attend a midday event at St. Sophia, Sts. Faith, Hope & Agape Greek Orthodox Church.
The cycling team, including three support vehicles, is expected to travel 127 miles today to Morgantown, Pa. In the evening, they will attend a picnic and reception at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Lancaster, Pa.
The cyclists are Jim Angelus, 45, of Hopewell, N.J.; Constantine "Dino" Davlantis, 30, of Oak Lawn, Ill.; Konstantin Kanelis, 35, of Munich, Germany; Alex Mazarakos, 27, of Burbank, Ill.; and Michael Tsakalos, 26, of Phoenix, Md.
As the cyclists "race" across the country, their mission is to highlight IOCC's own "race" to respond to the needs of people suffering from natural disaster, famine and civil unrest.
They are expected to reach their destination of Point Reyes Station, Calif., on Aug. 27. Along the way, they will visit Orthodox parishes and other venues to give presentations on IOCC's humanitarian mission.
In just 10 years, IOCC has provided more than $140 million in relief and development programs to suffering people in 21 countries.