Fr Roger Dawson, the former soldier who is known to his friends as "the Pedalling Padre", is back in Oxford at his post as assistant Catholic chaplain to the university, writes Amanda C Dickie
Fr Dawson has completed a 350-mile fundraising cycle tour through the World War battlefields in northern France in aid of Help for Heroes. The cycle ride culminated at Dunkirk for the 70th anniversary commemorations attended by Prince Michael of Kent and surviving Dunkirk veterans. It was, Fr Dawson said, a moving and memorable experience.
Fr Dawson had been invited by Help for Heroes, the charity aiding wounded soldiers in contemporary conflicts, to be padre for the 275 participating cyclists.
He said that the group – which included a general, soldiers returned from Afghanistan, recently bereaved relatives of soldiers killed in action, a wounded team and supporters from other walks of life – was just as diverse in the spiritual sense.
“The ride was physically and spiritually challenging,” Fr Dawson said. “I was out of my comfort zone in pitching things at the right level to accommodate agnostics, atheists, Catholics, other Christians as well as those in between. I handed over to God and asked for the Holy Spirit to fill in the gaps.”
He said an address to the Society of Jesus by Pope Benedict, resonated especially with him and reached “the geographical and spiritual places others do not reach”. He added: “The obstacles challenging evangelisers are not so much the seas or distances as the frontiers between faith and human knowledge in modern science, faith and the fight for justice.” And he said Jesuits were called to “stand on those frontiers”.
He said that meeting a Dunkirk veteran who had served in the Royal Green Jackets had been particularly memorable, as had the welcome by French schoolchildren who sang the British national anthem and laid flowers on British graves.
He has raised £5,200 for the charity and can be sponsored at www.bmycharity.com.