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Chariots of faith: Race for Seminarians helps support those studying for the priesthood

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The Arlington Diocese is a growing and highly populated diocese and with it comes a large number of seminarians. Among the ways the diocese supports its seminarians is through the annual Race for Seminarians.


The runners in the Race for Seminarians compete in the historic Marine Corps Marathon or the Marathon 10K Oct. 30. The donations they raise support the everyday needs of seminarians — medical bills, car repairs and travel — expenses typically not covered. For several years it’s been a reliable source of revenue, yet because of the Marine Corps Marathon’s popularity — attracting celebrities in past years such as Oprah Winfrey and Drew Carey — spots for the races fill up quickly.


“This year the registration closed after Labor Day — a month earlier than prior years,” said Anne-Marie Minnis, Office of Vocations event coordinator. In past years, the Race for Seminarians has registered more than 50 runners, yet this year was reduced to 18. Minnis said they had to turn people away.


The Vocations Office is optimistic about raising donations through alternative races, such as the Veterans Day 10K in Washington, the Marine Corps Turkey Trot in Quantico, the Jingle All the Way Holiday 5K and 15K in Washington, and the St. Pat’s 5K and 10K in Washington.


Of the 18 who were able to sign up for the Marine Corps Marathon this year were five diocesan seminarians.


“It’s a joy to work directly with those who are supporting their vocation — (the race) keeps us in the Arlington Diocese community as we’re studying,” said John Paul Heisler, a seminarian of St. John Paul II Seminary in Washington. This year, he said, he will leave the cheering section for the course for the first time.


“The sport of running is more conducive to prayer,” said Heisler.  “Your mind is free to converse. As we’re running together we can talk to each other and likewise we can talk to God.”


Heisler and fellow seminarian Cory Russman study and train together at seminary. They will meet up with the three other seminarians, Nicholas Blank, Joseph Connor and Mike Lewis, will travel to the race.


Competitors will wear t-shirts created by the diocese with the message, “Every step is a prayer.” Some competitors write prayer intentions on their bodies as they run, including Father Brian Bashista, former vocations director, and current parochial vicar of St. James Church in Falls Church.


“I had a prayer intention for each mile, and (wrote) them on my forearm. It wasn’t a good idea,” said Father Bashista, who laughed at the memory of his sweat making his prayer intentions illegible. Since then, he has laminated his prayer list and inserted it in a wristband playbook, similar to what NFL quarterbacks use to follow game plays.


“The great thing is how important it is to interact with those from the diocese and those who we desire to serve,” said Heisler.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016