Riding with knights, warriors and holy men
Over 100 motorcycle riders take part in Archbishop’s Poker Run benefitting St. Luke’s Center
Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Cristina Cabrera – The Florida Catholic
MIAMI | Lots of steel and plenty of leather. Metallic growls that are simultaneously majestic and intimidating.
It is quite a sight to see over 100 motorcycles parked at a bar on a Friday night. But seeing the same sight at a church parking lot on a Sunday morning?
Theirs was the roar heard at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary–St. Richard Church Feb. 1, when the parish served as the starting point for the third annual Archbishop’s Poker Run. The ride is a fundraiser for Catholic Charities’ St. Luke’s Center, a residential program for drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
This year, the Poker Run started in Palmetto Bay in southern Miami-Dade County. The riders then headed north, making several stops prior to finishing at Peterson’s Harley Davidson in Miami Gardens.
Eager to ride for a good cause was an entourage of Chrome Knights, Iron Warriors and other motorcycle enthusiasts who gathered early at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary-St. Richard’s to register, pick up their commemorative T-shirt, receive their first game card and grab a cup of coffee.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski arrived on his Harley Davidson to celebrate the 8 a.m. Mass. Wearing his riding gear — a black leather jacket with the Polish white eagle crest, jeans, helmet, and boots — he said a quick “Hello” to the riders already there and hurried inside to prepare for Mass.
While some riders attended Mass, others continued to arrive outside.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski poses with members of the Chrome Knights Motorcycle Association, including the group’s president and founder, Rene John Sardinas (next to archbishop at right).
“I told one of the seminarians at registration that I’m no ‘Son of Anarchy,’” said a Chrome Knight known as “Flaco,” a joking reference to the popular crime drama about an outlaw motorcycle club.
With his jovial demeanor, Flaco resembles a young Santa Claus, with a dark beard long enough to tie with several rubber bands.
“I shaved it all off one time, and the kids hated it. They looked at me strangely and tried to avoid me,” he said.
Flaco’s “kids” are the young patients at Joe DiMaggio’s Children Hospital in Hollywood, whom he visits after charity rides, most recently the Toys in the Sun Run in December.
Flaco’s trademark beard is as associated with him as his purple Harley Davidson, Barney. “Like the purple dinosaur. Kids loved him,” he said.
It would seem that kids and motorcycles are not the ideal combination, but Robbie Thompson, a 2-and-a-half year-old, appeared quite at home sitting on Rene John Sardina’s black Harley Davidson cruiser.
Sardina is president of the Chrome Knights Motorcycle Association.
“I want a blue one,” Robbie told his dad.
“I want a red one,” said Robbie’s sister, Mikela, pointing out another garnet-colored cruiser parked close by.
While Mikela went for a closer look, Robbie Thompson, their father, kept a watchful eye. Thompson has worked with Sardina’s wife, Carmen, for a few years.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski blesses 18-month-old Alexandra Cuevas, who received her first blessing from him when she was in her mother’s womb, at the first Poker Run.
“We don’t ride, but they always call us out to their events,” Thompson said. “The Chrome Knights are very family oriented.”
Latin singer Jenny Love, Sardina’s goddaughter, said she has found a home with the Chrome Knights, and in the Catholic Church.
“My mom was very open-minded. When I was younger, she took me to a few churches, a temple, and a synagogue. She was leaving my faith up to me. But then my grandmother told me about purgatory and that I needed to be baptized through the Catholic Church.”
Love listened to her grandmother and became a Catholic. While her performance and work schedule does not always permit her to attend Mass on Sundays, she visits “La Ermita” (the National Shrine of Our Lady of Charity) on Wednesdays.
At the Mass before the Poker Run, she delighted the congregation with a rendition of “Ave Maria.”
“I always try to bring in sacred music to my secular sets,” said Love. “I can see from the stage when people start to break down. If my singing can bring them hope and inspiration, then I feel that it is Him working through me.”
As Love exited the church, parishioners thanked her for her music, many admitting that they cried. While she would normally be riding with the Chrome Knights, she joked, “I can’t ride and sing like that. Riding affects my vocals.”
In the parking lot afterward, the energy was electric as riders waited for the “kickstands up” command. Among them was Father Luis Rivero, parochial vicar at St. John Neumann Church in Kendall, who rides a three-wheel Can-Am Spyder, and Miami-Dade County District 12 Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz, who is an honorary Chrome Knight.
Dressed in his riding gear once again, Archbishop Wenski asked Sardina to assemble the riders for a blessing and safety instructions.
“Lord, send your holy angels to watch over us. Bring us enjoyment, bring us closer to you and to one another,” Archbishop Wenski said, as tough-looking men, women and young adults in leather jackets, boots and bandanas bowed their heads in prayer.
Then the motorcycles roared to life, and Archbishop Wenski and his gang of holy riders departed, leaving in their trail a reminder that life, like the Poker Run, is not a race but a journey.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski poses with Knights of Columbus, including Sir Knight John Pesce, far left, president of the Florida State Knights on Bikes.