It almost sounds like the beginning of a joke: A priest, two deacons, and seven seminarians run across the entire country of Italy in a day…

That’s what the participants in the Roman Run are planning to do on May 16 of this year. These “men in black” will split up into two teams and start on opposite ends of the country, running relay-style for a total of 200 miles along an old Roman road until they meet somewhere in the middle.

But there’s a reason to their madness – these men are hoping to raise up to $10,000 through their gofundme page and private donations for the Chalice of Mercy Catholic mission in Ukraine, and for their fellow seminarians at San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary in Havana, Cuba.

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Map of Italy on Roman Run's gofundme page.

Map of Italy on Roman Run’s gofundme page.

How it all started:

Organizer of the event Michael Zimmerman said that originally, he wanted his group to swim the straight between Calabria and Sicily to raise the funds in October.

“Some logistical difficulties made us have to cancel that last minute, and I think I was bit by the bug to do something similar,” Zimmerman told CNA.

Inspired by his track days at Boston University and hearing about similar fundraising runs, Zimmerman started praying about the possibility of running across the country of Italy. He measured it out, and decided it would be doable within a day if they ran relay-style and split into two teams.

“After celebrating Mass early in the morning, we’ll part ways. Team Tyrrhenian will trek from the West and Team Adriatic from the East to meet somewhere in the middle (probably on a mountain to be more epic),” their fundraising page reads.

The group wanted to do the run during Lent as a sort of penitential practice, but decided it would be safer to run in May when they had a little more light during the day. The timing also works out for Zimmerman, who broke his foot in October and only just started running again last month.

“We also wanted it to be more than just something fun, but rather (something that) glorified God and helped our fellow man,” he said.

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The causes:  

They chose to donate some of the money they raise Chalice of Mercy Catholic mission in Ukraine, because they knew a seminarian on the board of the charity and thought it would be a way to promote peace in the country which has been ravaged by a war with Russia for over a year now.

“…we all want to help promote peace in the Ukraine, and we don’t know any better way than to share Jesus Christ and the gospel of life,” Zimmerman said.

The other recipient of the money they raise will be the San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary in Havana, Cuba.

“Another seminarian…was recently in Cuba on a mission trip and came back sharing about the difficulties seminarians face there. Being seminarians ourselves, obviously we can relate to their situation and want to help those in greater need than ourselves,” Zimmerman said.

"San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary Havana" by Callelinea (Public Domain)

“San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary Havana” by Callelinea (Public Domain)

The training: 

“We’ve got a few guys plotting out the course and they’ve got to pick between the Via Valeria and the Via Saleria,” he said. “Both connect the Adriatic Sea to Rome and we’ll likely finish the connection to the Tyrrhenian sea by Ostia. It’ll be pretty rough and mountainous either way we go. We’ll average 25 miles per person for a total of 200 miles. We’ll likely break it up into about 3.8 mile segments per person. Most of us have done marathons previously but this might be more challenging as well have to sit in car for hours at a time between each leg. Probably the hardest job of all will be for the 2 seminarians who volunteered to drive full time.”

While the group knows each other from seminary in Rome, they represent a variety of class levels and come from several different dioceses. While some of them try to run together regularly, training has been tough due to all their busy schedules. They also plan to intersperse the day of the run with plenty of prayer.

“One is a priest and two are deacons which will come in handy for a Mass to kick off the day. The priest, Fr. John Mitchell is also heading up the prayer we’ll be doing throughout the day, offering up our prayers and miles for various intentions,” Zimmerman said.

How you can help:

The group has set up a crowdfunding page with GoFundMe, which includes pictures of the Chalice of Mercy apostolate, information about the run, and a link to donate online.

The group will accept donations through other means, and are accepting spiritual support as well as monetary. Check it out here: http://www.gofundme.com/RomanRun

“We would love you to be a part of our adventure, and are asking you to consider making a donation, large or small, spiritual or material, on this website or through whatever means suits you.”