Catholic Life

Father and son cycle in memory of mother

At the monastery of Santo de Toribio in northern Spain a priest gives cyclist Luke Vaz a plenary indulgence after Luke kissed a relic of the True Cross

When Lesley Vaz died in 2006 as a result of a brain tumour she left behind many happy memories for her husband, Tom, and sons Christopher, aged 13 at the time, and Luke, who was 10.

She fought hard and against the odds to leave her family those memories and relied heavily on a local charity called the South East Cancer Help Centre. The centre provided Lesley with support through counselling and therapy and helped her to build a friendship network.

At the end of 2009 her son Luke decided to do his Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award and chose Scouting for his volunteer challenge and cycling for his fitness. All was straightforward as his father, Tom, is the Cub Scout leader and assistant Cub Scout leader.

Together with Des Donohoe, an experienced cyclist and captain of the historic Anerley Bicycle Club, Tom, and Luke made a resolution to get fit and cycle from Santander on the north coast of Spain into the Picos de Europa mountains in the Sierra Cantabria: 12 days of challenging terrain, especially for young Luke. The group also decided to raise funds for the centre and set a target of £5,000. As members of the Scouting community they promised to do their best.

Donations can be made via the Just Giving website or directly into the centre. For more details of the centre and its work see its website,

The congregation at St John the Baptist in Purley, south of London, donated more than £1,000 to the charity fund.

The bike ride included visits to important pilgrimage sites in the Picos de Europa mountains. First was the Basilica of Covadonga and its adjacent Holy Cave. These commemorate the beginning of the Christian re-conquest of Spain from the Moors. In the year 722, the Virgin Mary appeared to a Christian nobleman, called Pelayo, and his followers who were sheltering in a cave. She foretold their heroic victory over an army of the Moors at the Battle of Covadonga. This site continues to have great historical and religious significance the the Spanish nation.

Second, the group visited the Monastery of Santo Toribio de Liebana, who was the guardian of religious relics which were removed to this monastery for safekeeping following the conquest of Spain by the Moors. The most important of these relics is the Lignum Crucis. This is claimed to be the largest remaining fragment of the True Cross, in which can still be seen a nail hole from the crucifixion. Hence the Monastery of Santo Toribio de Liebana is one of the most important sites of pilgrimage in Christendom.