WASHINGTON –– Running a marathon is “very healthy for mind, body and spirit,” but it is also an excellent way to promote Catholicism, particularly vocations, said Fr. Rick Nagel of the Indianapolis Archdiocese.

Fr. Nagel is director of the archdiocesan Office of Young Adult and College Campus Ministry. His office and the archdiocesan Vocations Office sponsor the annual Race for Vocations, which takes place within the Indianapolis One America Festival Mini Marathon and 5K each May in downtown Indianapolis. With about 35,000 runners, it is the largest race in the nation, according to organizers.

The Race for Vocations is an example of how Catholic organizations across the country plug into secular marathons and other runs as well as walks to promote worthy causes and raise money for them by gathering pledges.

For example, Catholic Charities agencies sponsor teams in a lot of major races around the country including the ING New York City Marathon, the Boston Marathon, the Chicago Marathon and the Race for Hope Half Marathon in West Virginia. Charities participants raise funds for the agencies’ programs and services.

Elsewhere, races have been used to promote Catholic education. This October the 40th annual walk/bike two-mile marathon for Catholic education takes place in Wabasso, Minn., in the Diocese of New Ulm. It begins with Mass at St. Anne’s Church and is followed by a potluck dinner. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston plans to hold its eighth annual Steps for Students 5K Feb. 16, 2013, to help raise funds for area Catholic schools.

One way to keep up to date on the Catholic running world is the blog www.runningcatholic.com, where runners post devotions and stories about their training and race experience.

In Indianapolis, Fr. Nagel has been helping with the Race for Vocations since 2007.

The team of runners has as its motto: “Priesthood, Religious Life, Marriage, Sacred Single Life. Vocation … everyone has one. What’s yours?” It is emblazoned on their T-shirts.

“It raises awareness. People ask about the shirts. They are interested in what we’re doing,” Fr. Nagel said in a telephone interview with Catholic News Service. “If it would spark one person to think about if God is calling them for a vocation, it would be worth it all.”

The vocations race has grown over the years; this May it had 350 runners. The dioceses of Lafayette and Evansville, Ind., also participate.

“We want to create a culture of vocations in our families and meet people where they’re at; in secular settings,” the priest said. “We want to create a culture of awareness in the public.”

Registering for the event is twofold, he explained.

“We have people independently sign up for the One America race, and then we have a registration form on the website so we know who is coming,” Fr. Nagel said, referring to the website of the archdiocesan Vocations Office,www.HearGodsCall.com. “Then we send out e-letters encouraging them to train and pray for a universal call to holiness. Naturally some start training together. Parish groups or groups of friends begin praying together and training; we have been pleased to see that evolve on its own.”

On top of registration fees the runners pay, they are encouraged to gather both prayer and monetary pledges for vocations.

“All financial donations go into a vocations fund in which parishes can apply for money to host vocation fairs and other events that help foster a culture of vocations,” Fr. Nagel said.

Overall, Fr. Nagel believes that it is a benefit to have the Race for Vocations as part of a secular race.

“You don’t have to create your own (race). You can just plug in,” r. Nagel said. “The nice thing about plugging in is that we are amongst so many people who aren’t running for our cause. It raises awareness. They are interested in what we’re doing.”