DENVER, Nov. 30 (RNS) -- Nuns in habits are about as rare in Denver as typewriters, and seeing them on bikes is as unexpected as a fountain pen.

But that's not the only remarkable thing about the Community of the Beatitudes. Their order also includes men and women, married and single, lay people and the religious.

The Beatitudes, a French order that came here a year ago, have become a common site in Denver, whether they're visiting nursing homes, singing concerts, or selling religious crafts.

But prayer is their core work, and that word has hit the streets. Hundreds of people have shown up at their door -- people in dire straits -- asking the Beatitudes to pray for them.

"One night, right after Christmas, a woman came to the door about 10 p.m. and said she was going to commit suicide," said Christian Meert, a married member of the order. She had seen the light in the chapel.

Members prayed with her for about an hour "until the tension was released." She's never been back. Like many of the people who drop by, she apparently wanted to talk to a stranger and to be prayed for, said Meert.

Members make no claims at being counselors or running a shelter.

"We're not specialists, but we can pray, we can refer people to agencies, and we can give people a meal," said Meert.

Denver is the only place in the United States with Beatitudes members, who are easily spotted in their white habits (for the nuns), brown skirts and white blouses (for lay women), and sandals for everyone. Men wear tan slacks and sweaters, white shirts and simple wooden crosses around their necks. During prayers they wear robes and either scarves or hoods, standing throughout.

Sister Mary of the Visitation, a Belgian and one of two nuns in the Denver group, is a regular biker but has learned her lesson about long skirts and bike spokes.

Now she carries clothespins in her backpack so she can pin her skirt to keep it out of the way.

The Beatitudes live in the 14-room former convent.

Committed to prayer, the seven adults (plus the three children of one couple) also write religious music, do liturgical dance, sing, teach marriage preparation, distribute food to the needy, play musical instruments, visit nursing homes, and open their doors to people who want a day or a week to meditate and pray.

"It's a radical choice" to join the Beatitudes, said Meert, who gave up a lucrative career 10 years ago as an export manager for an international irrigation company.

Members spend four hours a day in prayer, visit families and parishes, make presentations about their work, and entertain guests. Household duties are shared equally so everyone has a turn at cleaning toilets.

"We don't have much free time," said Meert. "When we do, we study the Bible."

First prayers are at 7:15 a.m., and last ones are at 8:30 p.m. Members wear white hooded robes and stand throughout the prayers, which are sung.

There isn't even time for members to get on each other's nerves, despite their hours of closeness, said Meert.

When there are differences "people go to the chapel and settle things," he said. "The good thing is, there is forgiveness."

But all work and no play hasn't dulled the members.

"There is joy in the gift of the Holy spirit," said Sister Mary of the Visitation. "There's nothing to be sad about when you give your life to the Lord. It's like a taste of heaven."

Two French couples started the Community of the Beatitudes in 1973. Recognized by the Vatican as a Private Association of the Faithful, the Community is one of a handful of the hundreds of Catholic religious orders open to both men and women.

The 1,200 members worldwide include priests, nuns, and lay people, living in 70 houses scattered over five continents. Others join as nonresidential members, sharing "spiritual ties" to the organization, but continuing their regular lives in their own homes. Three families in Denver have joined as nonresidents.

"We have Catholics and non-Catholics and non-Christians who come by or call" for help or prayers. "My concern was that we didn't want to duplicate anything that was already going on in Denver. And I don't think we are."

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