By Frt. Christian Castro, SVD

Uniting Hearts, Nourishing Souls
In the bustling heart of the city of Chicago, IL, in Hyde Park, where the rhythm of life often drowns out the cries of the marginalized, the Divine Word Theologate community stands as a beacon of compassion. As it is written in our SVD constitutions, “in all provinces, the commitment to the poor must be promoted and appropriate awareness of the cause of justice and peace aroused and intensified.” Thus, being true to the vision and recommendations in our constitutions, on a crisp November morning, we embarked on a mission that transcended mere sustenance—it was an act of love, justice, and solidarity.

150 Sandwiches, Countless Stories
November 22, 2023, marked a pivotal day for theologians of the Divine Word. Armed with bread, vegetables, and unwavering determination, they prepared around 150 sandwiches—not just as a meal but as a bridge between hearts. These humble sandwiches would find their way to migrants from many parts of the world who are desperately seeking refuge near the South Side Health Center. Ladell, the director of the food pantry at Our Lady of Africa parish and the compassionate soul entrusted with this task, received each sandwich with reverence and much gratitude.

JPIC: A Guiding Light 
The Justice and Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) committee, led by Brian Junkes, SVD, had a vision. JPIC is one of our SVD characteristic dimensions, along with the bible, communication, and mission animation. Thus, to be truthful to our JPIC dimension, our charism invites us to be prophetic witnesses of love and compassion toward our brothers and sisters who are most vulnerable.

From the outset, members of the committee knew that their service project would coincide with Thanksgiving—a time when gratitude and empathy are intertwined. The committee’s goal was simple yet profound: to create a Thanksgiving meal that kept the poor in mind. But where could they find an avenue for their mission? “There were many questions and things that were not clear at the beginning of the service project,” said Brian.

Obstacles and Resilience 
Thus, the JPIC committee embarked on a quest. They contacted various organizations, such as food pantries, hoping to collaborate in this social justice project. Port Ministries, bustling with their responsibilities, couldn’t accommodate their request. Father Adam MacDonald, Theologate Rector, who is also another JPIC member, faced similar challenges. There was also an issue of miscommunication and disagreements among the community, which was written to the JPIC committee to ensure there was a mutual understanding of what was being planned. The road seemed blocked, yet their determination remained unshaken. 

A Connection Beyond Borders 
Then, a glimmer of hope emerged. Our Lady of Africa, nestled within the community, held a key. Father Carl Gales, SVD, the parish’s current Administrator, listened intently. He understood the urgency—the hunger that went beyond physical sustenance. Although the food pantry yielded no solution, Ladell had connections that extended further. Through various police stations, she traced the footsteps of migrants seeking solace. 

Changing Tides, Unwavering Purpose 
The police accepted our request, and we scheduled a date and place. The day before the distribution, the migrants’ were relocated by the police. The shelter’s location shifted like the tides of fate. Yet, the Divine Word theologians stood resolute and went to the new location.

Beyond Bread and Butter 
But it wasn’t just about sandwiches. These sandwiches, now infused with prayers and goodwill, transcended geographical boundaries. They became symbols of hope, wrapped in foil and compassion. Alongside the nourishing meals, the theologians distributed water, snacks, winter clothing, and shoes. Each item carried a story—the warmth of a scarf, the comfort of well-worn sneakers. In those moments, Ladell’s hands became vessels of grace, connecting the giver and the receiver. 

Conclusion: A Divine Feast 
In the quiet corners of the South Health Center, migrants unwrapped those sandwiches. They tasted more than bread and butter; they tasted compassion. Ladell’s smile, Father Carl’s persistence, and the JPIC committee’s unwavering spirit wove a feast of humanity. For the Divine Word theologians, this was more than a meal—it was a sacrament of love shared across borders and barriers. As the sun dipped below the horizon, they knew their mission was far from over. The sandwiches were consumed, but their legacy lingered—a testament to the Divine Word’s unwavering commitment to justice, peace, and the sacred art of serving the migrants. May their sandwiches continue to nourish both body and soul, echoing the divine call to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Frt. Christian Castro, SVD, is in temporary vows as a Divine Word Missionary. He is from Michoacan, Mexico, but is a U.S. Citizen now and was living in San Diego, California, when he entered formation with the Divine Word Missionaries in January 2016. He professed first vows in 2018 and is now completing his theology studies at Catholic Theological Union. He recently completed his Cross-Cultural Training program in Brazil and is hoping to profess Perpetual Vows in September 2024 and be ordained to the priesthood in May 2025. 

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