“Prayer, Fasting, Works of Love for 40 Days” is the theme of the Lenten undertaking for parishioners at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in New Orleans.
For the past two years on six Friday evenings of Lent, the parish has offered a simple meal of soup and bread at 6 p.m., followed by Stations of the Cross at 7 p.m. in the church. It is called “Soup and Stations.”
“As a pastor, I am very concerned with all of God’s people,” said Dominican Father John Dominic Sims, pastor at St. Anthony of Padua. “We have quite a variety of people of different races, languages, countries of origin and socio-economic backgrounds in our parish and the surrounding area, and I’ve always made sure we are reaching out and bringing in the people who need God the most.”
Father Sims participated in a similar “feeding the poor” effort in Los Angeles, even before he was a priest. This ministry, for him, is a direct response to his personal prayer when he asked God what it meant to love him. The response he received was an overwhelming vision of feeding and caring for the poor.
“Not getting them off the street but caring for them where they were in the street, bringing dignity to their life,” Father Sims said.
When he was transferred by the Dominicans to St. Joseph Church in Ponchatoula, he again served people in need. It was only natural that he continued his outreach to the poor when he arrived at St. Anthony in 2016.
Beyond parish walls
As a church staff, St. Anthony discussed how to further the parish’s year-round ministries to the poor (including its social apostolate, St. Anthony poor box) during Lent. When Father Sims shared his experience of feeding the poor, parish secretary Dawnell Anders also mentioned her involvement in a soup and stations ministry, and the idea to do soup and stations at St. Anthony of Padua was born.
St. Anthony added a twist of evangelization beyond church walls by nourishing not only Catholics who attend Stations of the Cross but also the homeless on the streets.
Anders and other staff, family and friends – including her husband Mark, his mother Glenna Jacob, Tina Favuzzo, parish worker Adriana Henriquez, bookkeeper Christi Huff and bilingual receptionist Doris Bahr – help cook five gallons of a hot, meatless soup every Friday morning in the parish priory’s kitchen. Different people cook on each Friday, but the variety includes offerings such as vegetable, tomato, corn and shrimp, potato soup, taco or enchilada soup, artichoke spinach and tortellini soup.
When the soup is finished around lunchtime, Anders and others drive throughout New Orleans delivering bags filled with a container of soup, bottled water, bread, two snacks, socks, a card with a St. Anthony Mass schedule and invitation to the weekly soup and stations to those begging for food or money on the street corners.
“Most are really, really appreciative and say, ‘Thank you so much,’” Anders said. She’s especially noticed the younger drifters who completely devour the food due to extreme hunger. “You know they are hungry. Witnessing this humbles me. You realize you didn’t do much, but you were blessing people with something they needed.”
Father Sims sees cooking a soup as “keeping more closely with the intent of (Lenten) fasting.” And, by meeting the poor where they are, the parish is saying those who are hungry are welcomed, and if they come to the church for stations, that is even better.
This parish effort also parallels perfectly with the Dominican saint – St. Martin de Porres – who is known as a patron of feeding the poor, people of mixed race, barbers, public health workers and more.
His annual feast day, Nov. 3, has been celebrated over the past two years in the parish as a Triduum that begins on all Saints Day Nov. 1 and ends with a parish Mass and meal on the feast.
During Lent through March 23, soup is served Fridays at 6 p.m. to anyone who stops by the door prior to the 7 p.m. Stations of the Cross.
“This clearly follows the example that Jesus cites as the ultimate judge in Matthew 25, ‘Whenever you feed the hungry and clothe the naked, you’ve done it to me,’” he said. “I don’t know if there is a clearer call to do this.”
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.