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Monday, January 09, 2006

Racetrack Ministry

Have you ever seen "Seabiscuit"?

I am an aspiring writer, and the summer that movie came out, I was spending time in the backside of our local racetrack....a childhood dream.

I was working on getting a press pass and in the meantime, I was being introduced to the various local owners and trainers. I was privvy to information obtained on the backside rail during morning workouts. I accompanied the press assistant as she made her rounds.

And I met the lay pastor..who, by the way, was doing a great job. He had been a Starter, and even did a stint as a jockey, although you couldn't tell from his tall and well-built stature.

I was seeking myself at the time, although I had decided that Catholicism was right...although I could not articulate why. But I saw him as an oasis in my own life because I was still a lost soul.

I asked him what drew him to his "home" as a pastor? He had no formal training as a pastor. One day he "heard the call", and this time, it wasn't the bugle signaling the start of the race. It wasn't the sound of a trainer calling him to his next morning mount. It was God.

Each day, before the start of the races, he gathered those interested, especially starters and jockeys, both in dangerous positions, for prayer. They worshipped God and prayed for safety just before they put life and limb at risk. They praised God for their lives and asked Jesus to take them home when the time was right...not when the track decided to lay a trap.

The pastor did good work, and it was clear that he cared about those he shepherded...after all...he was one of them, and they respected him for this.

The track has its own pace, and it's own culture. I feel so fortunate that I had the opportunity to meet so many of these people face to face. This is a subculture so few know anything about...and so few care.

But you should care...and I'll tell you why. Because a huge number of those called to the backside (a term for those who work at the track, stemming from the location of the rows of barns and dorms behind the backstretch of a racetrack) are latinos. There are people from all cultures and walks of life, but a majority are immigrants.

The majority of Latinos are Catholic. And the chaplains at the tracks are lay chaplains, usually Protestant. And those who are thirsting for Christ, while finding people willing to bring Christ, those willing do NOT have Christ body blood, soul, and divinity.

THAT is why you should be concerned.

The Catholics are largely forgotten...and they need help. They need attention.

I am going to do some research in the parishes near the racetrack in my local area..and I'm going to find out if there is a ministry for the seasonal workers this track pulls in.

I encourage you all to do the same. If there is a horserace track near you, check the parish. Is there someone to bring communion to the track? Is there a ministry for these people? They are not transient so much as they are dedicated workers...but the location of their work changes from season to season. Where I live in Minnesota, they live here from mid-May to mid-September, and then head to Arizona, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. And then them come back.

Look for more to come on this subject. I have nothing against lay chaplains...they fulfill a role that is desperately needed. I have nothing against Protestants. I have a special place in my heart for both categories. But we need to look around and see where Christ is not being addressed...and we need to step into this role.

If you have a track near you, and if you are an Extraordinary Minister or are willing to become one...then consider ministering to these people If you happen to be a priest or aspiring priest, or a deacon reading this...please consider this forgotten subculture which is so predominantly Catholic. They need the sacraments. They need to see a showing of the Catholic faith in their lives.

God bless these people, they live a hard life, and they may be closer to Jesus every single step than many of us ever will be...because they are only a breath away from meeting him every time they work.

What does one need to do to start this type of ministry? (really, I'm asking this question, this is not rhetorical)

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