Franciscan food truck nourishes souls and bodies

Roxanne King

In November, Capuchin Franciscan Friars serving in Denver joined the increasingly popular food truck trend, but with some key twists.

Like their food truck counterparts, they are drawing fans offering something special — in their case, fresh, healthy wraps loaded with lean meat and veggies. Unlike other culinary roadies, their food is free.

The main difference about the friars’ food truck? It’s not really about the food, but about presence.

“On the face of it our food truck is seeing to the physical need of people, but on a deeper level it serves a spiritual need and even an evangelical purpose,” said Father Joseph Mary Elder, O.F.M. Cap., head of the new ministry.

“Our charism is to be little brothers to people—friars minor,” he explained. “We want to use the food truck as an opportunity to enter into relationships with the poor.”

Painted Franciscan brown with colorful artwork depicting local friars engaged in ministry as well as Saints Francis of Assisi and Padre Pio, and Blessed Solanus Casey, the truck includes white text on the back acknowledging partnership with the Routzon Family Foundation, while messaging on the sides identifies it as belonging to the Capuchins and describing their mission as “Messengers of God’s mercy” and “Brothers to those in need.”

“It’s not only to feed the body, but to feed the soul, that’s what the food truck ministry is about,” said Cindy Routzon, secretary of the foundation and wife to its founder Ed Routzon.

The foundation bought the new F59 P700 14-foot Morgan Olson truck and, with additional aid from Regis University, has funded the food. Volunteers, including youth ministry groups, have helped put the lunches together. Some volunteers also help the friars distribute the food.

Two Sundays a month the truck heads to downtown sites where the homeless gather. There, friars and volunteers hand out sack lunches and beverages. They also give out seasonal items those living on the street may need such as hats, gloves and socks. Resources the poor can avail themselves of such as medical and mental health services are listed on the lunch bags.

“At first the people were hesitant because they saw a food truck and thought they had to pay,” said Capuchin Brother Jude Quinto, recalling the truck’s first run Nov. 25. “But when they saw friars in brown habits running around, then they knew what we were up to and a crowd started forming.”

That day the friars handed out 300 turkey wraps to some 200 people. They now distribute up to 350 wraps. One Sunday, they gave away wraps and tamales, which was also a hit.

It seems they can’t make a mistake.

“We did some vegetarian wraps by accident once, one guy in particular loved it,” Father Joseph said. “We try to keep the meals healthy. We don’t want to perpetuate the health problems many homeless have with diabetes and other medical issues.”

Annunciation Church parishioners Audrey Wakely, 25, and her husband Connor Wakeley, 24, are among the volunteers who have helped make and distribute the lunches.

“It was eye-opening to see what the homeless community is like,” Audrey Wakeley said. “They were so nice — and very grateful. We liked interacting with and putting a face to the homeless. I think a lot of times, many of us try not to talk to them.”

Like the homeless, the imprisoned and the elderly they minister to, the Capuchins themselves are largely invisible to the wider community even though they’ve been ministering in the archdiocese for 41 years.

“This ministry creates an opportunity to share our brotherhood with other people,” Father Joseph said. “It’s also a good way to let people know we’re here.”

In unveiling the new ministry at the orders’ benefit gala in October, Father Christopher Gama, O.F.M. Cap., said the food truck ministry aims to answer the new evangelization call of St. John Paul II to find innovative ways to spread the Gospel in the 21st century.

“This new initiative is about that,” Father Christopher said.  “To bring Christ into the world in a fresh new way.”

Those involved affirm that’s the case.

“I was thinking of Father Solanus Casey during the [first] trip,” Brother Jude said. “He and other friars had opened a soup kitchen and we’re doing that, only ours is mobile and it’s going to where the people are. It’s like a modern-day soup kitchen on wheels.

“The preaching we do is the love we show,” he added. “That’s the image of God we give: God who’s present.”

Among those accepting a lunch that day was a man identified only as Greg. He echoed the comments of other recipients who raved about the healthful, tasty meal — and he expressed hope to see the food truck again.

“I’m very happy to see the food truck and the Capuchin Franciscans out here,” he said. “It’s so needed. It’s wonderful that someone somewhere in the Catholic Church had this beautiful idea to do this. I hope to see more of this.”

Portions of this report originally appeared in the Capuchin Franciscans’ Winter 2018 publication The Porter.

COMING UP: Historical clarity and today’s Catholic contentions

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One of the curiosities of the 21st-century Catholic debate is that many Catholic traditionalists (especially integralists) and a high percentage of Catholic progressives make the same mistake in analyzing the cause of today’s contentions within the Church — or to vary the old fallacy taught in Logic 101, they think in terms of post Concilium ergo propter Concilium [everything that’s happened after the Council has happened because of the Council]. And inside that fallacy is a common misreading of modern Catholic history. The traditionalists insist that everything was fine before the Council (which many of them therefore regard as a terrible mistake); the progressives agree that the pre-Vatican II Church was a stable institution but deplore that stability as rigidity and desiccation.

But that’s not the way things were pre-Vatican II, as I explain at some length and with some engaging stories in my new book, The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform (Basic Books). And no one knew the truth about pre-Vatican II Catholicism better than the man who was elected pope during the Council and guided Vatican II through its last three sessions, St. Paul VI.

On January 25, 1959, Pope John XXIII, thought to be an elderly placeholder, stunned both the Church and the world by announcing his intention to summon the 21st ecumenical council. That night, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini (who would be known as Paul VI four and a half years later), called an old friend. An experienced churchman who had long served Pius XII as chief of staff, Montini saw storm clouds on the horizon: “This holy old boy,” he said of John XXIII, “doesn’t know what a hornet’s nest he’s stirring up.”

That shrewd observation turned out to be spot on –– and not simply because of the Council, but because of the bees and hornets that had been buzzing around the ecclesiastical nest for well over 100 years.

Contrary to both traditionalist and progressive misconceptions, Catholicism was not a placid institution, free of controversy and contention, prior to Vatican II. As I show in The Irony of Modern Catholic History, there was considerable intellectual ferment in the Church during the mid-19th century, involving great figures like the recently-canonized John Henry Newman, the German bishop Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler (grandfather of modern Catholic social thought), and the Italian polymath Antonio Rosmini (praised by John Paul II in the 1999 encyclical, Faith and Reason, and beatified under Benedict XVI). That ferment accelerated during the 25 year pontificate of Leo XIII, who launched what I dub the “Leonine Revolution,” challenging the Church to engage the modern world with distinctively Catholic tools in order to convert the modern world and lay a firmer foundation for its aspirations.

American Catholicism, heavily focused on institution-building, was largely unaware of the sharp-edged controversies (and ecclesiastical elbow-throwing) that followed Leo XIII’s death in 1903. Those controversies, plus the civilization-shattering experience of two world wars in Europe, plus a rapid secularization process in Old Europe that began in the 19th century, set the stage for John XXIII’s epic opening address to Vatican II. There, the Pope explained what he envisioned Vatican II doing: gathering up the energies let loose by the Leonine Revolution and focusing them through the prism of an ecumenical council, which he hoped would be a Pentecostal experience energizing the Church with new evangelical zeal.

John XXIII understood that the Gospel proposal could only be made by speaking to the modern world in a vocabulary the modern world could hear. Finding the appropriate grammar and vocabulary for contemporary evangelization didn’t mean emptying Catholicism of its content or challenge, however. As the Pope insisted, the perennial truths of the faith were to be expressed with the “same meaning” and the “same judgment.” Vatican II, in other words, was to foster the development of doctrine, not the deconstruction of doctrine. And the point of that doctrinal development was to equip the Church for mission and evangelization, for the modern world would be converted by truth, not ambiguity or confusion.

Over the past six and a half years, it’s become abundantly clear that more than a few Catholics, some quite prominently placed, still don’t get this history. Nor do the more vociferous elements in the Catholic blogosphere. Which is why I hope The Irony of Modern Catholic History helps facilitate a more thoughtful debate on the Catholic present and future, through a better understanding of the Catholic past.