A key element of life at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the vibrant community spirit. United in their service to God through His Mother, the staff and volunteers of the Shrine form close fraternal bonds, enabling them to carry out their apostolate in a spirit of teamwork and charity. This atmosphere is fostered by events throughout the year that bring the Shrine community together. One recent example was the chili cook-off held on February 21, the date of this year’s Mardi Gras, a traditional date for Catholics to clear out foods that will not be used during Lent.
“I’d been part of other organizations in the past that have had chili cook-offs,” comments Steven Doll, Manager of Pilgrim Services, who organized the event, “and I thought, that would be an excellent way to bring the Shrine staff and volunteers together.” Indeed, the cook-off aroused great enthusiasm, as more than a few staff and volunteers entered their chilis, generating lively competition and a rich variety of presentations. “There was excellent turnout … we had ten or eleven chilis that were entered,” Doll recalls. “We had some good competitive jousting about who was going to win.” Recognition was given not only for flavor but for creative naming, with the first place in this category going to Development Associate Grant Withrow’s “Regina Chili Laetare Alleluia.”
“It was a wonderful event because it brought everyone together,” concurs Deacon Sam Schmirler, whose “Mysterium Chilium” won the overall competition. “There must have been forty volunteers and staff or more, and everybody had a good time.”
In addition to being enjoyable and fun, such a community event closely supports the Shrine’s mission of building up souls. “We’re relational beings, created in the image and likeness of the Triune God,” explains Fr. Paul Check, Executive Director, “and so relationships, friendships, love, are things that we desire deeply. We flourish and our hearts are fulfilled to the degree that we have good, healthy relationships with good people, and those relationships often grow out of very simple and common experiences, like sharing a meal with someone.”
“It’s more than just a shrine, and the chili cook-off really showed that,” shares Sophia, a volunteer who recently moved to La Crosse from San Diego, “not only because of the food and the healthy competition that was going on, but just the way people interacted and the charity everyone shows each other … It’s really exciting to be part of the Shrine family, because that’s exactly what it is.”
Plans are being made to hold the chili cook-off annually, making it part of a set of events held for the staff and volunteers at certain times of the year. By bringing together the Shrine’s community in a relaxed environment, an atmosphere of familial love, these events forge a team joyful and united in service to all who come on pilgrimage to Our Lady’s “little sacred house.”