MUMBAI, India – A priest in India who is also a professionally trained chef has gained a new audience during the coronavirus lockdown.
Father Warner D’Souza, who heads St Jude’s Church in Mumbai, told Crux “people wand food recipes and I want to share Jesus.”
The priest’s YouTube channel has nearly 5,000 subscribers, and he uses to share reflections and liturgies to his parishioners – but his program “Food for the Soul” has become the hit of the internet.
“Food for the soul began as a journey led by the Lord,” D’Souza explained. “I was retiring for the day when the news channel reported that the evidence from search engines pointed out that food was high on most people’s list during the lockdown. The next day, I providentially got a call from the ‘Jesus Youth’ asking me if I would do a food show and talk about the faith. I love teaching the Scriptures and food is a passion.”
His passion for food began in his youth, since he often had to cook as a child.
“Hard days at home meant that mum and dad had to both work. My mum encouraged me to help her in the kitchen before she came home from work. I learnt how to purchase fish, cut vegetables and even make a fish curry by the time I was 12 years old,” the priest told Crux.
During his first video, D’Souza had his Bible with him, reading from the Gospel of Luke, where the Resurrected Jesus sat down for a meal on the road to Emmaus.
“Meals are always great ways to start a conversion and share about faith. Jesus did a lot of faith teaching around a table or meal,” the priest explained, bringing up the prime example of the Last Supper.
In that first episode of “Food for the Soul” he made a barbecue chicken – including the sauce – from scratch, all the while giving a catechesis of the Emmaus story.
Since then, he was done two more episodes.
“The response to the three episodes so far has been overwhelming with many young people also hooked on to it. A dear friend who has fallen away from the Church but who loves food said that the show touched him and while he was initially interested in the food, the scriptures warmed his heart,” D’Souza said.
Part of the reason the show is a success is the priest’s style: He easily switches from food to religion, and his easy-going manner makes these constant shifts seem perfectly natural.
“Teaching comes naturally to me; my parents were teachers and I grew up watching them. Today that seed has borne fruit in my ability to break the word. Since I am passionate about the Word and food, it has not been a challenge,” D’Souza said. “For these days I preach from two pulpits, the one in Church and the kitchen in my residence. God calls each of us to use our pulpit to evangelize. If you sing, make that your pulpit.”
Although his food show is new, D’Souza has been using the internet for evangelization for around four years, beginning with a blog that initially focused on the daily Gospels and then diversified to sharing faith-based opinions, food, and chronicles of the priest’s travel to Rome and the Holy Land.
“I have been very active on Facebook and Instagram and since the days of the lockdown I have been broadcasting the Eucharist, paraliturgical services and food and faith reflections from my YouTube channel,” he said.
The lockdown has made D’Souza’s internet ministry vital – and he even uses Zoom to have meetings with his parishioners.
“Since the lockdown people have been hooked on to the internet. When Pope John Paul II called for a new evangelization; new in ardor and method he was calling for every means to be used. The internet is the new normal and we must therefore use every means that God has given us to make Him known,” the priest said.
The St. Jude parish, located in Mumbai’s Malad East area, has just 250 families, but has been highly active during the coronavirus crisis.
“Since the first day of the pandemic we have made sure none of our parishioners, many who live in the shanties, have been in need. From financial aid to groceries we have given 300 packets of groceries enough for a family of 4 for at least ten days,” D’Souza said. “This has also been shared with the community at large which includes Hindus and Muslims.”