BALLINGER — This past Saturday, the St. Mary Star of The Sea Catholic Church held its annual parish festival. The event drew hundreds of people from as far away as San Angelo and Abilene. Cars parked along the street for two or three blocks in every direction as the parking lots were filled to capacity.

Father Yesu, the pastor of the church says that the event is popular and is for a good cause.

“The proceeds from the parish festival go to the food pantry in Ballinger and fund parish activities throughout the year,” Yesu said.

The food pantry goes to help local families fight hunger.

“Every week, throughout the year, the food pantry helps 75 families,” Yesu points out. The spirit of good will at the festival is contagious and Yesu nearly glows as he smiles and speaks.

“There is so much joy in welcoming family and friends and sharing in the meal of fellowship,” Yesu said.

This has been an on-going event for almost three decades and Yesu is proud to continue the tradition.

“This festival was started 27 years ago by Father Miller,” Yesu said. “Every year I look forward to it.”

Planning for the festival starts in April and pulling off a successful event is no small feat. As we walk into St. Mary’s hall, where the food is being served, we open the door to see the room filled with well over a hundred people as a cacophony of laughter and conversations greet us. There are entire families, people of all ages from newborn babies to great-grandparents. Everyone is having a good time as they feast on a meal consisting of Texas barbecue, beans, potatoes and desserts of all variety. Yesu points out that this is not the first group served lunch.

“This is the third group we’ve served,” Yesu said. “Each time the place has been filled with wonderful people.”

When the planning for the festival begins, Yesu becomes more like a CEO. He has to manage the budget for purchasing the food and beverages, organize volunteers and see that every task is covered.

“In the beginning of the planning, it can seem like it is overwhelming but it all works out. Enthusiasm builds up and it gets exciting the closer you get to the festival,” Yesu said as we walked through the aisles of auction items. The auction items are provided by members of the congregation, local businesses and businesses from out of town.

The volunteer barbecue cooks prepare over 150 briskets as other volunteers cook beans and potatoes. The numbers of volunteers is almost staggering, as over 150 people volunteer, and are needed to help make the event a success. The volunteers range from older adults to young adults to children, all decked out in purple shirts and black aprons. The kitchen is a beehive of organized activity, complete with an assignment schedule adoring the wall. There is a roller table from an assembly line outside where the cooks bring the briskets and send them to the kitchen volunteers. The volunteers come from the church congregation, from the Parish Council, Finance Council, Knights of Columbus and Our Lady of Guadalupe Society.

The positive energy that the event creates is manifested in hugs and handshakes for Yesu as he walks through the dining area. Father Ariel, from St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Rowena comes up and shares a hug and kind word and hearty laugh with Yesu. They have a bond that is shared by their respective congregations, a bond of two men living a life in service and of creating fellowship across the miles.

There is much more than just food at the festival. Outside there is face painting, games and golf carts to transport people from their cars to the parish and back. The auction alone brings in 227 items. The avalanche of auction items are donated by individuals and businesses alike, with many of the items donated anonymously. The items range from a gift certificate to Lowake Steak House, an item that, incidentally, brought in three times the amount of the gift certificate, to items from Olives Nursery in San Angelo. Also included were items from Bee’s Quilting in Winters, Henry’s restaurant in San Angelo and Sweetwater Steel in Sweetwater along with a myriad of other businesses, both local and located elsewhere. It was apparent to all who attended the event that the bond of community transcended the many miles between towns.

Many of the volunteers were also the people or business owners who donated items for the auction. The majority of businesses and individuals donated several items, rather than just one or two.

“We couldn’t do this without the support of local businesses and other businesses,” Yesu said as we discussed the event over a plate of mouth-watering brisket and beans. Volunteers wearing purple shirts float among the throng of families gathered at the tables, bussing tables, refilling tea and water and ensuring that every need is met. The interaction of the volunteers as they work together is seamless. There are no disagreements, there are no complaints, there is just work, happy work, the kind of work that wears you out. But, it gives them a feeling that will last well beyond the time the last dish is washed and the last volunteer heads home.

Yesu looks around and a broad smile crosses his face, “This, this right here is a true spirit of giving.” Yesu’s face radiates with a glow of accomplishment and pride in his staff and volunteers, you sense that he is at peace as we sit at a table surrounded by a cavalcade of humanity.

The auction moves along swiftly as I ask Yesu about his part in the event and expectedly, he minimized his own contributions as he offers praise of others.

“The staff and volunteers make this happen,” he said. “Without them, this would not be possible, none of it. We need the people to be part of it to help, the community to participate, the support of the businesses and it all goes to help other people, to put food on the table of families who may not otherwise have enough to eat.”

Yesu’s presence alone inspires others, as you can see their body language immediately as he greets each person by name. In a previous interview earlier in the year, it was said that Yesu makes it a point to remember everyone’s name because he feels it is as if seeing the face of God.

Yesu is not only a pastor, he’s an organizer, a coordinator, a motivator and last but definitely not least, he’s a leader. The success of this year’s parish festival will reverberate for a long time, at least until the third weekend in September 2019.