Reaching out to Catholics on the margins

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Thursday, October 26, 2017

Deacon ministers to track workers

Deacon Luis Trevino and his wife, Ludivina, have been serving the needs of workers at Arlington Park for more than 25 years.
Deaon Luis Trevino distributes the Blood of Christ during Mass at St. Colette Parish in Rolling Meadows on Aug. 12. Auxiliary Bishop John Manz celebrated that Mass during which children of migrant workers at Arlington Park received First Communion and confirmation. Trevino and his wife, Ludivina, have been serving the workers’ needs for over 25 years.(Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Deacon Luis Trevino leads a prayer service for children living at Arlington Park on Aug. 10. He and his wife, Ludivina, have been serving the workers' needs over 25 years. Parishioners from St. James in Arlington Heights assisted with the service and the games afterwards that day. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has urged Catholics to go out and minister to people on the fringes. 

For 25 years, Deacon Luis Trevino has done just that, ministering to those who work behind the scenes at Arlington Park racetrack as walkers, groomers and trainers. Many are undocumented immigrants who follow the horse racing season, moving around the country from track to track. 

In 1992, God alerted Trevino to the needs of this community as he drove down Euclid Avenue in Arlington Heights on his way home from his print shop. He saw a family with three children walking to the nearby grocery store. 

“There was no sidewalk back then and it was cold and rainy. So I picked them up,” Trevino said. 

The father asked him who he was and what he did. Trevino shared that he was in his last year of formation to become a deacon for the Catholic Church. 

“Right away he said, ‘What’s wrong with you Catholics that you never show up at the racetrack? The Protestants are having a field day over there,’” he said.  

Trevino didn’t have a response and told him he’d look into it. That started a ministry with his wife, Ludivina, at the track, holding Communion services outside under a tree. Later he received permission from the track to bring in priests for Sunday Mass. 

Today about 100 people attend Mass each week during the season. Trevino, who immigrated to the United States from Monterrey, Mexico, when he was 17, enlists the help of  priests for the Sunday Masses. He, his wife and other volunteers also offer religious education classes. 

He operated on his own until Cardinal George learned of his ministry and formalized it in 2012, connecting it to the nearby St. Colette Parish. 

Trevino is a joyful man, quick with a joke and the first one to reach out and talk to strangers. When he first started visiting the backside of the track where the workers live in housing like barracks, things were a little rough. 

“As soon as we came in, their spirituality went up a little bit and they recognized that they were human beings and they started behaving,” Trevino said. 

In those days about 2,800 people worked on the backside of the track. Now about 1,200 work during the season from May to September. Living conditions have also improved over the years. 

Both men and women perform the often dangerous work with the horses. Trevino shared a story about a woman who was recently hurt while walking a horse early in the morning when a rabbit spooked the horse. At the time, she was also carrying her baby because she couldn’t find a babysitter. 

“They are trained to hang on to the horse no matter what frightened it and made it run or rear up,” he said. “She said, ‘The horse treated me like a rag doll.’”

The track is a business, Trevino said. He’s just there to make sure the spiritual needs of the workers are being taken care of. They often don’t have cars and have to work long and varied hours at the track.

“The only thing that I’m trying to do is to say, ‘There is more to this,’” he said.

For two summers, the youth group from St. James Parish in Arlington Heights has held a summer Bible camp for the children living on the backside.

Trevino said he “loves” that St. James reached out because it’s a new generation engaging with immigrants from Latin America. 

“It’s the new guys rubbing shoulders with the Hispanics here and learning that there is no reason to be afraid of each other.”

He ministers to other “people on the move” through the O’Hare Airport Chapel and as chaplain to circus and carnival workers who come through town. 

He’s connected to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ outreach to “people on the move” and accompanied Auxiliary Bishop John Manz on a 2016 trip to Kentucky to visit migrant workers in the horse racing industry. Once a year for more than 15 years Bishop Manz has visited migrant workers around the country on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

“The people on the move makes it difficult for the church to help them. It comes down to how do we accompany them, and especially if they’re only going to stay in a particular spot three or four months like the folks who work at the racetrack,” said Bishop Manz. “It’s hard to get to them sometimes because they themselves want to lay low, especially if they’re not documented.”

The bishop has met others around the country like Trevino and his wife who take the initiative to help people on the margins.

“He’s really good because he has a very easy way with the folks, especially the men. He’s always making jokes,” Bishop Manz said of Trevino. 

It’s a difficult ministering to migrant workers because their work is fluid, people coming and going but it’s imperative for Catholics to reach out. 

“They’re doing jobs that no one else would do. They aren’t taking jobs away,” Manz said of the migrant workers. “We cannot any longer sit back and wait for people to come. We must go out and try and invite them and be present in places they normally would not go to.”

At 75, Trevino, who also serves at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Schaumburg, is hoping to convince another deacon to take over the ministry. Until then he’ll continue to reach out.

“The main thing I want to do with people here is to give them some dignity so that they understand,” he said. “I preach the cross to a bunch of crucified people.”


  • deacons
  • migrants

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