Priest presenter to offer faith, fun — and food!

by Therese Horvat

BASEHOR — Add some zest to life this Memorial Day holiday weekend with a cooking demonstration well-seasoned with a good measure of faith and fun for people of all ages.

Priest, Food Network “Throwdown! with Bobby Flay” victor, TV and radio show host, and recipient of the People’s Choice Awards, Father Leo Patalinghug will blend his culinary skills and theology of food in a special session at Holy Angels Parish in Basehor on May 29. The event is one of several observances of the parish’s 150th jubilee year.

Father Leo is founder, host and director of Grace Before Meals, a movement to bring families and individuals back to the dinner table to share meals together, communicate, express love and be nourished. In his “Grace Before Meals” presentation, he will discuss the important and proven connections that exist when people share food, faith, family and fun.

Father Leo will offer helpful tools — including delicious and easy-to-make recipes, ideas for talking together and prayers — to bring God to the table. In addition, he will link the value of meals shared with the significance of the eucharistic meal celebrated at Mass.

“My goal is that those who attend will have a fuller experience of church as they laugh and learn at the intersection of faith and food,” said Father Leo. “Plus, they’ll have a good time. I hate being boring!”

A review of Father Leo’s background and ministry reveals that he’s anything but boring.

Born in the Philippines and raised in Baltimore, Father Leo developed his love of food around his family’s kitchen table and honed his breakdancing skills among his circle of friends. Prior to the priesthood, he taught martial arts and speech and debate to high school students.

Completing his seminary studies in Rome, Father Leo further cultivated his interest in cooking as he learned from owners of Italian restaurants and exchanged recipes with them. He earned degrees in theology and Mariology and was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 1999.

It was post-9/11 that the idea for the Grace Before Meals food ministry began to take shape. Father Leo observed how people gravitated to churches and gathered in fellowship around the altar table when they were hurting. He also recognized the power of the dinner table meal to bring people together.

Father Leo began to blog about the connectivity of food, meals and faith. In 2007, he published “Grace Before Meals,” the first of his three books, now in its fifth edition. In 2009, he was featured on the Food Network, where he defeated a world-famous chef during the “Throwdown! with Bobby Flay” cooking competition. That victory brought 2 million visitors to the Grace Before Meals website in one night, and the movement gained significant traction.

Father Leo subsequently became a priest member of a community of consecrated life with the purpose of working in the midst of the world to evangelize the secular culture. He sees tremendous opportunity for evangelization at the domestic church’s altar: the dinner table.

He will share variations on this theme during his visit to Holy Angels Parish. Father Leo will be homilist at weekend Masses on May 28 and 29, concelebrating with pastor Father Richard McDonald, with whom he attended the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

“Liturgically speaking, there is no more timely weekend in the church calendar to connect faith and food than May 28 and 29,” said Father McDonald.  “We will be celebrating the feast of the Body and Blood of Our Lord, complete with a Corpus Christi procession, to commemorate the shared last supper of Christ with his closest friends.”

On May 28, Father Leo will award the champion at the parish’s premiere barbecue cook-off. The following day, the cooking demonstration and family-style lunch are open to the public, with registrations required by May 23. Fees for the event are: $10 for adults; $5 for children 12 and under; and $35 for a family. Contact the parish office at (913) 724-1665 to make reservations.

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