‘A physical manifestation of the act of practicing love’

'A physical manifestation of the act of practicing love'

Father Robert Choi at the Ignatius Café. (photo: Angelus)

Any Yelp-savvy person looking for a coffee shop in the midst of USC’s surrounding urban streets may be lured by extensive positive reviews and a four-and-a-half star-rating to a little café dozens of reviewers call “an oasis.” Located behind St. Agnes Korean Catholic Church, the Ignatius Café is very easy to miss. Located near the bustling intersection of Adams Blvd. and Vermont Ave., the café is gated discreetly behind hedges, making it easy to understand why countless reviewers have described it as “a hidden gem.”

The Ignatius Café is housed in a beautifully preserved turn-of-the-century home, which stands before blossoming rose bushes, with tables and umbrellas situated under vine arches. Fresh flowers sit on every table of the warmly-decorated house. The overwhelming aroma of the café’s fair trade Ethiopian coffee beans envelope customers in warmth, as cheery volunteers bustle around tables with the most painstakingly-created foamed barista achievements.

But the real reason this isn’t your average coffee shop is the patent missionary focus of the café: the statue of Mary standing in gardens as overseer of the café, the church bells ringing on the hour in the background and the visibility of its white-collared founder busily managing the café and greeting every visitor with a luminous smile: Father Robert Choi.

When Father Choi’s superior sent him from Korea to work as a pastor in Los Angeles in 2010, he brought with him an extensive background in coffee brewing. Pour-over coffee had recently been introduced by Japan to Korea and was quickly gaining in popularity. Father Choi received certification and training from the elite Coffee Quality Institute, getting technical training on producing sustainable, high quality coffee while enhancing the livelihoods of the growers. This training equipped Father Choi with a passion for the craftsmanship, social consciousness and esteemed quality for which his café is now known.

As a Korean-speaking pastor with a new parish in a foreign country, Father Choi needed a way to engage his new community in a language he could speak. That’s where his old passion for coffee came in. Coffee would be his simple, humble manner of communicating a grand mystical love that a language barrier impinged him from telling.

 “The Church should be a place open for all and a method for connecting to the less fortunate. I created the Ignatius Café to fulfill this,” explained Father Choi, “I want it to be a place where anyone, regardless of their beliefs, can come and rest. I want it to be a physical manifestation of the act of practicing love.”

Communicating this message of love was something St. Agnes Parish was more than eager to do. With his parish supporting him, Father Choi said setting up the café was not difficult. They set it up to rely solely on volunteers and accept payment in the form of donations. All proceeds are given to charities that support disadvantaged groups, including Catholic Relief Services, St. Jude Children’s Hospital, Sudan Relief Fund and many others. Interested parishioners go through a rigorous coffee education program and board exam. And then they go to work under the guiding mission of the café, inspired by its namesake, St. Ignatius of Loyola: “Find God in all things.”

Full story at Angelus.

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  1. why do we hear so little of anything so entrepreneurial and targeted from american bishops and clergy? is the secret permission to do one thing well rather than be the juggler of 100 ministries? i saw something slightly parallel in belgium where parishes would rent ‘contact space’ or storefronts in urban areas so that they would be among the people more closely rather than waiting for people to make the step to walk into a church. they met them where they were, on ‘neutral grounds’, for some i am sure.

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