By Eileen Connelly, OSU 

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Immaculate Conception Parish in Durham, North Carolina, is offering visitors the opportunity to support fair trade cocoa farmers and purchase a tasty treat for loved ones, all while embodying the Gospel call to work for justice in our world.  

This weekend, Feb. 10-11, IC’s Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) ministry is teaming up with Bull City Fair Trade for its annual Fair Trade Chocolate Sale after all Masses. The parish’s Hispanic Young Adult Ministry group is assisting JPIC with leading the event. Proceeds from the sale will help support fair trade cocoa farmers around the world, with 10 percent going back to the parish.  

The purchase of fair trade chocolate aids farmers and workers in receiving just wages, increases the safety of their working conditions, prohibits the use of forced and child labor, and empowers individuals and communities.  

Ken Chiha, JPIC director at IC, said the partnership with Bull City, a fair trade, non-profit gift store that supports a variety of hardworking farmers and artisans, has been a meaningful one.  

“We do what we do because of Christ, because of Catholic tradition and Franciscan tradition. We are called to serve, and the Franciscans reinforce this for us as we build solidarity and community,” said Ken. “We hope that events like the chocolate sale spark conversations that lead to conversions of hearts and minds and lead to interest in other social justice issues. This is a very concrete way that people coming out of Mass can contribute, but also support the common good, take another step in their faith journey and live out Franciscan values.”  

Three friars – Brothers Manuel Vierra, OFM, pastor; and Hugh Macsherry, OFM, and Gonzalo Torres, OFM, parochial vicars – currently serve the IC faith community. The friars “cherish fraternity and solidarity,” emphasized Br. Hugh, and “being able to support producers of chocolate more directly builds a relationship of greater solidarity with those who produce these goods. It might not be the most obvious example of poverty, because these chocolates are not always so inexpensive as some of the cheaper, mass-produced chocolates. But it reminds us that we can be intentional about our joys in life and how we share those joys with others.”  

Osely Velazquez, coordinator of the Hispanic Young Adult Ministry group, said she is excited about the sale in a variety of ways. On a personal level, the opportunity to support cocoa farmers and workers reminds Osely of family members in her native Guatemala, where they have labored on farms, picking corn and onions.  

“I’m excited that this will help our young people become more involved in the parish, learn more about social justice issues and help familiarize them with fair trade,” she said. “We’re showing God’s love here, building community and extending that to everyone. It shows that our faith can make a difference.”  

Having the young adults take ownership of the sale has also helped them take ownership of their faith and become leaders in their community – a community that has generously supported their efforts in turn. 

“We’re blessed to have such a compassionate parishioner base,” Ken added, noting that last year’s chocolate sale raised a record breaking $3,250 thanks to the generosity of the IC faith community.

Immaculate Conception Church is located at 810 W. Chapel Hill Street, Durham, NC 27701. Mass times can be found on the parish website.