Deacon Rich Seveska talks with trucker Abdi Rizak from Minneapolis at a truck stop parking lot in Foristell, Mo., Feb. 23. Seveska is a chaplain at the truck stop, where he spends the evening saying hello to truck drivers, identifying himself as a chaplain and asking basic questions. CNS photo/Lisa Johnston

Deacon’s ministry to truckers seen as ‘a meeting of two souls’

By  Joseph Kenny, Catholic News Service
  • April 7, 2012

FORISTELL, Mo. - Deacon Richard Seveska hears all kinds of stories at his local truck stop, but he fondly remembers one particularly appreciative driver.

“I had a trucker one night say, ‘Rich, this is not a meeting of two people,” Seveska said. “It’s a meeting of two souls.’ ” 

Seveska’s passion the last dozen years has been his truck-stop ministry. The deacon spends evenings saying hello to truckers, identifying himself as a chaplain and looking for people who may want to talk.

“I just say, ‘Hey, let’s sit down and talk,’ and before long they are talking. It’s just amazing the conversations they get into. It’s a tough life that they live,” he said.

“They realize: here’s a minister who’s taking the time to listen and is not judgmental. Then they’ll talk about their faith and what they really believe.”

He called these visits a two-way sharing, “and we both walk away fulfilled.”

Seveska and his wife, Kathleen, moved from Chicago to Foristell on the outskirts of St. Louis  in 2010. He says there’s no stereotypical truck driver, though most are male, with some couples out on the road together. An increasing number of truck drivers had jobs in “corporate America” and left to find a little more freedom.

“There’s a lot more depth to them than I thought,” Seveska said. “I didn’t know anything about the trucking industry. But it’s about people. When you sit down and shut up and listen, it’s amazing what you learn.”

One of the biggest challenges truckers face is their role as a long-distance parent or spouse. Seveska has met truckers who have been away from home as long as two years, while it’s common for them to be gone three months at a time. Also not surprising is to find truckers who have been married three or four times.

“There’s a number of problems you run into. It could be money, kids, spouse, drugs, alcohol, suicidal thoughts, you name it. They’re quick to tell you what’s really going on, even when they don’t have much of a religious background,” Seveska said.

Sometimes he will pray with people, and sometimes they will take the lead. One time a guy at the counter said, “Hey, Rev, you want to say a prayer?”

Assured by the man that it was a serious request, Seveska began to pray and “everybody at the counter got into it,” the deacon said.

Tommy Gee, a truck driver from Oxford, Ala., who has been on the job 20 years, said he appreciated visiting with Seveska. “I’ve been in a truck all day listening to the radio and talking to myself. I can talk your ears off,” he said.

Bernie Czebatul, who drives throughout the United States and western Canada, said usually his only opportunity to converse with someone is when he is in touch with a dispatcher. “I will talk to the Lord in my private time,” he said.

The truck-stop ministry follows a similar ministry at airports and hospitals, which routinely have chaplains. The Catholic truck-stop ministry is supported by the U.S. bishops’ Committee on the Diaconate and Committee on Migration, with the approval of the local bishop. Deacons see the ministry as “being Church to people on the move,” those who have little or no time to be part of a typical faith community. The aim is to offer comfort, understanding and support to truckers in a difficult job.

The ministry is a natural one for followers of Jesus, Seveska said. “A couple thousand years ago there was a guy who just spent time with people. We’re just doing the same thing.”

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