Pastor Victor Rodriguez’s church has a boxing ring in the basement and holds regular gang tattoo-removal sessions.
He understood that a thriving church needs to do more than hold worship services. “Everyone wants to save the world,” he’d say. “But no one wants to do the dishes.”
“Pastor Vic,” who spent 20 years as a pastor at La Villita Community Church at 23rd and Millard, died Monday at 52 of complications from internal bleeding at Mount Sinai Hospital, said his son, also named Victor.
His church organized English classes, job counseling, college-survival conferences, literacy fairs and fundraisers to combat domestic violence. He created a sense of community with chili cook-offs, salsa and line-dancing lessons, talent shows, carnivals and laser-tag tournaments.
The Chicago Golden Gloves organization praised him for giving a permanent home to the Chicago Youth Boxing Club, saying he “opened his arms and doors to La Villita Community Church.”
The pastor explained his thinking, once telling the Chicago Sun-Times he aimed to create a haven that “saves lives.”
Church board member Sylvia Del Raso remembers how he’d say, “You have these kids here training, they’re not on the streets.”
“He was like a father to me,” said George Perez, 17, who goes to Farragut Career Academy, was a 2018 Golden Gloves Junior Open Division champion and is ranked fourth in the country by USA Boxing for his age and weight class. “He told me to stay in school.”
The pastor “kept the peace,” organizing summertime softball and basketball tournaments, said Perez, who hopes one day to compete in the Olympics. “He prayed before the games. Before a fight, we always pray.”
Pastor Rodriguez forged friendships among leaders in Hispanic South Lawndale and pastors and ministers in African-American North Lawndale, said Sgt. Alfonso Lara, an Ogden District community policing officer.
“He was a spiritual leader, a mentor, not just to youth,” Lara said. “Whether it was hosting an event or a prayer vigil, he was there. He wanted to make a difference.”
“Pastor Vic turned gang members into peace ambassadors,” said U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Illinois. “The programs he started at his church broke barriers between Latinos, African-Americans and white youth. His church became a place of hope that changed lives.”
“He was a first-responder when things were hot,” said Del Raso. And he grieved over young lives lost to gang violence. “He kept a count,” she said. “Last year alone, he did around 13 funerals.”
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SOURCE: Chicago Sun-Times, Maureen O’Donnell