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Shop local? Why not shop Catholic?

Supporting small businesses run by fellow parishioners is good for faith and community

Soy Luz's Mother Teresa candle has a warm, soft scent that is calming but not overpowering. The packaging on the Light + Pray Collections says,

Photographer: BLANCA MORALES | FC

Soy Luz's Mother Teresa candle has a warm, soft scent that is calming but not overpowering. The packaging on the Light + Pray Collections says, "Before lighting, pause to call to mind a special intention or blessing. Be the light and spread the light to others!"

MIAMI | Every year after Thanksgiving — and now even before the first slice of turkey is consumed — malls and department stores see flocks of shoppers loading up for holiday gift-giving.

Retail chains spend thousands, if not millions, on advertising leading up to Christmas, and they earn billions more off the masses that darken their doorways. Meanwhile, small business owners struggle to make ends meet. Mom-and-pop shops, artists, and providers of a variety of goods and services count their pennies as the expenses of materials, services and rent add up.

“The biggest challenge is to have people to trust in small business. People just want to buy in big stores, big brands,” said Cesar Campaña, a parishioner at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Coral Springs. Campaña’s online shop, Andino Mar, sells hand-made leather goods such as bags and wallets.

In recent years, the idea of more personalized and human approach to buying has sprung up, referred to in various places as “support local,” or “local first.”

According to Forbes, a consumer enjoys more benefits from shopping local than patronizing corporate chains. Shopping local supports the local economy — it’s money that stays in the neighborhood or town. Meeting the person behind the business also creates a human connection and a greater sense of community. As a result, services are more customized, and gifts become more personal and unique.

So why not take these ideas one step further and declare, “shop Catholic”?

In Catholic circles, religious gifts are often given and received during sacramental rites of passage, such as baptisms and communions, but it is not as common to see Christmas gifts bought from Catholic businesses.

According to business analysts, owners of the Jewish and Mormon faiths prosper because of the support they receive from their faith communities. They have a keen sense of unity and cooperation, and tie their identity to their religious culture, said Keith Hamilton, a local Catholic entrepreneur.

Vanessa Ruiz and Roger Ramirez sell Soy Luz candles at a recent event.

Photographer: COURTESY PHOTO

Vanessa Ruiz and Roger Ramirez sell Soy Luz candles at a recent event.

“[These are groups that] thrive in the U.S. They mentor each other and invest in each other. They always support [each other] first. They buy from each other, sell to each other, go to each other’s legal and medical professions. They put their money where their mouths are. They donate to each other whenever they see a need.”

Some places to shop Catholic include Etsy, Peter’s Square, parish gift shops, church bazaars, Catholic ministries such as Blessed Is She, and religious communities.


More than profit

One unique aspect of small businesses, particularly Catholic businesses, is that they are driven by more than just profit. Many Catholic businesses give to Catholic charities and missions, and encourage a way of life in line with the tenets of the Catholic faith.

Former actress Jessica Rey, who is Catholic, sells modern yet modest clothing for women. Guadalupe Roastery, in Ave Maria, Fla., gives a portion of its proceeds to benefit Guadalupe Gardens in Nicaragua, a missionary formation center.

In Miami, a local Catholic business owner was inspired by John 8:12, which reads, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Vanessa Ruiz, who attends Our Lady of Guadalupe in Doral and is an elementary school teacher by day, called her candle-making business Soy Luz Candles — a play on words using the Spanish “I am light,” while noting that her candles are 100 percent natural soy candles.

“When I began, I did a lot of research. I found out that most scented candles sold in stores were made with paraffin, a toxic chemical that is made from petroleum. I took a hint from Catholic churches, most of which use all-natural candles for liturgy,” said Ruiz.


Spreading light

Aside from creating a product that is not harmful, her goal is to create a reminder of the human need for spirituality. “We live in a time of so much darkness. People are trying to be fulfilled by having expensive cars or technology. But they have no peace because only faith can give them peace,” she said.

Ruiz has also noted that working alongside her fiancé, the designer behind Soy Luz’s branding, has given the couple another level of marriage preparation as they learn to communicate their opinions, likes and dislikes.

One of the advantages of having a small business, Ruiz said, is that one day it will allow her to be a stay-at-home mom. “I’ll be able to support my family while spending quality time with my children.”

Soy Luz has communal characteristics. Prayers are said as each candle is hand-made, and those who purchase candles are invited to add their intentions to Ruiz’s prayer list. The business also has been blessed by an archdiocesan priest, and on each candle’s box is a call to prayer.

Ruiz has already sold her candles at secular fairs and festivals. She said being a Catholic small business owner has become an opportunity to evangelize in a new way.

Upon seeing that some candles had quotes from saints, a festival attendant told her, “I’m Protestant, I don’t worship saints.” To which Ruiz responded, “Neither do I.” She then went on to clarify that the goal of Catholicism is Christ, and his call for us to live in his light and be a light.

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