Father Phil De Rea spends most weekends at racetracks throughout the United States, visiting drivers, giving masses, and comforting families when mishaps occur with arguably one of the most unusual ecumenical ministries.
For more than 15 years, De Rea has been the Roman Catholic chaplain for the Championship Auto Racing Team (CART).
A boyhood friend of racing great Mario Andretti, De Rea also was a co-founder of CART Ministries, located in Washington, D.C., and emphasizes compassion and Christian values in what can be a cutthroat environment of commercialism and competition.
Italian-born Andretti, CART's all-time victory leader and the 1978 Formula One World Champion, said, "From a spiritual perspective, having him at the track is like having a security blanket. For many of us, gathering to celebrate mass is very valuable. The celebration of mass helps you keep your mind more clear, more serene. If he weren't there, he surely would be missed."
De Rea says that his focus is on building personal relationships with people at the track, "whether it is a driver, a mechanic, or a family member."
A resident of Washington D.C., De Rea follows the schedule of CART and travels anywhere from New Jersey to California on the weekends, typically arriving on Wednesday and staying through Sunday.
"It is very rewarding to think that at a place of work, people can find religion," De Rea said. "They really open their lives to you. It is very ecumenically correct. We don't hold boundaries, and we are there for everybody, not just the Catholics."
De Rea grew up in Roseto, in the state of Pennsylvania, very close to the town of Nazareth, which became the home of the Andretti family when Mario moved from Italy to the US in 1955.
"Our little town had ...1