Category Archives: Faith

Welcoming the stranger

St. Joseph’s Refugee Committee continues a more than fifty year legacy

Kyle Greenham
Northern Light

As they hope to welcome a new family this autumn, St. Joseph’s Refugee Committee in Grande Prairie is continuing a long and cherished legacy.

For the parish committee, it’s been more than fifty years of helping families and individuals resettle in Canada. Their first partnership with a refugee was in August of 1979, after the parish and the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan had signed on with the federal government as a refugee sponsorship entity.

Their work has continued since that time, with changing membership and levels of activity over the years. They have brought more than 60 individuals and families to the area, from persecuted, war-torn or impoverished countries.

Ranjini (left) and Noel Keerthikumar, originally from Sri Lanka, were sponsored by St. Joseph Church and resettled to Grande Prairie.

While it requires much perseverance, compassion and hard work, it’s been a deeply rewarding experience for committee members.

“Sometimes the obstacles are overwhelming, but the rewards are immeasurable,” said Sharon Biggs, who has been a part of the committee since 2011. “When you see the families you’ve helped in the past doing well, you see pictures on their Facebook of the kids first day at school or you see people advancing in their careers and helping others, you go to their weddings or hold their babies – that’s the real reward. It’s all about the relationships you form.”

Each family and individual touches their hearts in their own way, no matter the difficult and traumatic experiences the migrants are fleeing.

“Their resilience is incredible. Their courage, their faith – it inspires you. When I think of some of the things people are going through, it’s incredible,” said Biggs.

Helen MacDonald, left, and Sharon Biggs are both proud members of St. Joseph’s Refugee Committee.

September 26 is designated by the Catholic Church as World Day of Migrants and Refugees, held since 1914. It’s a day that has only gotten more relevant with time, as the number of refugees and displaced people across the world continues to increase.

“There are currently more than 85 million people now displaced in the world, and with recent events in Afghanistan that number will only grow,” said long-time committee member Helen MacDonald. “Who gets sponsored in Western countries – it’s only a drop in the bucket.”

MacDonald is a staple member of the committee, having first joined in 1988. At that time the committee sponsored Hien Tran Nguyen, a Vietnamese man who became a close friend of MacDonald, and he still holds a dear place in her heart today.

Hien Tran Nguyen, from Vietnam, was the first person the committee sponsored at the time Helen MacDonald joined. They remained close friends.

There are many sponsors that have become lifelong friends with committee members. Kenia Guerrero, who came to Grande Prairie with her sisters and mother through a sponsorship with St. Joseph’s Committee in 1989, keeps in touch even today with many members and the parish.

Her family had first fled from their home country of Nicaragua, where a guerilla war and communist take over were underway. They illegally crossed into Mexico and then into the United States before they were able to come to Canada. Kenia and her sisters were only small children at the time.

The family eventually got in contact with the Canadian embassy, and from there were sponsored by the St. Joseph committee in Grande Prairie.

Kenia Guerrero

“Grande Prairie definitely feels like home,” Kenia said. “When people ask what I am, I say ‘I am Canadian’. ‘Canada is home.’ I grew up here in Grande Prairie. I know the environment, the people, I know the schools.”

Read the full story in the October edition of Nothern Light

Preservation through song

Grouard man preserves his language and traditions through Cree hymns

By Kyle Greenham
Northern Light

Through his passion for music, Manny Chalifoux has found a way to keep the Cree language alive and to preserve a unique tradition of Cree Catholicism.

Most Sundays in Grouard, where Manny was born and raised, he can be found at the historic St. Bernard Mission Church, singing Catholic hymns and acclamations, all originally composed or translated into the Cree language.

Manny Chalifoux

His collection of Cree spiritual songs mainly comes from an old hymn book simply title “CREE HYMNAL”. The hymns contained within this worn and wrinkled yellow booklet are all original compositions. It’s a hymnal that has been passed around Indigenous Catholic communities of western Canada for generations.

In this Cree Hymnal Manny finds many of his songs. All hymns in here are originally composed in Cree.

The origins of this one-of-a-kind book are quite vague, Chalifoux says, especially because there is no date of publication within its pages.

“The book has been floating around this area for years – from Joussard, Grouard, Gift Lake and Atikameg,” he said. “I think the hymn book originated from somewhere in Saskatchewan or Manitoba by one of their priests. There’s no doubt the hymns are old – I mean real old. My great grandfather used to sing some of these.”

Like the oral traditions so common to Indigenous cultures, Manny first learned of these songs by having them passed onto him through community elders.

It was at the Kisimanito Centre in Grouard in the early 1980s, Chalifoux was first introduced to these Cree hymns by Johnny Waniandy, who would play the organ and sing them. Chalifoux’s instrument of choice is guitar, and he began figuring out the guitar chords to these songs by ear, based off the organ notes Waniandy had ascribed to them.

The Kisemanito Centre was a centre in Grouard that offered Indigenous and Catholic worship services. It was there that Chalifoux first discovered his love for Cree hymns and playing in the Church.

By 1984, Chalifoux began playing these songs at Mass.

“Johnny [Waniandy] grew up at the mission, and he learned to play the organ from a very young age. His language was Cree, and most of the kids at that time sang in Cree,” Manny shared. “I did not play much music before this time. When I joined I just knew how to play a few guitar chords.”

Now a staple of St. Bernard’s music ministry for 40 years, Manny has copied songs from this original small Cree hymnal into a large binder so he can more easily read them while playing at Mass.

Manny believes this music provides an effective way in preserving the Cree language.

“People often talk about how we’re losing our language, but we’re also losing our language because we’re not finding ways to practice it,” he said. “For me, I practice it when I sing in Cree. I try to keep my language that way and it’s a great way to preserve it…”

Read the full story in the October 2021 edition of Northern Light

Revitalizing the Girouxville Pilgrimage

With new dynamics as an archdiocesan event, locals hope to see a strong future for historic pilgrimage

By Kyle Greenham
Northern Light

The light of the sun slowly departed and was replaced by the light of the candlelit procession.

As the people processed through the woods behind the Our Lady of Lourdes shrine and grotto, the reflection of the candles slowly panned across the gravestone of Father Clement Desrochers – the priest who dedicated much of his spirit and energy to growing this very pilgrimage.

The candlelight procession following the vigil Mass, at the pilgrimage in Girouxville, August 14th.

For many long-time attendees, honouring the legacy of Father Desrochers is a vital part of the annual pilgrimage in Girouxville, held on August 15th, the feast of the Our Lady’s Assumption. The dynamic, energetic and devoted priest was a true mover and shaker of the area, and the pilgrimage is just one example of the permanent legacy he has left behind.

In his efforts to expand the pilgrimage, it was Father Desrochers who initiated the creation of the Our Lady of Lourdes shrine. He travelled throughout Europe to gather relics, the statues of the Blessed Mother and St. Bernadette, and a church bell that came directly from Lourdes, France.

“The heyday for this pilgrimage, for this local area, was with Father Desrochers. He’s that one that, you might say, ‘made it happen’,” said Maurice Blanchette, who was born and raised in Girouxville. “It began before him, but he’s the one who really made an event out of it. He went overseas and got relics. The idea for the shrine – that was his baby. And he did it all with little money, and it turned out so wonderfully. He made something quite big for this area, and a lot of this pilgrimage is honouring his legacy as well.

“Some of the local people have already canonized him in their hearts. We look back and see how he was a saint, how the Holy Spirit was with him in all he did.”

Maurice Blanchette

For Blanchette, the candles and crowds of the night vigil and procession always stand out as the highlight of the pilgrimage. Having attended since he was a child, Blanchette says it is an event of great significance, not only for his family, but for the whole community.

“This is an agricultural parish, so weather and crops are the main determiner of what happens in this place,” he said. “Typically the pilgrimage always comes shortly before harvest begins, so it was a pivotal point in community life. It always signified that harvest was just around the corner. The pilgrimage was our last kick at summer vacation before the harvest began and we entered a new chapter.”

The pilgrimage in Girouxville has a long history stretching back to the early 1940s. The first pilgrimage was held in 1941, just among the parish priests, parishioners and Sisters of the Holy Cross, and the following year it became a regional pilgrimage with many religious and faithful from surrounding communities. Father Desrochers erected the first grotto in 1942.

The pilgrimage in Girouxville has a long history, dating back to 1941.

The event has remained a staple for the area ever since. Many grainy black and white photos have been collected over the years, showing the grotto grounds filled with families, priests and Holy Cross nuns in habits. Within Desrochers’s memoire, several miracles are recorded as having occurred at past pilgrimages, including Jean Lapierre, a lumberjack who had been left physically disabled by an accident, who was healed before everyone’s eyes during the pilgrimage’s healing service.

“I have beautiful memories of going to the pilgrimage,” said Helen Couillard, who has spent her life in Girouxville and today helps run the Girouxville Museum – another staple of the area created by Father Desrochers.

Helen Couillard

“My great grandfather lived in a house that was right across from the grotto, and we would go every year – my mom, my dad and the rest of us kids. There were people everywhere; hundreds of people came to the pilgrimage back then. For this community – it meant a sense of prayer and comfort. It helped everybody,” said Couillard.

But, like many rural communities in Alberta and across Canada, Girouxville has dealt with a dwindling population over the past few decades. Beginning in the 1960s, Blanchette says, Girouxville slowly began to lose its population as the dynamics of society changed. The young people moved on to bigger cities like Grande Prairie, Peace River and Edmonton. Religion also began to lose its influence in people’s day-to-day life.

Daily Mass, adoration and many other devotions and services were a part of this year’s inaugural archdiocesan pilgrimage.

“There was a lot going on here at one time,” Couillard recalled.  “I grew up in Girouxville. I went to school right up to grade 12 at the convent here. We had the train. We had stores. But slowly everything went down. The roads came, and with that the school buses came, and soon we didn’t need the convent or school anymore. Slowly things went down, stores closed, and as the years went by there was less and less coming to the pilgrimage. And like a lot of little towns in this area, there was less and less people in general.”

Read the full story in the September 2021 issue of Northern Light

Watch the video recap of our 2021 Archdiocesan Pilgrimage in Girouxville here.

Fostering faith through Vacation Bible School

Parent-led initiative brings a joyful side of the Church to small children

By Kyle Greenham
Northern Light

Jamie Schoorlemmer looks over the grounds of Moonshine Lake Provincial Park, where some children are trekking through the woods, some are reciting the actions to faith-themed songs, others are making “Holy Spirit” campfires with cheese, pretzels and other food.

It’s a welcoming sight for the Rycroft parishioner, who played a leading role in bringing Vacation Bible School to the area this summer.

For the parents and more than 30 young people who attended, the experience was also a welcomed return.

As Mass begins, the children and teenaged “captains” of Vacation Bible School perform the actions of some of the faith-based songs they’ve learned.

“People are so anxious to be together and have fellowship with each other, and the kids are missing each other too,” said Schoorlemmer. “We decided if restrictions lifted this summer we would make sure this camp became a reality.”

For the past 17 years, Vacation Bible School has been a parent-led initiative offering a few days of fun, faith formation, and community to Catholic families in the archdiocese, and especially their young children. The program, filled with different faith-based crafts, music, and activities, is largely drawn from the Catholic Vacation Bible School program by CatChat.

Organized by the parishes of St. Joseph in Spirit River and St. Peter and Paul in Rycroft, the camp is typically attended by families from the area. Families from Silver Valley, Grande Prairie, Fairview, Dawson’s Creek and elsewhere have also participated.

Arts and crafts are a major part of the activities during the three-day Vacation Bible School, held this year from August 9-11.

What inspires Schoorlemmer most is the joy Vacation Bible School brings to young Catholics.

“It’s been a gift,” she said. “Seeing the smiles on their faces and the love of Jesus that is apparent through it all. And in helping others come closer to Christ – if it makes that difference for even one person, then that makes all of the efforts put into this worth it.”

Both Schoorlemmer and Rycroft parent Denise Beaupre have helped organize and volunteer with the camp over its 17 years. It was in 2004, when the Oblates of Mary Immaculate brought a 10-day mission to the area, that the Spirit River and Rycroft parishes were first encouraged to form a youth ministry team.

Organizer Jamie Schoorlemmer

In 2007, the team decided to create an annual Vacation Bible School for Catholic families in the area and around the archdiocese. In the initial years, the school was held over five half-days at St. Joseph’s Church in Spirit River, but it was eventually moved into a three-day camping excursion at Moonshine Lake.

Sherry Bourke came to the camp this year with seven of her grandchildren, but over the years 10 of her own children have attended Vacation Bible School.

“I like that my children can meet others in their faith, and it builds a stronger sense of community through the parents as well. And it shows the kids that learning our faith can have fun elements too,” said Bourke.

“It’s been nice seeing my children who once participated now come back and lead as captains.”

Parent and grandparent Sherry Bourke

Jill Yuha brought her four children from their home in Silver Valley, having heard about the camp in Spirit River’s parish bulletin. It’s been a joy not only to see the fun her children had, but also the opportunity it provided her to meet with other Catholic parents, who also want to see their families grow and thrive in the Faith.

“It’s great to talk to other like-minded parents and have conversations that are relatable,” she said. “We all have little kids; we’re all raising them in the Church. As a mom, it’s nice to have other faithful families around.”

Parent Jill Yuha, with her youngest son Kyle

Much of the programming focuses on making the faith accessible and tangible to small children, whether by music, arts and crafts, theatre and other demonstrations. This year the school is studying the seven sacraments, and as a way of teaching baptism, each family made a holy water font.

“It’s all intermingled – the faith station is what actually teaches us about our main subjects – whether it be the sacraments, the angels and saints, Mary – but what the little ones often remember most is the crafts they made, the songs they sang,” said Schoorlemmer.

“It’s education for the captains and parents too. It’s a refresher for things they learned in catechism that they can now pass on at a child’s level. And it gives parents the experience to see ways to pass on their faith to their children. Now they have the tools to teach their own kids as well.”

More than 30 children and teens attended the Vacation Bible School this year, which has now been held in the Spirit River, Rycroft and Silver Valley areas for 17 years.

For the teenagers and young adults who volunteer with the school, Beaupre believes they particularly enjoy it as a place where they can fearlessly live out their faith.

“The kids don’t have to be afraid to share that they’re here for faith, whereas at school they may feel pressure to cover that up,” she said. “So to see their smiles, you can tell they just feel free here to be themselves. They can live the part of their life they have to cover up among peers and the world at large.”

Concerning the captains and leaders, Schoorlemmer adds,

“It makes my heart happy to see these young teens, who are out in that secular world where it’s not easy in this day and age, and they’re free to express their faith here. It gives them the courage to go beyond this campsite and move that faith out into the world.”

Archbishop Gerard Pettipas, Fr. Emmanuel Ekanem, and this year’s captains.

As parents who have devoted many years of time and effort to make this Vacation Bible School a reality each summer, both Schoorlemmer and Beaupre hope the Vacation Bible School will continue on into the next generation – as a staple event of fostering faith among Catholic families in the area.

“We heard one of the captain’s say ‘One day I’m going to run this camp,” said Beaupre. “Hearing that is so encouraging – that we’re raising little leaders.”

Standing the test of time

Historic church in Friedenstal commemorates its 100th anniversary this year

Kyle Greenham
Northern Light

The towering steeple of St. Boniface Church has stood high above the gravel roads and farmland of Friedenstal for over a century.

From its rugged exterior of deteriorating paint and wood, one may expect St. Boniface Church, which has been closed since the 1970s, to be worn out and decrepit. But stepping inside, its altars, statues, crosses, vestments and chandelier are well preserved and almost miraculously pristine – looking as if the church had only closed its doors that previous Sunday.

St. Boniface Church in Friedenstal.

The church not only celebrates its centennial anniversary this year, this month honours the church’s patron saint – St. Boniface. His feast day was June 5.

Living just up the road from the historic church is Ed and Elizabeth Dechant. The couple have spent much of their life in Friedenstal. Ed’s ancestors first settled there from Germany in 1916. His mother’s side of the family fled to Canada from Russia in the 1920s, to escape communist persecution.

Even by the time his father arrived in 1916, Ed says Friedenstal was already well established. The area was settled by more than 50 different families, who were nearly all German Catholics.

Ed and Elizabeth Dechant inside St. Boniface Church, where its statues and altars are still in near-pristine condition.

“Pretty much every corner of the land somebody had taken,” he said. “People started coming here and surveying the land around 1909, and after that it just exploded. And the families didn’t travel much in those days; they pretty much stayed, hunted moose and were self-sufficient.”

Like much of the early Church in western Canada, the first priests to come to Friedenstal were Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The majority of St. Boniface’s priests came from Germany, and the parishioners were very insistent on having a German priest for their area.

The original log church in Friedenstal from 1913-1920.

They set up a small log church around 1913, with the permission of Bishop Emile Grouard, OMI. In 1920 construction began on their current St. Boniface Church. It was designed and built by Brother Eisemon, OMI. The first Mass was celebrated on Christmas Eve, 1921 with its first pastor Fr. Wilhelm Ebert. Ed says every Mass was around 2 and half hours, as the sermon was preached in both English and German.

The church was blessed by Bishop Grouard on August 15, 1922.

Shortly afterward, the Sisters of Providence established a convent and boarding school that was attended by children from Friedenstal and outlying areas. Ed had never learned to speak any English until he began attending that school.

“When the nuns came, a new rectory was built and the nuns took over the old one as a convent,” said Ed. “When I was a kid, the church was pretty active. They had a resident priest, and a younger priest that helped him. It’s the place where people would met. I went to school right next door, and got to know the kids who came that would stay at the dorms.”

A group of Sister of Providence nuns in Friedenstal get ready to travel by horse.

Elizabeth’s most cherished memory of St. Boniface is the church choir. With a parish priest that was fond of the traditional music of the Church, there was great efforts to ensure the 30-person choir was up to the highest standard.

“One of our priests Father [Anthony] Herter just loved classical music,” Elizabeth recalled. “They would sing all in Latin, and they arranged the singing in four different parts. It was quite a commotion. The choir had to be as good as possible.”

The Corpus Christi feast was one of the parish’s biggest celebrations.  Parishioners would plant trees in honour of the feast day, and hold a procession through the whole community, with altars set up throughout the area.

The high altar at St. Boniface Church, as it stands today.

In the winter time, a fire had to be started in the furnace of the church every Saturday evening to prepare for Sunday Mass and “get the chill out” of the building. Ed says that sometimes, depending on who started the fire, it would be pretty smoky in the church and you would be tempted to go outside during Mass to try and cool down.

In the 1950s some refurbishments were done on the church, replacing some of the original woodwork and repainting it. But no serious restoration work has been done on the church since that time. Fr. Martin Doll, OMI, was ordained a priest at the church on June 30, 1952.

When the railway was established along Fairview in the late 1920s, gradually all major resources began to centralize in that area. By the mid-1960s Fridenstal’s school shut down, and then in 1969, St. Boniface Church’s doors were closed. Locals then had to make the trip to Fairview for school and Sunday Mass.

Elizabeth Dechant holds up a German-English Bible, one of many unique items still preserved at St. Boniface Church.

At the time, Ed says opinion was split. The church was still very active, but with the closure of the school many expected that the church would be next.

Today there are only about 25 families in the Friedenstal area. As Elizabeth says, now the farms are getting bigger, but the people are getting less.

Even if it has been closed for more than 50 years, St. Boniface Church is one part of Friedenstal that still remains.

“For a 100-year-old church it’s in pretty good shape, but it needs some work,” said Ed.

Ed and Elizabeth outside of St. Boniface, where a new paint job is certainly needed.

One major issue is that the church was built without a solid foundation. When it was constructed in 1920, they used only big rocks and put timbers over them. Now that the church has been designated as a historical site by the province, Ed and Elizabeth hope in the future it can get some needed restoration work on its foundation and exterior.

In May 1982, the Friedenstal Historical Society was established. They own and look after the property today.

“Any government funding we would get for it we would have to match it locally,” said Ed. “With COVID a lot of fundraising we would normally do has been put on hold.

“The funding we need could get pretty major considering it needs a new foundation.”

The high altar at St. Boniface before its closure in 1969.

‘It’s apocalyptic right now’

Local priest personally affected by India’s pandemic crisis hopes people will pray for recovery

By Kyle Greenham
ArchGM News

Each day Father Michael Dias scrolls through his phone to see the latest devastating news from his home country of India, a nation brought to the brink by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is one harrowing story after another. His two nieces are front-line workers at the Manipal Hospital, working 24 hours a day with no opportunities to return home. The hospital’s 5000 beds are now all filled with COVID patients.

Caritas India has several initiatives in place to help people through the COVID-19 pandemic. Images provided via Caritas India.

Dias’ home province of Karnataka in southern India is now reporting more than 500 deaths every 24 hours. Dias’ brother contracted the virus and has been hospitalized and on a ventilator for the past two weeks.

Catholic churches Dias visited as a boy have now been turned into isolation centres for COVID patients who have been turned away from the hospitals. Most recently, Dias heard from a family member that 71 bodies were found dumped and floating in a river in eastern India.

It’s these stories that have kept Dias’ prayers with constant thoughts of India, his family and the thousands of COVID victims there.

Many of Fr. Michael Dias’s family in India have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. He has served the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan for nearly three years.

“The situation is not good. It’s very scary. In my home province there were 39,000 cases and 517 deaths just in the past 24 hours,” Dias said in a May 12th interview. Dias has been a pastor with the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan for nearly three years, serving the parishes in Beaverlodge, Hythe and Rio Grande.

“My nieces working the frontlines seem very distressed,” the priest added. “They are working 24/7; they won’t even let them go home for a day to recuperate. Death rates are rising. People are suffocating. Many sick people are being turned away.”

Rev. Michael Dias celebrating Mass in his home country of India. As the country is faced with a devastating COVID-19 outbreak, his thoughts and prayers are often of home at this time.

As for what parishioners in the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan can do to help in this difficult and historic situation, Dias offers three words of advice.

“Pray, pray, pray,” he said. “Pray for the victims. Pray for the Indian government that their [leaders] will have the knowledge and wisdom to do what is right. And whatever people can contribute to Caritias India through Development and Peace, they should.”

The Catholic charity Development and Peace-Caritas Canada launched their appeal to combat the pandemic crisis in India on May 6. All donations go to Caritas India, and other Church-supported charities, who have launched several initiatives to help the Indian people get through this crisis, particularly in poorer regions of the country.

Mia Klein-Gebbinck, a representative with Development and Peace-Caritas Canada for the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan, says the help is desperately needed.

With the help of donations from Development and Peace-Caritas Canada, Caritas India provides food, medical supplies and hygiene materials to poorer regions of India. Images provided via Caritas India

“The need is so great. We all have to do whatever we’re able to do,” said Klein-Gebbinck, who is a parishioner of St. Mary’s Church in Beaverlodge and has worked with Development and Peace-Caritas Canada for more than 25 years.

“It’s a reliable avenue for the donations to go. Development and Peace is a Catholic charity supported by our bishops, and the Caritas network has been tried and tested for a long time. Donations are just drops in the bucket according to the great need that is there, but every drop in the bucket is helpful.”

Klein-Gebbinck has a sister who is a nun with the Medical Mission Sisters, a religious congregation dedicated to providing health care in poorer regions of the world. The Medical Mission Sisters established several hospitals in the New Delhi area of India, which is currently heavily affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.  Klein-Gebbinck’s sister has told her that many of the nuns offering health care in that region are being worked to capacity, and some have fallen gravely ill with the virus themselves.

In Michael Dias’ home province of Karnataka in southern India is now reporting more than 500 COVID deaths every 24 hours. Images provided via Caritas India

“It’s a desperate situation,” said Klein-Gebbinck. “In this over-crowded, dense populations the virus spreads like wildfire. It overwhelms you thinking of the number of things to be done. So we need to work with organizations like Caritas India who are on the ground and know where the needs are greatest.”

Some of Caritas India’s efforts include bringing food to distribution centres and to impoverished communities, as well as sanitizer and hygiene materials. They also donate equipment and resources to Church-run clinics and hospitals in India. As well, they fund and organize public education campaigns to help people know where they can get vaccinated or access other health care resources.

Development and Peace-Caritas Canada says all donations to their appeal in India are desperately needed at this time. Images provided via Caritas India

“There’s shortages everywhere. Whether it’s medical supplies, oxygen, medications, beds – they’re all desperately needed. It’s apocalyptic right now,” said Klein-Gebbinck. “Even though it’s a hard time for us here in Canada, with the scope of the situation in India, the needs there are so great. We have no idea what it’s like.

“Whatever we can do to help, we need to do.”

Donations to Development and Peace-Caritas Canada’s efforts in India can be made here. Father Dias also proposed that parishes offer a Mass with intercessory prayers for the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic – not just in India, but around the world.

Prayer by Pope Francis for protection during the COVID-19 pandemic

O Mary, you shine continuously on our journey as a sign
of salvation and hope.
We entrust ourselves to you, Health of the Sick.
At the foot of the Cross you participated in Jesus’ pain,
with steadfast faith.
You, Salvation of the Roman People, know what we need.
We are certain that you will provide, so that,
as you did at Cana of Galilee,
joy and feasting might return after this moment of trial.
Help us, Mother of Divine Love,
to conform ourselves to the Father’s will
and to do what Jesus tells us:
He who took our sufferings upon Himself,
and bore our sorrows to bring us,
through the Cross, to the joy of the Resurrection.
Amen.
We seek refuge under your protection, O Holy Mother of God.
Do not despise our pleas – we who are put to the test
– and deliver us from every danger, O glorious and blessed Virgin.

Editor’s reflection: St. Joseph the Worker

St. Joseph the Worker, and how Christianity transformed the meaning of work

By Kyle Greenham
ArchGM News

The Book of Proverbs states, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”

One of the greatest threats to a healthy spiritual life is simply a lack of things to do. With it comes laziness, boredom, temptations and the slow ease into sin. Fr. Don Calloway says in his book Consecration to St. Joseph, “The devil hates an honest and diligent worker.” If that’s the case, then the devil must adore a lazy and inactive idler.

Work is a most practical remedy to the many sins that easily follow from idleness. Before you can let sinful thoughts take hold, quickly shift into some activity – whether it be physical exercise, practicing a skill, finally cleaning out that closet or storage space. Work is a spiritual antidote to this most prominent sin of the modern world – call it sloth, boredom, acedia, or a number of other names. In an age of TVs, smart phones, and a pandemic that has cancelled countless activities and kept many people shuttered within their homes, there’s no doubt that modern life directs us to be passively entertained, not actively working.

Work is a most practical remedy to the many sins that easily follow from idleness. It is a spiritual antidote to this most prominent sin of the modern world.

May 1, the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker, offers us a chance to meditate on the spiritual nature of work, something that I think our Christian faith is uniquely capable of understanding and expressing.

At the beginning of time God commanded Adam to work, specifically, to toil and cultivate the earth. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. (Gen 2:15) …Fill the earth and govern it (1:28).” Thus, all of our daily labours have a spiritual character, because we are fulfilling this most primordial of commandments – to work upon God’s creation and care for it. “Our daily work is a continuation in creation, consequently it has its archetype in God… All functions and occupations can and should be seen as reflections of His Divine Activity.” (Jean Hani, Divine Craftsmanship)

This sanctification of work reaches an entirely new depth through the Incarnation. When Christ enters the world, He spend His early years not as a royal prince or philosopher, but as a labourer. “Our Lord desired to do manual labour for many years before initiating his public ministry. Why did he do it? He did it because he wanted to sanctify work and teach us that work is honourable and pleasing to God.” (Calloway, Consecration to St. Joseph) Christ fulfilled that early commandment in Genesis as a carpenter – a man who takes the wood created by God and through his labour shapes it into something new and useful.

In [Jesus’] humanity, he learned how to work as a man by imitating the example of his earthly father, St. Joseph.” (Calloway, Consecration to St. Joseph)

St. Joseph is the model for Christian work because “he taught the God-man how to work.”

“When he became flesh, Jesus sanctified human work and elevated it to a level of greatness that did not exist prior to his Incarnation. Though divine, God humbled himself, became a man, and worked like a man. In his humanity, he learned how to work as a man by imitating the example of his earthly father, St. Joseph.” (Calloway, Consecration to St. Joseph)

Pope Pius XII noted this too when he declared the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1, 1955, seeing in St. Joseph the exemplar for all working class people: “The humble workman of Nazareth personifies before God and the Church the dignity of the man who works with his hands, and is always the provident guardian of you and your families.”

But this “dignity of the man who works with his hands” was not the attitude of the pre-Christian world. The ancient philosopher Aristotle famously defended slavery as something necessary in society, because physical labour was undignified for the upper classes and gifted intellectuals. Without slaves to do all the physically demanding toil of life, Aristotle argued, philosophers would not have the necessary time to contemplate. The Jesuit priest and economist Heinrich Pesch noted that, in the pagan world which preceded Christianity, “All work which did not have a predominantly intellectual character was looked on with disdain and as unworthy of a man’s respect. It was done by slaves and burdened with the stigma of bondage.” (Pesch, Liberalism, Socialism and the Christian Social Order)

Christianity ushered in a new dignity to work through St. Benedict’s motto “Ora et Labora” – work and prayer.

However, the Catholic “Middle Ages brought work to its proper status… There was the Christian principle that the natural goods of this earth are destined by God to provide for the needs of all, and not for satisfying the fantasies, or merely enriching, certain individuals.” This Christian principle of work also meant that “Man ought to work for the sake of the glory of God who commanded work, and to have the blessing for his industry which lies in the soul; and what is conducive to Christian joy and happiness, and no less in order to share the fruits of our work with the poor and the sick.” (Pesch, Liberalism, Socialism and the Christian Social Order)

How did the Middle Ages bring about this transformation? With the collapse of the Roman Empire, around 4th century AD, came the collapse of this pagan attitude towards work; namely that physical labour was nothing more than an unfortunate burden only fit for lowly slaves. Christianity demolished this worldview and brought a new dignity to work largely through the Benedictine monks and their motto – Ora et Labora – work and prayer.

After Rome’s collapse, it was the Benedictine monasteries that restored order and rebuilt much of Europe. Through their motto of Ora et Labora, Benedictine monks lived lives of strenuous farm work and agricultural development, but also devoted many hours each day to prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours and the reading of Scripture. These Christian monks exemplified lives of both rigorous physical labour and the meditative contemplation of prayer. They proved the Aristotelian view wrong, showing that a man’s daily life could consist of both intellectual, spiritual and physical pursuits. By the Benedictines example, a new dignity and honour was placed on work that the world had not seen until that time.

The Benedictine monks exemplified lives of both rigorous physical labour and the meditative contemplation of prayer.

This new Christian attitude towards work also cultivated the virtue of humility. Work can not only cure us of the idleness that leads us into temptation, it can also heal us of our pride. Nothing chips away at a man’s selfishness or his delusions of grandeur more than submitting to the (often humiliating) task of learning a new skill. Whether that be learning how to change the oil in your car or trying your hand at a home plumbing issue, these tasks begin with a humble admittance that we still have things to learn. As John Waters put it in his book Give Us Back the Bad Roads, “Making things, fixing things… takes a man out of his self-absorption and renders him answerable to the logic of the world and the rest of its inhabitants. It is the enemy of narcissism and self-will.” Work answers our inner insistence to know and understand things, it saves us from “the devil’s workshop” of idleness, and by work we learn how important it is to cooperate with the world, with each other and fulfill God’s commandment to be the caretakers of His creation. “We must recognize God as the sole source and energy in all we do and in all the gifts we receive… By returning our action to God, we avoid returning to our own ego.” (Hani, Divine Craftsmanship)

By work we learn how important it is to cooperate with the world, with each other and fulfill God’s commandment to be the caretakers of His creation.

In our time, when it often seems like selfish pride and ego reigns supreme in society, where looking good on your social media profile is more important than doing good works in the world, the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker is needed now more than ever. It gives us the chance to acknowledge the dignity of work, the great humility it can teach us, and the way it can bring us closer to God. This is embodied in no one as much as St. Joseph, the man who taught Christ how to work.

I hope this feast of St. Joseph the Worker aids you in meditating on the importance of work, and why all Christians should remember and live by that Benedictine motto – Ora et Labora – for this is key to a healthy and upright life. Both in our spirit and in our day-to-day living, we need to make time for prayer and time for work to embody the complete human person God intends us all to be.

St. Joseph the Worker, pray for us.

Conversations with Bertha: Apostolic Succession

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“Conversations with Bertha” is a new feature that will appear from time to time in Archbishop’s Pettipas’ letters. These tales are of a purely Catechetical nature, and any resemblance between Bertha and any person known to the reader is purely coincidental.

Conversations with Bertha – 1
by Archbishop Gerard Pettipas

Let me tell you a little bit about Bertha.

Bertha is a convert to the Catholic Church.  She was raised in a Protestant Church of some sort – one of the many small evangelical churches that these days dot any city or small town.  One of her best childhood friends was a Catholic, and Bertha admired lots of what she heard about the Catholic Church, and especially the Sacraments.  She loved joining her friend for Mass.  It didn’t all make sense to her, but she liked it.  She became a Catholic when she married her husband, who was a Catholic but a reluctant one at times.  Bertha felt it was important for her small family to pray in the same church.

This story begins with a swimming trip to Eastlink Centre in Grande Praire.

She still had lots of questions about the Catholic Church, though, and she was not shy to ask me these, even if she sensed her question might force me into a corner.  Some Catholics would be shy to ask such things, even of a priest, let alone a bishop.  I think there’s still a Protestant streak in Bertha.

I like to go swimming at the Eastlink Centre.  Not often, but every so often I’ll run into parishioners there.  The other evening, as I came out of the men’s changeroom, I bumped into Bertha as she exited the women’s change room.  “Good evening, Bertha”, I greeted her.  “Oh, Your Grace.  So nice to see you.  Are you off somewhere right now?  Or could I treat you to an ice cream at this fancy parlour nearby?”  “That’d be nice, thank you”, I replied.  We got in our respective vehicles and met up at Menchies.

As we each made our way into our custom-made cups of frozen yogurt, Bertha began.  “Your Grace, in RCIA they told us about the Catholic Church going back to Jesus’ twelve apostles.  The Church that I grew up with didn’t make those sorts of claims, in the sense of a line of succession like a family tree.  We took the Bible very seriously, and so I believed firmly that we go back to Jesus Christ Himself, and his teachings.  We would turn to the Bible when we wanted to know God’s Word about any teaching.  But the Catholic Church makes stronger claims than that.  Can you tell me more what that’s all about?”

“That’s a good question, Bertha.  And to answer it fully, our ice cream would be either devoured or long melted.  Let me try to put this as simply as possible.

Archbishop Gerard Pettipas celebrates the 2021 Chrism Mass with the priests of the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan.

“As Jesus came to earth to do the Father’s Will, that is to save us from eternal death and establish the Kingdom of God, he gathered twelve apostles from among his many followers, to be especially close to Him and leaders with him.  This corresponds to the twelve tribes of Israel, who were the “Kingdom of Israel”, grown out of the twelve sons of Jacob.  At the Pentecost event told by Luke early in the book of Acts, we see the Holy Spirit coming upon them, giving them the spiritual gifts that they needed to become confident and bold evangelizers, who would go forth from Jerusalem and bring Jesus’ message to the then-known world … which in those days was basically around the Mediterranean.  The twelve apostles had become 11, of course, with Judas Iscariot’s suicide, but the 11 corrected that by selecting Matthias as a replacement for Judas.  And you had St. Paul, after his conversion on the road to Damascus, also becoming what he called himself — an apostle.

“Many people who heard the apostles and others preach about Jesus came to believe and accept the Christian message, and ask to be baptized.  The Christian community spread very quickly during the first decades and centuries, even in the face of persecution by Roman emperors and other leaders who were suspicious of what they saw as a new movement or sect.  In each place, the apostle who founded a Church in that area might ‘lay hands on’ and thus ordain a successor to lead that community, while he himself went on to other cities and towns.  These leaders of Christian communities were called by the Greek word, episcopoi, which means ‘overseers’.  We translate that word into English as bishop.  So, each bishop in the Catholic Church at least is the leader of a local Church, or what we call a diocese.  His spiritual lineage, like a family tree, goes all the way back to the apostles.  This is what we mean when we say in the Creed at Mass every Sunday, ‘I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.’  It’s apostolic because it goes back to the apostles.”

Archbishop Gerard Pettipas offers a blessing to Father Feroz Fernandes.

Bertha looked down at her empty ice cream cup.  She looked over and saw that mine was empty as well.  “Thank you for this, Your Grace.  But what you just said about one, holy and catholic raises other questions for me.”  “Another time”, I said.  “I should get back home.  But thank you for the ice cream.  And for this conversation.”

As I was driving home, I had the thought that the RCIA should last a lifetime.  As this thought developed, I said to myself, “Of course.  It does.”

Stay tuned for future installments of “Conversations with Bertha”.

A growing faith

Charismatic renewal group El Shaddai celebrates six years in Grande Prairie

Kyle Greenham
ArchGM News

For Giegie Perez, El Shaddai has been a source of community, faith, and most importantly – healing.

When Perez first moved to Grande Prairie in 2018, her family was dealing with some difficult issues. At the time, their young daughter Chloe was continuously upset, crying into the late hours of the night.

St. Joseph’s parishioners Giegie Perez, her husband Elvin and children Chloe and Alex, are proud members of El Shaddai’s Grande Prairie chapter.

It was the prayers and support of the El Shaddai community that ultimately lifted them out of that trauma.

“We were praying the rosary, singing praise and worship, and then Chloe stopped crying for the first time in months,” Perez said, recalling her family’s first experience with El Shaddai. “It was a big help in our family. It gave us this sense of forgiveness, and all of the anger in our hearts that we were dealing with at the time, it was gone.

“Our lives changed in a major way when we joined El Shaddai.”

This year, the Catholic charismatic renewal group El Shaddai is celebrating six years in Grande Prairie. Their chapter was started in early 2015 by seven parishioners at St. Joseph’s Church, who had been a part of El Shaddai groups in the Philippines, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The Catholic charismatic renewal group El Shaddai has grown to more than 50 members at its Grande Prairie chapter.

El Shaddai began in 1984 by founder Mike Velarde, who had a profound religious conversion while overcoming a heart ailment. The experience inspired him to start his own radio program, which has now grown into one of the largest Catholic charismatic movements in the world. Worship in El Shaddai is centered on the celebration of Mass, and followed by a service filled with singing, dancing, studying Scripture and giving testimonials.

Archbishop Gerard Pettipas offered a video message for the El Shaddai group at St. Joseph’s, as they celebrated their sixth year at the parish.

His Grace Archbishop Gerard Pettipas offered a happy sixth anniversary to El Shaddai’s Grande Prairie chapter in a video message. He blessed and congratulated the group, and encouraged them to embrace devotion to St. Joseph and pray that fathers within their community will be the Christian role models God calls them to be.

“We started an El Shaddai chapter here because we wanted to grow in faith and be closer to God,” said Irene Llanto, who has been a part of El Shaddai since 1996. “For us, it’s about creating that faith that’s in our hearts. So we sing, we raise our hands and praise God, we pray in thanksgiving for our blessings, and pray through the midst of our trials.”

Llanto says the group are very grateful that St. Joseph’s Church and Archbishop Pettipas have allowed El Shaddai to flourish within the parish. The Grande Prairie chapter now has more than 50 members, although around 30 attend regularly. Because of the pandemic, they currently host their meetings over Zoom every Sunday. Many members had never heard of El Shaddai until they discovered the group at St. Joseph’s.

Singing, dancing and testimonials are a big part of El Shaddai’s worship. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the group have hosted their services on Zoom.

“St. Joseph’s Church has become like home for me,” said Llanto. “I made lots of friends from joining the choir and doing other things. One of the goals of El Shaddai is to help the parish and parish priest, whether it’s in music, eucharistic ministry, or whatever else. So we stay very involved.”

Since they first joined in 2018, Perez and her family have taken leading roles in St. Joseph’s El Shaddai chapter. Her husband Elvin now MCs their Sunday events and Perez plays guitar in their choir.

Families in El Shaddai’s Grande Prairie chapter celebrate a day outdoors.

It has also been a great aid in passing on faith to her children. Recently, Chloe and Perez prayed for a family friend who was struggling to get pregnant. When the friend finally did have her child, Chloe saw it as Christ answering their prayers.

“It has given us so many good experiences,” said Perez. “When we sing, when we hear the Gospel [through testimonials and studying the Scriptures] and understand it so much more, it helps our faith and has hugely impacted our family.”

What draws Llanto so strongly to El Shaddai is that it helps her experience the presence of God in a very real way.

Irene Llanto is a founding member of the El Shaddai group at St. Joseph’s Church in Grande Prairie

“When I’m singing, I feel something rise up in my heart. I really feel the presence of the Lord,” she said. “When I’m leading the worship, I feel like an angel is holding me.”

An important prayer in El Shaddai is asking God to grow the faith and bring more people to the Church. Similar El Shaddai chapters have recently started in High Level and Peace River.

“Because this diocese is so big we are always calling on God, asking Him for more workers,” said Llanto. “That’s one prayer we are always asking God – to give us more courage and help us in our goal of bringing more people to the Church.”

 

Missionary nun and Indigenous Catholic fondly remember the canonization of St. Kateri Tekakwitha

Kyle Greenham
ArchGM News

Sister Mary Jeanne Davidson can still recall the canonization of St. Kateri Tekakwitha like it was yesterday.

In those brief moments on October 21, 2012, as Pope Benedict XVI entered St. Peter’s Square and an organ resounded over the tens of thousands of people there, the School Sister of Notre Dame was touched profoundly.

Portrait of St. Kateria Tekakwitha at the Sacred Heart Church in Cadotte Lake, Alberta.

“Wherever this organ was I never saw, but it started playing ‘Veni Sancte Spiritus’ and I could feel it vibrating in my ribcage,” Sister Mary Jeanne recalled, in an interview before St. Kateri’s April 17 feast day.

“We all just felt fully alive and excited. I thought I was in an ocean with the saints in heaven, with all the Indigenous people on earth and the suffering Church – we were all one at that moment.”

As Canada’s first Indigenous saint, Kateri Tekakwitha’s life has touched many Catholics. Her canonization was a particularly moving experience for Billy Thomas of the Woodland Cree community in Cadotte Lake. Years before the canonization, Thomas had visited her grave in Kahnawake, Quebec.

“It’s like a dream to talk about it. People don’t believe I was there,” Thomas said. “It was certainly a proud moment seeing her canonized. She means a lot to native people. It struck my heart when I visited her grave, so when I heard about her canonization I decided right away I had to go.”

The saint is also close to Sister Mary Jeanne’s heart. The School Sister of Notre Dame has worked with indigenous communities in the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan since 2002, mainly in the areas of Cadotte Lake, Little Buffalo, and Duncan First Nations.

Sister Mary Jeanne Davidson

Sister Mary Jeanne believes devotion to St. Kateri can particularly inspire Indigenous people because of the many trials Kateri had to endure to keep her Catholic faith.

St. Kateri first heard the Gospel through Jesuit missionaries in her village. In 1669, when she was 13, Kateri helped these priests treat Mohawks and Mohicans wounded in battle. It further convinced her of the holiness of their faith.

Kateri then spent her days wandering through the woods and praying to Jesus. She would make crosses out of sticks and branches around her – something people devoted to Kateri still do today. Her family, however, did not approve of her new found faith and arranged to have her married. She resisted, having pledged her life to Christ, and eventually fled her village to live at the Jesuit mission of Kahnawake, south of Montreal, where she remained for the rest of her short life.

“It’d be wonderful to share her story more, to awaken devotion to St. Kateri in our communities,” said Sister Mary Jeanne. “I pray to her all the time, and we have many reasons to pray to her today.”

St. Kateri Tekakwitha

While she continually prays for Kateri’s intercession, actually going to her canonization was never the sister’s intention.

It was in June of 2012, from within the Woodland Cree community’s small log church named after the Sacred Heart of Jesus, that Sister Mary Jeanne announced to the people that a young Indigenous woman who died in Canada was going to be canonized a saint.

As she was about to hand out prayer cards of the soon-to-be-saint to parishioners, telling them to pour out all their hopes and prayers to Kateri, Billy Thomas piped up from the back of the church – “We should make a pilgrimage! And sister, you should come too!”

By the time that Mass was over, there was already five people in the parish determined to make a pilgrimage to Rome and be there for the canonization. Seven people in total went.

“They were so earnest to make this a pilgrimage, right from the get go,” Mary Jeanne recalled. “There were many obstacles along the way, but we prayed. We had faith.”

Billy Thomas provides music during Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Cadotte Lake.

Those obstacles came early on in the pilgrimage. Due to some forgotten passports, the group initially were split up at the Edmonton airport. But, providentially, they found each other two days later at the generalate for the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Rome. The group provided music for the sisters’ Masses each morning.

On the day of the canonization they took a taxi to St. Peter’s Square at 4 a.m. Although it was not scheduled to begin until 10 a.m., there were already lines of people crowding into the Square. Their taxi driver managed to take them near an opening gate and the group got front row seats to the canonization. As the hours went by, as many as 50,000 gathered there.

“A whole bunch of people from Canada were there, Indigenous people from all around the world,” said Thomas. “Somehow in that huge crowd we ran into our Archbishop Pettipas there, and then all of a sudden someone shouted my name ‘Billy! Billy!’ and a friend of mine from Manitoba was there too.”

“We made a circle there and prayed in thanksgiving and for the Church. It was just an incredible experience,” Mary Jeanne added. “In all things that happened we saw the hand of God.”

Billy Thomas initiated the pilgrimage to Rome that several Sacred Heart Church parishioners made for St. Kateri’s canonization.

They took with them sealed letters of prayer intentions from the Woodland Cree community. The group bonded on one specific prayer intention – that St. Kateri would help them in increasing faith and a love for the Eucharist in their community.

Sister Mary Jeanne believes that St. Kateri is still answering this prayer today. Recently, due to COVID-19 restrictions, Sacred Heart Church’s pastor Rev. Cyril Joseph placed a sign in the local store in Cadotte Lake, asking parents who would like to have their children baptized to provide their contact information. Then, those baptisms would be arranged one by one to comply with health restrictions.

After putting up the poster, Sister Mary Jeanne spoke “St. Kateri, please take care of this list.” Over the next two months, 17 families signed up to have their children baptized. It was a much larger number than they expected.

“So there is a quietly growing faith. God is working all the time and He is blessing our archdiocese,” said Sister Mary Jeanne. “We just have to keep listening to the Spirit, and find how the Spirit awakens faith in the people.”


St. Kateri Tekakwitha, intercede for us and pray for us, especially for the Indigenous people of this Archdiocese, of Canada and of North America. May your conversion story inspire many to seek and know Jesus. Amen.