Tag Archives: grande prairie

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

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.”