WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Fr. Michael Dechant blesses one of the many children attending the Holy Childhood Association Mass
Students from across the archdiocese belong to a special and longstanding association, one in which children help children in faraway nations.
The Holy Childhood Association was started about 150 years ago in France. Right from the beginning its goal was children helping children.
"Not everyone can be a missionary. Not everyone can go to where people are in need," said Msgr. Jack Hamilton, who presided at the annual Holy Childhood Association Mass May 2. "Some of us can be a missionary in a sense of helping those who go on missions."
The annual Mass was held at Holy Family Church in St. Albert. The church was filled with students from Edmonton, St. Albert, Sherwood Park, Spruce Grove, Leduc and Drayton Valley.
The students contributed actively in the Mass by doing readings, presenting the gifts and leading prayers.
Hamilton, vicar general of the archdiocese, said students help by praying for all of the world's children, learning about other areas of the world and contributing money. They look in newspapers for photos of children in other countries who are in need of help.
"We give what we can," he said, even if it's the simple act of saying a Hail Mary for those who are sick, poor, hungry or disabled. We collect our change during the year and give it to the Holy Childhood Association, which ensures that our monetary contributions go to children requiring food, shelter, medicine, drinking water, school supplies, clothing, all those things that we tend to take for granted," he said.
In the archdiocese, children's contributions to the Holy Childhood have grown steadily from $731 in 1984 to a high of $95,422 in 2008.
"Did you know that the children of Alberta contribute more to the Holy Childhood Association than all of the rest of Canada combined?" asked Hamilton. "What a generous spirit of giving there is Edmonton, Calgary and all those surrounding areas!"
WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Br. Dan Dionne drums some happy beats for the Holy Childhood Association children.
The priest noted the Canadian government has discontinued the penny. Yet jars full of pennies are saved in many households. He encouraged the students to enlist their parents to give those pennies to the Holy Childhood.
The association traces its roots to Bishop Charles de Forbin-Janson who was one of many French bishops serving as a missionary in the United States in the 1840s. For two years Forbin-Janson preached retreats, celebrated Masses in small chapels, and gathered children for religious instruction in centres across the eastern United States and Canada.
His longtime dream was to help children of these poor mission churches. Through this dream, the Holy Childhood Association was born. Forbin-Janson appealed to the children of France to reach out in faith and love to help the children of the United States, Canada and China. Today, his vision of "children helping children" continues.
After learning about the needs of the world's poorest children, students are invited to pray and to offer financial assistance so children in poorer nations may know Christ and experience his love.
The Holy Childhood Association was introduced in Canada in 1933, originating in Vancouver. Over the years it gained acceptance in other dioceses, including Edmonton.
Louis Kloster, religious education consultant for Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division, said where there is a need, children will respond.
When students learn about the needs of children in other parts of the world, they are eager to help, Kloster said.
Every school takes a different approach to support the association. Most donate money from fundraisers, such as bake sales and carwashes. The schools receive educational materials from Holy Childhood Association in the autumn and spring. The package contains information on the needs in various countries.
In 2002, money went to rebuild a small village hospital in East Timor. In 2004, funds went towards food relief in India where many children have been diagnosed with malnutrition.
"When we make a contribution to the Holy Childhood Association it isn't specifically to a particular country. We allow the organization to decide where the money's greatest need is," said Kloster.