Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 2, 2007
St. Albert, Chicaman parishes bless each other by sharing
Guatemalan parish has 40 men being trained for the priesthood
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
Father Andrew Stendzina, pastor of St. Albert Parish, gave me a call a while back. "What would you think about moving forward with the idea of twinning our Parish of St. Albert with your parish of Chicaman in Guatemala?"
He sure got my complete attention in a hurry. On my visit to Canada last summer we had broached that possibility, but it was slightly dormant. He woke it up in a big hurry.
About 10 years ago, as provincial superior of the Oblates of Alberta and the Northwest Territories, I had gone to Poland with the hope of securing a few good young Oblates to help with our northern missions.
Search for Oblates
Indeed, I could see our personnel dwindling rapidly with the passing of the years.
With the blessing of the Oblate superior general in Rome, I went to Poland and experienced first-hand the paranoia that to my eyes had seized that country which was controlled by the Communist regime. For example, when I left to get on the plane I had to go through no less than six checkpoints, my passport, the opening and checking of my suitcase, emptying the contents of my pockets.
At one of these checkpoints, I had to go through a narrow door only to find myself nose to nose with an embarrassed and sweating young soldier. Then I was allowed to pick up my suitcase and head out to meet a couple of Polish Oblates who rescued me from further embarrassment.
Once inside the gates of the Oblate property and after meeting a few Oblates, I felt comfortable again and very much at home.
The purpose of my visit was to beg the Polish Oblate authorities to grant us a great favour - a few young priests to help us maintain our presence and our ministry in the North and elsewhere.
As it turned out they offered us four young priests. Among them was the freshly ordained Father Andrew Stendzina.
This good Father Andrew is now the pastor of the Parish of St. Albert, a respected and beloved missionary priest. I felt I could share with him the poverty situation in Guatemala and perhaps receive some help from his parish.
Immediately I noticed a light in his eyes and a big smile on his face. He was definitely interested and he said that he would get back to me. When we met again, we talked about twinning our two parishes, with each contributing something to the other.
My thought was: "What can the destitute parish of Chicaman contribute to the well-to-do St. Albert Parish?"
Father Andrew indicated that sharing our poverty with St. Albert by allowing St. Albert Parish to share of its well-being would be a blessing to both. So both can be a needed gift to the other. The richer would help the poorer and the poorer would share its poverty by accepting with joy the gracious support offered and all would be gaining.
Blessed by Father Andrew's enthusiasm with the concept of twinning our two parishes I felt that I was experiencing love, generosity, joy and true reciprocity. Both were winners . . . and winners in a big way.
To make the concept of twinning parishes more concrete I offer a few examples. What can Chicaman offer St. Albert Parish? Let me assure you, it can contribute big time to St. Albert and to the Church.
Chicaman, a parish of 70 villages and Playa Grande, another Oblate parish with 120 villages, are two huge parishes and both have candidates to the priesthood and religious life. In our parish of Playa Grande, we are supporting 16 young men who are finishing their high school this spring.
Four young men are spending a year doing mission work with the Oblates, two in the parish of Playa Grande and two more in Chicaman.
Three other young men are doing a year of pre-novitiate in Guadalajara, Mexico. Another candidate is doing his novitiate year in Paraguay and he's a few months away to being a full-fledged seminarian.
We have 13 seminarians doing two years of philosophy and five years of theology at the diocesan seminary in Guatemala City. Three more seminarians are studying theology at the same seminary and another is doing the same in Bolivia.
Our first Guatemalan Oblate priest, already a deacon, will be ordained to the priesthood later this year.
In total, we have about 40 young men training to be priests. The Oblate Province of Mexico has agreed to pay the costs for the seminarians studying theology, the last step to the priesthood.
The costs of training the pre-novices and the novices as well as the ones doing their two years of philosophy are up to us, a daunting and an almost impossible dream. But in the concept of twinning our parish of Chicaman with that of St. Albert, the impossible dream may be transformed into a wonderful and blessed reality.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in the twinning process, there are other needs to face: the building of churches and providing bursaries for worthy students. But that is for another day.
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