Andrew Stendzina OMI shares the growing missionary consciousness in the Oblate parish of St. Albert.
Andrew is very involved with his fellow parishioners in developing a mission consciousness within the very large parish of St. Albert, in St. Albert, Alberta. This has been an Oblate parish since its founding one hundred and fifty one years ago.
With a very large smile this very quiet man summed up this developing mission sense within the parish. “An Oblate parish is not determined by its location. It is not only a parish up in the sticks but you can have an Oblate parish anywhere if you do what the Oblate charism says we should be doing. The people are getting excited about this. The bottom line is to help others. This is what St. Eugene was doing.”
In his scholasticate days Andrew was preparing to join the Polish Oblates in Madagascar by learning the French language. With a chuckle he was reminded that he came out to the cold Northern Canada in 1988 to learn English. His first mission was to the Dene people in Fort Simpsom, NWT, where he was ordained a priest by Bishop Croteau, OMI, in 1990. His parish office in St. Albert carries many signs of his connection with the First Nations peoples. He has a well-used beaded stole and a hand built lamp all done with bead work from the North.
“It was Fr. Gerry LeStrat that first gave us the idea of twinning our parish with the Oblate parishes in Guatemala. We have moved beyond just being twinned to our support of the orphanage in Sumpango, Guatemala. This is an orphanage of sixty children, all of whom are HIV infected. We are involved in a sponsorship program where a family here in Alberta will sponsor one child in Guatemala.
“Our people also do a mission experience and they go to Guatemala for two weeks. We have had roughly thirty parishioners who have made such a mission experience. I myself went there first to prepare things. On this first trip the Oblates in Guatemala showed us all their works. We saw how they lived and worked in Guatemala.
“For these Canadian people and for myself, it is a life-changing experience. This is always beyond imaging what it could be when you see it on the TV screen. Canadians appreciate what they have a lot more when they come back home.
“We also have a scholarship program in St. Cecilia in Mixco (just outside of Guatemala City). There are around eighty children that our scholarships help put these kids through school. The local people are very involved in deciding which families should receive the scholarships. These people give us pictures and a report back on the children we are sponsoring.” Andrew opened his computer to show the photos of the children who were in school and the Oblate Associates who are very involved in this project.
“Here in St. Albert we ran a collection through the St. Albert School system to collect backpacks and school supplies for the children of Chicman (a town in the middle of Guatemala). In Guatemala education is free but the children have to be able to provide their own school supplies. Here in St. Albert we collected two thousand backpacks and additional supplies for these children.”
The mission experience is never a one way affair. “Every second year we (people of St. Albert parish) visit their twin parish in Guatemala and every second year they come here. This is all about building relationships.”
It is never sufficient to focus only beyond the borders of Canada. St. Albert Parish has looked towards the Canadian North. At the present moment efforts are being made to link up with the Toktoyaktuk (affectionately known to Canadians as ‘Tuk’) parish with the Arctic circle. Canada also has its mission stations.
“We are asking them what they need. It is not our idea to tell them what they need but to listen to these people.” The people in this very northerly community are identifying their needs. “They need expertise. They need professional workers and people who can supervise construction.
“Last February our people ventured on an experience of the North. About eight parishioners made a trip to Tuk. This is the first part of our mission experience. Now we have to do the follow up about what can be done in the Tuk community. We are hoping to have an exchange and have these people come down to visit us. As with other communities in the North there are a lot of social issues. We want to help them out but this is first of all about building social relationships.”
Andrew has great affection for the North. He remembers helping out with Christmas ministry sixteen years ago. On the trip last February to Tuk the people pulled out photos of the children he had baptized when he was there for Christmas sixteen years previously.
Within the St. Albert Parish there are between thirty and forty people who are involved in studying the Oblate charism. Andrew has edited and created DVD disks which contain the talks of Fr. Ron Rolheiser on the Oblate charism. These interested parishioners are working through these talks and applying this input to their growing missionary consciousness. The formation is not limited to study but, added Andrew, “part of the formation involves helping to prepare and serve meals to the homeless peoples of the Edmonton core areas.”
Working towards this missionary consciousness did not happen overnight. Andrew added that “it took at least three years before the parish became involved in Guatemala. Everything we do is well publicized. We do not select who can and cannot come but the invitation goes out to everyone in the parish.
“When we asked interested people to come and learn about going on this mission trip there were thirty people who showed up for the first meeting. Everyone learned that they could be involved but some saw that their participation would not be in working in Guatemala but by helping back here at home. This is always a group decision.”
Andrew concluded our discussion about the growing missionary awareness. We went to learn because we “toured first and listened to what the people needed. We had to learn to be open to what is out there. At the bottom line it is always about relationships. This is always us and them.”
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