The time was October 1989 and the occasion was the first
hierarchal visit of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III to North America after
his release from the house arrest in the monastery that was ordered by
the government. Two Church members went to meet him during his visit
to Ottawa, and through a meeting with one of the accompanying
Bishops, it was recommended that it would be more effective if a folder
containing all the information about the Church be prepared and
presented to His Holiness. So, returning with this idea a folder was
made that contained:
A. A letter addressed to His Holiness.
B. A membership list (this was the first membership list compiled for the Church).
C. A group of pictures of the Church meetings.
It was decided that a good time to present the folder to His Holiness
would be when His Holiness consecrated the Church in Minneapolis.
Arrangements were made and three families went to meet with him.
Seeing the crowds, His Holiness directed them to meet him at the hotel
(to the surprise of the accompanying Bishops). The group went to the
hotel, met with him alone where he focused on them, and they
presented the situation to him, and his response was “fifteen families
and you want to have a priest. Do you think I have a box that produces
priests?” So the delegation was dismissed with his blessings and gifts.
The only outcome from this meeting was that St. Mark Church of
Winnipeg became known to His Holiness. (Father Mirone Klysh of the
Romanian Orthodox Church was very anxious to meet His Holiness, so
he joined the group and until this day, he frequently speaks of the impact
of this visit on him).
The following years saw little growth in the Church membership. It was
more of a substitution process rather than a growth, every person or
family who came to Winnipeg and stayed for a variable period of time
left a mark on the Church. One of the main sources of supply to the congregation was the University Graduate students or researchers, and
with the decline in University funding for such programs, the numbers
went down. The Province had not opened her doors for professional
licensing yet, therefore, the incentive was not there for foreign
graduates. At the same time, the spiritual needs were increasing as the
children of the first generation were growing up and in need of guidance
and spiritual nourishment.
The Church was served by Abouna Bisenti from Ottawa, Abouna Danial
from Calgary and Abouna Moussa, recently ordained, from Edmonton.
Even with three priests serving St. Mark, the Services did not exceed
one every two or three weeks, taking into consideration that the three
priests were sole servants in their own Churches and expected to attend
to the home Church’s needs first. And, of course, there were no
Services in St. Mark’s for major feasts.
Some of the Church members had approached Abouna Shenouda Anba
Bishoy in New Jersey to officiate, for the first time in Winnipeg, the
Services of Good Friday, Abou Ghalamsees and Resurrection of 1991.
He accepted the invitation and came. (The Holy week Services were
celebrated in three different locations subject to availability of space).
We knew later that such delegation for the feast services was supposed
to be through His Holiness and not through individual invitations. So as a
result of the initiative taken by the members, Winnipeg was not served
the following year. Instead, a group set out to Minneapolis to attend
Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Resurrection Eve there. Letters were
sent to His Holiness entreating that Winnipeg would be considered and
included in the delegation of priests for the Holy Festivities.
Abouna Danial Rizq made a plea on our behalf to His Holiness while
attending the annual priests’ seminar, and His Holiness delegated
blessed memory Abouna Mikhail Dawood of St. Mary’s Church of Rod al
Farag for the 1993 Resurrection Services.
That was the beginning of regular Services for the Holy Feasts that
carried on without any interruptions until St. Mark had the first appointed
priest in 1999.