First Meeting with His Holiness Pope Shenouda III

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.