St. Joseph the Worker parishioners packed and sent 300 aid boxes to the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos, Philippines, above, visited the Thornhill, Ont., parish Aug. 21 to personally thank volunteers for all they had done. (Photo courtesy of St. Joseph the Worker parish) Photo by Jean Ko Din

Thornhill parish stands out for its Haiyan aid

By 
  • August 25, 2015

THORNHILL, Ont. - The Philippines received relief aid from around the world when Typhoon Haiyan hit the country’s shores almost two years ago. But for Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of the Diocese of San Carlos, it was one Canadian parish that stands out for having left a particular impact on his community.

On Aug. 21, Alminaza paid a visit to that parish, St. Joseph the Worker parish in Thornhill, to celebrate a thanksgiving Mass and to meet the community that sent 300 donation boxes to typhoon victims.

After the Mass, the bishop was welcomed into the community like a local celebrity. During the dinner reception, he met with a few of the volunteers who organized the donation drive two years ago and thanked them all personally.

“I think that the person-to-person encounter is still the best way. The impact is different... rather than just writing a letter or sending a video clip,” said Alminaza. “For me, coming in person is a way of telling people God became one of us... I think that at the heart of evangelization it should really be a personal encounter.”
Typhoon Haiyan, known in the Philippines as Typhoon Yolanda, was one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded. It was also the deadliest Philippine typhoon in modern history, killing at least 6,300 people and affecting 4.1 million people. In municipalities hardest hit by the typhoon, homes and livelihoods were completely destroyed.

When St. Joseph the Worker parishioners — many of whom are of Filipino ancestry — caught news of Typhoon Haiyan’s devastation in November 2013, Susan Dela Rosa and members of the Eucharistic Apostles of the Divine Mercy (EADM) prayer group began to mobilize the community.

“It was for Philippines. It was for kababayan (fellow countrymen), so we knew we had to pull our resources together,” said Dela Rosa.

Vlad Mamaradlo, lay youth pastoral assistant, said that because it was the Christmas season, pastor Fr. Mario Salvadori preached about giving more than just your leftovers to the poor.

“Just like at Christmas, you wouldn’t be too happy if you got a used gift. The poor don’t deserve any less,” said Mamaradlo. “One of the things we did, right after Christmas, people picked one or two of their gifts and brought it to the church.”

Within two weeks, the volunteers had collected hundreds of donations of canned food, clothes, shoes, toys and other necessities. They also received donations from parishes in Toronto and Mississauga.
Dela Rosa’s husband Roland donated the boxes and tape they used to package the goods. Another parishioner volunteered to cover all costs for shipping.

Fr. Jublas Nolasco, chaplain at Toronto’s St. Joseph’s Health Centre, along with parishioner Lucy Marasigan, flew to the Philippines where they met with Alminaza to distribute the boxes throughout San Carlos and Capiz.

“Everyone was concentrating their efforts in Tacloban, but (the typhoon) literally passed by the Philippines and there’s a whole chunk that got affected,” said Mamaradlo.

Alminaza said he was amazed to have received so many donations from one parish community. He said the people of San Carlos truly felt the generosity from their brothers and sisters in Canada.

“Definitely, those who have received the help felt the love and the concern of the people here,” said Alminaza. “They don’t even know their names and they were recipients of their generosity.”

When Dela Rosa heard that the bishop was in town, visiting different parishes in the Archdiocese of Toronto as part of ShareLife’s annual missionary appeal, she saw it as an opportunity to give parishioners a personal connection to the parish’s efforts from two years ago.

Alminaza said that although he has come to Canada for ShareLife many times, this is the first time he was able to visit the parish. He hopes the visit is only the beginning of a continued relationship with St. Joseph the Worker in the future.

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