In November 2022, I had the opportunity to correspond with Andrea Zacarías Reyes and Sandra Okoye about their reasons for gratitude, since settling into Canada in 2022. We had recently celebrated Thanksgiving at the time. Now, in a season of Lent, we find simplicity and draw close in our relationship to the Lord. I would like to take the opportunity to introduce these beautiful young women who exemplify finding joy in their relationship with Jesus.

Andrea is from Aguascalientes, México and Sandra is from Nigeria. They both chose St. Maurice to be their parish in 2022, after arriving to Canada. They completed the Fall Alpha Program. I have enjoyed getting to know them personally. We hope you enjoy a few of their brief reflections.

1. We recently celebrated Thanksgiving and had an opportunity to reflect on what we are grateful for. Are there any holidays in your previous country when you do a similar practice? What does it look like?      

Andrea: Posadas are a series of festivities that have been held in Mexico since colonial times. Its origin is of a religious nature, in which the pilgrimage of Joseph and Mary on their way to Bethlehem is represented. Since the end of the 18th century, they have been part of popular culture as they are organized by families.  At first, these festivities were called "Aguinaldo Masses" and since then they have been held from December 16 to 24 in the atriums of churches and convents. The celebration consisted of proclaiming the mass together with passages and representations alluding to Christmas.

Additionally, small gifts were given to the attendees, known as bonuses. Once the guests have gathered for this celebration, they prepare to represent the request for accommodation made by Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary on their pilgrimage from the city of Nazareth on their way to Bethlehem. To symbolize this event, the guests make two groups, one of them must leave the house accompanied by figures representing the pilgrims, Joseph and Mary, who ask for lodging at the door singing a litany.

Sandra: In my country there is no official public holiday when we celebrate thanksgiving. It is done as a religious activity once in a year and it is called “Annual Harvest and Bazaar”. It’s a full day activity. It starts with mass where everyone brings to the altar food, gifts, cash, harvest from their farms, and so much more. They dance to the altar in thanksgiving. This is done after the holy communion. The choir sings and everyone one is happy, dancing to the altar with their gifts in thanksgiving. This is the first part.  

The second part starts after the mass. This is the sales of the gifts offered during the first stage; the thanksgiving stage above. Here each of the gifts are auctioned outside the church and the highest bidder for each of them buys them. The revenue generated from this is for the church and handed over to the parish priest. For this harvest and bazaar as a whole, there is a committee set up months ahead to oversee it and ensure it is successful.

2. During this past Thanksgiving in Canada, what was something you were grateful for?    

Andrea: For the beautiful opportunity to be here in another country, learning, maturing and above all growing in every way. God has been good to me.

Sandra: I am grateful for life and surviving in a new country.

3. Have you had any experiences since coming to Canada you would like to share with our readers? Funny or inspirational?   

Andrea: I believe that being here is more than proof that God is good and has not left me alone at any time. My city of Aguascalientes is characterized by being one of the states in Mexico with the most beautiful sunsets and it is something that I enjoyed a lot in my city. When I arrived here, the Lord showed me beautiful sunsets, painted in a thousand colors, that made me feel at home. 

Sandra: Yes. I arrived Canada during the winter. One hilarious thing that happened to me was my first drastic fall in the snow. One day I was hurrying out of the house not realizing that the floor is slippery, I saw myself on the floor. . I stood up and laughed at myself.

4. I'm grateful you chose St. Maurice to be your parish (and we met). How did you make that choice?  

Andrea: It has things similar to my parish in Mexico; having Our Lord Exposed in the Blessed Sacrament during the day and the week was the first thing that attracted me. The Eucharistic celebration and finally, the people who have invited me to continue attending.

Sandra: My husband told me about the church and it is pretty close to our house.

5. What has caused you to keep coming back to St. Maurice? 

Andrea: The masses and the Alpha group.

Sandra: The community life and good people in St Maurice. They are very welcoming.   

I admire Andrea and Sandra for leaving behind a familiar country and embarking on life in Canada. Their smiles are contagious, as they bring joy into the room. The scripture that comes to mind when I reflect on their reasons for gratitude is: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” Philippians 4:13. They are sprinting through challenges as they come, using a foundation of faith. Life is not perfect; however, they have a perfect ally in Jesus.