As Greg Canero got ready for his first Mass as a Permanent Deacon at St. Joseph’s Parish in Mission, BC, he could not contain his excitement, but was nervous at the same time. “It’s a different hat, literally, for me,” he shares. “I was able to proclaim the Gospel for the first time in my life as a minister of the Church.” After all the years of his Catholic school upbringing, from St. Andrew’s in Vancouver to St. Patrick’s Secondary, he knew he was on track for something more in the service of God.
Serving the church in various capacities is a calling every Filipino child growing up Catholic had as an unwritten rule. For families like Deacon Greg’s and the five other Filipino-Canadian deacons who have been ordained in the last ten years since Archbishop Michael Miller officially restored the permanent diaconate in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, serving in the office of a permanent deacon is unheard of, since the permanent diaconate has not been restored in the Philippines. For most Filipinos growing up, especially in the Philippines, the priesthood belonged to the priest, and a deacon was a young man studying to become a priest, and nothing more. So, when the opportunity came for Filipino men to join the ministry, these six gentlemen prayed, discerned and wasted no time in joining the call, and are now ministering in their home parishes.
The first three deacons, Deacon Greg Barcelon, who heads the Filipino Ministry of the Archdiocese of Vancouver and serves at All Saints Parish, Deacon Raul Abella who serves at Precious Blood Parish, and Deacon Alvin Rint who serves at the Holy Rosary Cathedral, completed their program at the time the permanent diaconate was restored. Deacon Greg Canero and Deacon Vic Gallamos who serve at St. Joseph’s Parish in Mission and for Abbotsford Regional Hospital and the Prison Ministry respectively, and Deacon Wilfred Victoria who serves at St Monica’s Parish in Richmond and as a chaplain at the Vancouver Airport, were part of the second cohort. All six men ascribe their spiritual direction to their religious upbringing.
“I come from a family of priests and nuns,” Deacon Vic shares. “The call to the diaconate was a slow burn for me. I really didn’t see myself serving as a deacon, but in God’s time, I answered His call.” All the deacons agree that God chooses you and not the other way around.
“One just discerns the right time. The slow burn becomes a fire, and that fire lights up the world,” Deacon Vic finishes with a smile.
While some of the deacons heard the call recently, some of them heard it earlier on in life. Deacon Wilfred heard that call as a young student at St. Andrew’s School in Paranaque, the Philippines, where the boys were asked who were interested to enter the priesthood.
“I was thinking about it then, but had to back out after realizing it was going to cost quite a sum,” he said, knowing the costs would not be manageable for his family. He knows some of his classmates who did eventually enter priesthood, one of whom is now a cardinal in Rome, who gave him a lot of encouragement during his journey, and another friend who is currently a permanent deacon in San Francisco, USA.
The journey for Deacon Wilfred was paved with devotions to saints, especially Our Lady of Perpetual Help, whose shrine in Baclaran, Manila was his refuge as a working student at the University of Santo Tomas. “I consider myself a devoted ‘Baclaran boy’, and I would take a jeepney ride to the other end of Paranaque where my home was just to make sure I attended the Wednesday novenas to our Blessed Mother,” he shares.
Another key to the gathering of strength to go through their permanent diaconate journey, aside from the discernment and call from God, was the tireless and full support of their wives.
“Both my wife, Evelyn, and I constantly prayed for guidance and strength as we both discerned the permanent diaconate program. We also discussed and prayed about this with our children,” says Deacon Wilfred.
Evelyn Victoria couldn’t help her tears when Deacon Wilfred delivered his first homily. “I could hear my heart pounding and there was a seeming deafening silence in the Church,” she shares. “It felt like the Holy Spirit was surrounding us.” Together with the other wives, Evelyn attended the classes at St. Mark’s College with Deacon Wilfred.
“Our spouses have to be involved,” says Deacon Vic, whose wife also attended their academic studies and Sunday formations.
Deacon Greg Canero agrees. “From the very beginning, my discernment for the permanent diaconate thankfully involved my wife Methelyn. Together, as a family, we prayed for guidance to help in leading us toward God’s will and in cooperating with His plan for me and for my family,” he says. Their sons Noah and Nathan were also part of the discernment, and prayers from his Couples for Christ community also helped him on his journey.
While the road itself is not easy, balancing day jobs with church services and academics, these permanent deacons found solace in their work, both spiritual and academic, to really make perfect sense of their discernment.
“The greatest triumph that has come along in my journey is having a better understanding of who I am and a desire to deepen my relationship with Jesus,” says Deacon Greg. “He has become more real for me and my family, and that will stay on for us and for the next generation of Caneros.”
The spiritual, academic, and human formation that has helped the permanent deacons prepare for their diaconal service has given them the strength to go on the mission side by side with all the faithful in the archdiocese. Their direction began as a seed in their families, whose devotion to the faith has become the fuel to their spiritual fire, and a source of light for their own families and the communities in which they serve. From one generation to the next, Filipino Catholics in Vancouver will continue on this faith journey because of the dedication of their shepherds, and the support of the permanent deacons who have chosen to walk with them and with Jesus.