Canadian priest, Fr Arthur Winikoff, plays with some of Filipino orphans staying at the Saint Francis House in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner)
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jun 1, 2011) – A Canadian priest, the Reverend Father Arthur Winikoff, continues to make miracles for tens of dozens of children over the last two decades in the southern Filipino city called Zamboanga in Mindanao island.
The priest, who arrived in Zamboanga in 1987, founded the Saint Francis House, an orphanage for street and abandoned children. Father Winikoff, of the ‘Our Blessed Mother of Victory Mission Foundation Incorporated, has worked tremendously hard - harder still to take care of the children all those long years and up to now.
He started his missionary work by going around at night in Zamboanga and bringing with him hot porridge and freshly-baked bread and giving every single street child and the hungry food to fill their empty stomachs and offered them home and new hope in life in God’s care and mercy.
“Thank God and to all those who continue to help,” he says, as he cites the passage in the Holy Bible – Matthew Chapter 25, Verse 40 - “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done [it] unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done [it] unto me.”
The 62-year old Father Winikoff says the vision of the Saint Francis House is to promote the Kingdom of God - both in words and deeds - especially through the service to those most in need.
“Our main apostolate is with the less fortunate children – the out of school youth, orphans, abandoned and neglected children, abused kids, street urchins.”
“Our aim is to give these children a dignified and brighter future – a future they can in turn offer to their very own children,” he says.
Father Winikoff says the mission of the orphanage is to provide the children with a decent home where they can have stability - a sense of permanence and an atmosphere of love.
The children, he says, are provided with dedicated staff, nourishing food, adequate clothing, medical attention and suitable education. “Most importantly, they are provided with a good moral atmosphere where their emotional and spiritual needs can be met,” he says.
Many children at the orphan house say they are happy with Father Winikoff, who acts as their friend, brother and father – all rolled into one – one good priest.
Now, with almost 100 wards in his care, some of them have already finished school, some have jobs of their own – but they still have one thing in common – they all return to Saint Francis House to volunteer in their free time, to teach and take care of the children.
One of the orphans is now studying at a law school in Zamboanga City. The others are enrolled at computer schools. And one has completed a degree in Social Work.
“Saint Francis House will continue to provide the children of God not only shelter, love and care, but also education so as to prepare them for their future. And most importantly, we want the children to always value God from whom we can always find peace,” Father Winikoff says.
He says he wanted to put up more orphanages in Mindanao to help poor children in the streets, but times are also difficult nowadays as Saint Francis House continues to exist through donations made by people with big heart and by benevolent organizations.
Saint Francis House spends over half a million pesos every month for the operation of the orphanage. “Just like Saint Francis of Assisi, I always beg for help so that we can continue taking care of the poor children,” Father Winikoff says.
At the orphanage, a huge statue of Saint Francis stands by the doorway and besides the wooden figure are statues of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mother. And the whole house are laden with figures and images of Catholic Saints and dozens of plaques and framed letters and three of them were written by Philippine President Corazon Aquino – praising the Canadian priest for his strong devotion in helping the poor children.
“As long as I am still strong, I will continue to beg and beg for the welfare of the poor children,” Father Winikoff says. (Mindanao Examiner)