WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Hundreds of pilgrims join with Archbishop Sylvain Lavoie in blessing Lac St. Anne July 17, the second day of the annual pilgrimage that draws tens of thousands of people from across North America.
As Sunday afternoon Mass ended July 17, Archbishop Sylvain Lavoie of Keewatin-Le Pas, Man., led his large congregation from the shrine to the shore of Lac St. Anne.
Standing on a stage near the shore, Lavoie welcomed the congregation to the blessing of the lake ceremony and praised the Lord for the beautiful 30C weather.
"We celebrate water without which all that lives would shrivel and wither away," he said. And then he prayed, "As we gather to bless this lake, part of your creation, open our ears to hear your word and our minds to do your will.'"
The whole congregation participated in the blessing by turning toward the lake and each raising their hands.
Following the blessing, people went into the lake in droves, anxious to dip themselves in the now-sacred waters. Some older people went in pushing their walkers. Others were helped by family and went far into the lake. People carried jugs to take the blessed liquid home. Many lined up to receive a blessing from Lavoie and Oblate Father Andrzej Stendzina, pastor of St Albert Parish, in the lake.
The blessing of the lake is one of the most popular ceremonies of the pilgrimage, which this year ran July 16 to 21. The lake makes an ideal place of gathering and allows generations of native people to carry on both family and Catholic traditions.
Gina Potts-Alexis, the pilgrimage events coordinator, said, "We have the healing power of God at the water. God created the water as a blessing. It's God who has power, not the water."
"People come to the pilgrimage because they are faithful to the Catholic Church; it's been passed on from generation to generation," she said.
Potts-Alexis, who has been attending the event for more than 40 years, described it as a community of faith and fellowship where one can meet people from across Western Canada and beyond. Most of the people who camp are aboriginal, she said. Day visitors are usually non-aboriginal and they come for Mass, Confession and other events.
At the lake, Bernadette Blackman of Cold Lake walked a few feet past the shore to pray in silence looking at the water. She has been coming since age one. Now 75, she walks with the help of a cane.
WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Shelia Mason, centre, gets help in carrying her legless husband Loren out of the lake.
"I pray so that God gives me strength and faith," she says. "I had a heart operation three years ago and now I'm doing a lot better thanks to the water of the lake. Last year I could barely walk."
Alex Crowchild went into the lake with wife Mavis and granddaughter Latacha, six. They belong to the Tssutina First Nations Reserve, southwest of Calgary.
"We come here for healing," Crowchild said. "We understand that Lac St. Anne is a very sacred place. We come to heal our spirits and to work with natural law, the law of our mother earth."
Mary Moberly, an 80-year-old native woman from Tender Lake, needed help to push her walker out of the lake. She had had a knee operation and went into the lake seeking relief. "This water is good for me," she said. "It's healthy."
After receiving a blessing from Lavoie, Sheila Mason of St. Theresa Point, Man., placed her husband on her back and carried him out of the lake.
The man, Loren Mason, has no legs. He lost them three years ago during a camping trip. He fell asleep besides a campfire and since he has neuropathy due to his diabetes, he couldn't feel that his legs were burning.
Loren has prostheses but he can hardly wear them because they are tight and cause sores. Sheila took him into the water so he could find relief from his constant pain.
"I hope it works," she said. The Masons have seven children but this year they came alone because with the kids around they can't pray or participate in other rituals.