WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Pilgrims with candles in hand make their way up the Skaro grotto in the Eucharistic procession following the Mass on the Vigil of the Assumption Aug. 14.
Mary's Assumption smashes the illusion of our world and gives us solid hope that death has no sting, said Archbishop Richard Smith.
"It is an indispensable part of our lives as Christians to bow down in wonder and awe before the mystery of what God has accomplished through Mary," Smith told the annual Marian pilgrimage at Skaro Aug. 14, the vigil of the Assumption.
The archbishop spoke of his participation at the recent Knights of Columbus supreme convention in Anaheim, Calif. Children were entranced by nearby Disneyland.
"What I saw there was a place of the unreal, a place of illusion. It's a place where people go to escape reality into illusion," he said. "What I saw in Disneyland was also a sign of what the rest of our western society is doing again and again: escaping from reality into illusion."
There is a misunderstanding that one can live an isolated life, apart from God, and somehow be happy, Smith said. There is a falsehood that one can flee from objective moral truth into the illusion of relativism, the fantasy that people can fashion their own morality. Another illusion is that earthly death is the end.
The Assumption of Mary smashes those illusions.
"Mary's privilege was unique, given to no other. Yet because of the death and resurrection of her son, we needed hope, real hope, that death, to paraphrase St. Paul, ultimately has no sting, no victory," the archbishop said.
In a sense, Disneyland stood as a testament to falsehood.
"We are called to be visible, seen as witnesses giving testimony, not to illusion but to reality, not to falsehood but to truth. By our lives, we give witness to the one who is true, to Jesus," said Smith.
From such a mission comes the Skaro pilgrimage. The annual occasion makes visible to others the faith, trust and confidence that God is real.
The annual pilgrimage to Skaro has been held for 94 years, attracting thousands of visitors from across the Prairies every summer.
Skaro was a small Polish agricultural settlement, about 80 km northeast of Edmonton. Settled at the start of the 20th century, its residents built a small chapel of Our Lady of Good Counsel in 1904, then a larger church in 1918.
In 1919, parishioners began construction of a small replica of the famous grotto of Lourdes in France. The grotto was designed by Father Philip Roux, a Greek Catholic Oblate who served in the region.
WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith says Christians must bow down in awe before what God has accomplished through Mary.
The construction was done mostly by Polish parishioners from Skaro, although neighbouring Ukrainians and Poles from other settlements helped.
The labour was done primarily by hand, and with the help of a horse-drawn cart. The grotto was completed in August 1919 and still stands today.
The first pilgrimage to the shrine occurred Aug. 15, 1919. More than 4,000 pilgrims came from Edmonton, Leduc and the nearby Polish settlements. Some ventured from as far as Calgary.
People travel from afar to attend the pilgrimage.
Karol Pawlak, from Maidstone, Sask., included the stop in his summer itinerary. Between staying at relatives' homes across Saskatchewan and Alberta, he and his wife made sure to schedule the pilgrimage into their plans.
"Everything else in the summer gets jumbled about, but I try to keep some things the same, like going to Mass. I don't miss Mass on Sunday. I heard about this, and knew I had to be here," said Pawlak.
His wife had been to the pilgrimage many years before, but this was Pawlak's first time.
At present, Albertans of Polish origin comprise the seventh largest ethnic group in Alberta, based primarily in Edmonton and Calgary.
Cheryl Hancar went to the pilgrimage many years ago. She made the spontaneous decision to return this year following an invitation from her priest, Father James Banu Bodula, from her parish of St. Margaret Mary in Calmar.
"The whole experience is very humbling, a very moving experience," said Hancar.
She said the large crowd, the outdoor setting, candlelight procession, and the strong focus on Mary make it unlike a typical Mass. She recommends the pilgrimage to her friends.
Jonathan Bates, from Edmonton's St. Edmund's Parish, told the WCR that he would also recommend the pilgrimage to his friends, but most of them are not Catholic. That has not stopped him from returning again and again.
"I come every year. I like coming here. It makes me feel good, calm, peaceful. I really enjoy this, the outdoors, interesting weather," said Bates.
The sky was grey, and light rain fell during Mass. But that did not deter hundreds from partaking in the Eucharist and the candlelight procession with the Blessed Sacrament to the top of the grotto.
The next morning was another special Mass that included the Sacrament of the Sick.