Skaro's Marian pilgrimage draws newcomers, lifelong devotees

Pilgrims leave candles, symbolic of their prayer intentions, burning on the grotto following the Eucharistic procession after Mass.

WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN

Pilgrims leave candles, symbolic of their prayer intentions, burning on the grotto following the Eucharistic procession after Mass.

August 25, 2014
GLEN ARGAN
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Every year since 1919, Catholics have been coming to the beautiful Skaro shrine to celebrate the solemnity of the Assumption. And for the Aug. 14 vigil Mass and candlelight procession, the number of pilgrims was in the usual range of 3,000 to 4,000.

For a few dedicated souls, however, the Skaro shrine receives more than a once-a-year visit.

"Many people come and pray even in the deep snow in the wintertime," says Pallotine Father Francis Mariappa, pastor of the Skaro parish, located east of Fort Saskatchewan, for the past eight years.

The snow gets cleared out of the parking lot of the parish church adjacent to the shrine periodically in the winter, says Mariappa. But some of the Skaro devout forge out into the deep snow around the shrine to say a prayer and leave a lit candle.

Tall banners are carried first in the lengthy entrance process at the pilgrimage's vigil Mass.

WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN

Tall banners are carried first in the lengthy entrance process at the pilgrimage's vigil Mass.

One of those is Tony Huculak, 89, born and raised on a farm across the road from the shrine, but now a member of Edmonton's Our Lady of the Assumption Parish.

Huculak, whose grandfather Matheusz Huculak donated the five acres on which the shrine was built, estimates he makes 10 visits a year to pray at the shrine.

The grotto, built as a replica of the grotto at Lourdes, France, holds great significance for Tony beyond the fact that many of his relatives are buried in the nearby cemetery.

Every summer when he was young, the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement came and taught catechism to the children of the area for the two weeks prior to the pilgrimage.

Then there was the pilgrimage itself. "I was an altar boy; I did everything," he recalls.

Asked if he knows of any miracles or healings associated with Skaro, Huculak tells of his uncle Carl Kuzminsky who helped build the grotto despite an injured hip. While driving the wagon, he hit a stump which broke the wagon and threw him onto the ground. Rather than exacerbating the injury, the accident helped to heal Kuzminsky's hip and he was ever grateful to the Virgin Mary for this favour.

Tony and Anne Huculak of Edmonton's Assumption Parish are long-time pilgrims with deep roots in the Skaro area.

WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN

Tony and Anne Huculak of Edmonton's Assumption Parish are long-time pilgrims with deep roots in the Skaro area.

Huculak estimates he has missed attending the pilgrimage only 10 times since his birth in 1925. Crowds in the early years were small compared with those of today. "It has just grown larger and larger."

One reason for the growth is that about a dozen parishes now reserve a bus to transport pilgrims to the event.

While Tony and his wife Anne drove to Skaro, other members of Assumption Parish, along with those from Resurrection Parish, made their 75-km pilgrimage from Edmonton in a comfortable bus.

Some come to the pilgrimage wearing their traditional Polish attire.

WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN

Some come to the pilgrimage wearing their traditional Polish attire.

For Brenda Cote, the bus ride was her first Skaro pilgrimage since her childhood growing up in the Plamondon area. For her husband Ron, it was the first pilgrimage period.

"It's so special to go as a parish and a community," said Ron. "It shows a sense of family."

He paid tribute to the small Skaro parish which organizes and runs the pilgrimage.

So too did Mariappa who spoke of the tremendous involvement of parishioners who do their utmost to receive the pilgrims who want to pray to the Virgin Mary.

"The devotion of the people is something to admire," said the pastor. "Even though we are priests, we can learn from them how to have the fear of God and reverence for the Holy Eucharist."

Also on the bus were Resurrection parishioners Norm and Fran Purschke. Norm was raised nearby and his grandfather was also involved in building the grotto nearly 100 years ago.

Norm began attending the pilgrimage as a youngster during the Second World War when horses, not cars and buses, were the main means of transportation. He estimates he's been a Skaro pilgrim 25 times, this year being his first trip via bus.

"It gets you here in pretty good time," he says.

Fran also grew up nearby, in her case in Radway, 25 kms straight north of the shrine. She made the pilgrimage with her family every year as did people from all the surrounding towns.

Today? Fran has joined those who think the bus is a fine way to make the pilgrimage.