Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of August 23, 1999
Renewed at Lac Ste. Anne
Pilgrimage draws tens of thousands for spiritual healing
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
Lac Ste. Anne
There were no handicapped people rising from wheelchairs at Lac Ste. Anne, but Chris Hennessey believes miracles do happen during the annual week-long pilgrimage.
"This isn't one of those things like you see on TV where sick people are instantaneously cured with a touch of a hand, but there is a miracle here," said the Edmonton resident. "There is a certain miracle of the heart. I truly believe that. Everyone that comes here leaves with a lighter heart. There is a healing of what was bothering you when you come here.
"The blessing of the water, the people around you, the prayer . . . it's part of a miracle that changes you here, within yourself."
Hennessey was among more than 30,000 people from far and wide who came to Lac Ste. Anne July 24 to 29 for the annual pilgrimage.
This having been her third year at the event, Hennessey sees herself as a "rookie pilgrimager" - if there's such a word.
"I think I sound kind of like some religious nut, but I get this renewed spirit everytime I come here. I leave thinking 'Wow, I had this intense weekend. God and I can totally do anything.'"
The exuberant Christian doesn't want to be the spokesperson for pilgrimage attendants, but she's confident when she says, "I think everyone leaves here feeling 10 times better than when they came."
Each year, thousands of people make their way to Lac Ste. Anne. Rows of domed tents and blue tarped shade structures extending from mobile homes fill the site. Voices reciting the rosary echo from speakers and fill the air from the lake to the parking lot. Queues of devotees, their eyes closed in deep prayer, await their turn for Confession. Men and women counting change to purchase plastic crucifixes.
Crowds roll up their pant legs and wade prayerfully into the lake after its blessing. Children run to and fro, many of whom are eyeing the event as a family camping trip.
"All the older people pray and go to the church," said 11-year-old Glen Dreyer. "My grandmother goes to the church all the time. I like to go to the lake and swim. Sometimes she makes me go to the church with her, but I don't stay there too long."
Chris Carney, a youth ministry worker, has made the annual trip from her home in Washington for the past five years.
"Everyone comes here for their own reasons," Carney said. "The kids aren't here for the same reasons as their parents. They're kids. We try to involve them and help them understand what this is all about."
Carney and her fellow youth ministers offered skits, songs and games as an alternative to the prayers and Masses which many youths may not be too keen on attending.
"We want to bring God to the kids too," Carney said. "We try to do that through ways the kids will understand and participate in."
Ricky Walker accompanied friends from Vancouver to the pilgrimage. His first visit to the pilgrimage was worth the 12-hour road trip.
"This is a beautiful place," said the Prince Rupert, B.C. resident. "You can feel something in this place.
"There's a lot of people here, but you feel this certain peace and calmness."
Since its inception more than 100 years ago, the pilgrimage has become a tradition for many families said Oblate Father Fred Groleau.
"It's the belief of people that this is a holy place," said Groleau, who has participated since the early 1980s. "The faith is there and how everyone explains their faith is different. People will come here for different reasons. Everyone will explain their experience here differently."