Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of August 23, 1999
Marian pilgrimage led woman to Jesus
She came to Skaro to scoff at the faith, but ended up joining it instead
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
Karen Jhuri's journey to the Skaro Pilgrimage was, in her own words, "a divine one."
"I was a non-believer in everything that had to do with God," said Jhuri, who converted to the Catholic Church last year. "I made an effort to read everything about the faith, just so I could prove it wrong."
She accompanied a co-worker to Skaro two years ago and, rather than following through on her plan to look for faults, fell in love with it.
"I was prepared to dissect all the propaganda of religion and Christianity," said the 23-year-old Calgarian. "But as the evening progressed, I felt this inner peace. When I got home, that same feeling stuck with me.
"Everything after that - meeting a Catholic boyfriend, going to church with him, getting baptized - that just fell into place. Maybe it was coincidental, but it felt good."
Jhuri credits her visit to Skaro as a major stepping stone on her journey to Christ. That 400-km drive she took in 1997 changed her life and she can't imagine what it would be like otherwise.
"I always thought God was kind of bogus," she said. "And if he was real then he wasn't really a good guy. You start blaming someone like God for all the problems.
"Then I come here and see all these people and how much this place totally consumes you with all this positive spirit . . . and you have to realize that he's good and loving."
Jhuri, like many participants in the Aug. 14-15 Skaro pilgrimage, was fighting the swarms of blood-sucking mosquitoes and hoping the rain would spare them a visit. But they soaked in the spirit of their faith and maybe even jotted down the archbishop's phone number.
"Step forward and call me, 469-1010," said Archbishop Thomas Collins during his homily. "I ask that we pray not for an increase in the vocations, but that those who are called, respond. The harvest is great, but the labourers few."
The 81st annual pilgrimage was Collins' first. Sixteen priests were also on hand for Confession and to celebrate the weekend Masses. The event, which coincides with the feast of the Assumption, drew about 3,000 people this year.
"We usually get about 4,000 or 5,000," said organizer Bernie MacKay.
"We probably won't get as many people this year since it's on the weekend. People usually have other commitments on the weekends," said MacKay, who has attended the past 54 years.
But weekend or not, Faith Samuels cleared her calendar for the event.
Just half an hour before the Saturday Mass, Samuels and her mother Agnes rolled into the grounds from their home in Saskatchewan. They quickly erected their tent and scurried to Confession.
"I thought we weren't going to make it this year," said Samuels, who has attended for the past eight years. "We use to live in Hinton, so I knew exactly how long it would take. Then we moved to Saskatoon. I don't know the roads very well coming from the east.
"About an hour ago, my mother started praying because we were driving so long and couldn't find the junction. We were both kind of panicky. Then out of nowhere it pops up. Now, you can't tell me that wasn't God saying 'Relax, you'll get there.'"
The fieldstone grotto was erected in 1918. It was designed by Father Philip Ruh, who was familiar with the grotto at Lourdes, France.
The grotto is built into a hillside with lush evergreens providing a scenic backdrop. The incline on either side of the grotto leads to a Calvary at the top.
In the four years Thao Nguyen and her family have made the trip to Skaro, she has learned a few things.
"We remembered the (lawn) chairs this year," she laughed. "Last year we had to sit on the grass because there was no more seats left in the front. This year we put the chairs in the car the night before."
Nguyen started coming to Skaro on the recommendation of a friend. She didn't know much about pilgrimages back then.
"I thought it was a special kind of Mass outside."
When she arrived on the grounds, she was in awe of the grotto. She was even more in awe of the feeling she was left with.
"We say the rosary and we say prayers, but we don't always remember what it is that Mary means to us," Nguyen said.
"She is our mother . . . she is in every mother. When you become a mother, you know what someone like Mary means in your life. You watch over your children and you never let any harm come to them.
"When I come here, I know I am safe."
During his homily, Collins proclaimed Mary as the perfect Christian.
"She is our model . . . she is the one who shows us how to be worthy of Christ."
And in the journey to show our worthiness, Collins expressed a mission to serve God in this world and be "disciples to the Lord.
"But sometimes Christians get a little worried and we forget the words of Pope John XXIII: 'Well Lord this is your world, you take care of it, I am going to bed.'
"The Lord is taking care of the world. He is with us every step of the way."