Last Updated: Wednesday - 01/05/2011
August 20, 2001
Come to the Waters
For 113 years, Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage has drawn those seeking healing, renewal
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
LAC STE. ANNE — After 113 years of pilgrimage nobody comes and leaves Lac St. Anne untouched.
For many Lac Ste. Anne is a site for prayer, personal reflection and spiritual renewal while others seek physical and emotional healing.
The pilgrimage usually opens with a Reconciliation service while Eucharistic celebrations are held three times a day.
"It is like a huge five-day spiritual retreat," said Anita Leslie of Chilliwack, B.C.
"I usually come here for Confession, because the spiritual atmosphere is very inviting to celebrate renewal," said Leslie, 35.
Aboriginal people from Western Canada and other parts of the country come to the pilgrimage every year.
Some come with their families, relatives and friends for the entire event while others come only for the days of the blessing of the lake.
"It's a very spiritual experience," Ruby Glabus, from Frog Lake, told the WCR.
"It's hard to explain how you feel when you come here," said the 42-year-old Glabus, who came on a Tuesday for the final blessing of the lake. She was working on the week of the pilgrimage but missing it totally is out of the question for her.
"You feel lifted when you listen to the sermons and the teachings. The spiritual encounter is so precious that you wouldn't want to miss it."
For Glabus, family is an important factor. "It depends on how you are brought up," she said.
"If you're brought up with God's ways when you're growing up then events like this would be important to you."
This tradition has been passed down from generation to generation.
Many of the pilgrims first came when they were kids, either with their parents or grandparents.
Jonas Bird of Saskatchewan first came to the pilgrimage because of an illness. He was suffering from arthritis and was waiting for amputation of his legs. His wife, who has been coming to Lac Ste. Anne for more than 40 years, convinced him to try the pilgrimage.
So 10 years ago Bird came for the first time. He was healed from his arthritis and escaped the leg amputation.
"There are so many miracles happening here, but not everybody sees or experiences them," said Bird.
"I witnessed how a teenage girl walked for the first time while attending a healing Mass," said Bird.
Facing the altar of the shrine, the right wall is filled with abandoned crutches and canes no longer needed by those who were healed either by walking in the sacred waters of the lake or by participating in the healing Mass.
RAIN DOESN'T DETER PILGRIMS
Like other events in the region that suffered from unfavourable weather, Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage, which ran July 21-26, was not spared.
It was difficult to tell whether attendance was hurt by the weather because most pilgrims came for a day.
However, Father Fred Groleau, shrine program director, said the campground was filled to capacity.
The rough estimate of this year's attendance is 40,000, a standard number for the pilgrimage, Groleau said.
Others said there were even more pilgrims than usual.
"The campground this year was extended to accommodate more people," said Leonard Pelletier of St. Albert.
Pelletier used to volunteer for the pilgrimage but since his service was no longer required, due to greater participation by aboriginal people, he came this year as an ordinary pilgrim.
"Last year that campground was not full," Pelletier said.
"I think there are more people this year than last year despite the poor weather," said Lucy Desrosiers of Nanaimo, who stops for a day or two at the pilgrimage site every year before she goes to Montreal to visit her mom.
PILGRIMAGE ON ITS OWN JOURNEY
The pilgrimage itself is also on a journey as it faces major changes. Two levels of changes are introduced this year.
First is on the level of governance. A senate will replace the management board of 12 people appointed by the Oblates' provincial consulate, which has the full management authority.
The senate's prime task is to be responsible for the sponsorship of the mission of Lac St. Anne. Senators serve as the owners and pilgrimage sponsors. It is expected that a senate will be in place for the next year's pilgrimage.
The second level of change is in the actual operations. For more than a century, the Oblates single-handedly ran the event. This year, the event saw more participation from aboriginal people.
Native bands contracted the operation of the souvenir store, grocery, food outlets and other services.
Groleau had four people help him manage the shrine for this year's event. A couple from Saddle Lake and another from Fort McMurray were in training so that they would be prepared to take on the job in the future.
In the past the aboriginal people came as pilgrims but had a minimal role in running the event. "We lacked that kind of participation and involvement. We were missing their presence," said Groleau.
Although the pilgrimage is journeying towards a different structure of management and operations the Oblates will not totally drop from the scene.
"We will be there for the spiritual ministries," assured Groleau.
"This year we invited more diocesan priests to help us with various ministries, particularly Confession."
Groleau believes these changes are one way of acknowledging their commitment to a renewed partnership with aboriginal people.
For many decades the pilgrimage was a two-day event, always on Tuesday and Wednesday either coinciding with the feast of St. Anne on July 26 or immediately before it.
In recent decades, the pilgrimage was extended to include the period between Saturday and Thursday morning inclusive of St. Anne's feast day.
The history of the pilgrimage dates back to 1844 when Father Jean-Baptiste Thibault blessed the lake and renamed it in honour of St. Anne, the mother of Mary.
Before 1844, families, clans and tribes were originally drawn to the shores of the lake, then called Manito Sakahigan or Spirit Lake, for ceremonial summer gatherings usually around the annual buffalo hunt.
While 400 people attended the first pilgrimage in 1889, Lac Ste. Anne is now a major pilgrimage destination in Western Canada and thousands of aboriginal and non-aboriginal people flock to the place every year. The 2002 pilgrimage will be July 20-25.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.