Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 15, 2002
The miracles of Lac Ste. Anne
Oblate didn't take healings seriously until he saw one himself
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Lac Ste. Anne
Oblate Father Gilles Gauthier had never paid close attention to physical healing at Lac Ste. Anne until two years ago, when he saw it happen with his own eyes.
During the pilgrimage of the year 2000, a native woman came to the shore of the lake looking rather beaten, barely walking with the help of crutches. Her face revealed pain and desperation.
Gauthier spoke with the woman and asked what had happened. She had had an operation to her legs and the doctor had told her she would never walk again, unless she used crutches or a cane.
The priest expressed his sympathies and observed as the woman, walking with great difficulty, managed to wade into the lake. With the water up to her knees, the woman "purified" herself and prayed to God for healing.
Awhile later she got out of the lake walking with little effort, practically dragging the crutches. "She attended the pilgrimage the following year completely recovered," Gauthier recalled. "She had no cane, no crutches, no nothing."
Just like the woman with the crutches, most native people believe their faith in St. Anne, working through the blessed waters of the lake, can have a healing effect on their bodies and souls, said Gauthier, one of this year's pilgrimage coordinators.
"Some walk quite a few kilometres to come to the pilgrimage and the first thing they do is they go to the water and cleanse themselves and ask God to heal them."
Many have been cured of physical ailments over the years. Crutches and canes hanging on a wall at the shrine are evidence of that.
But the healing is also emotional and spiritual, according to the priest. "The pilgrimage is an act of faith, an act of love," he said. "They come to have a special encounter with the Lord. They want the Lord to heal them of wherever they need healing in their lives. They want to go home richer than when they came."
As least 30,000 people, mostly native people from across Western Canada, the Northwest Territories, Quebec and some parts of the United States, are expected to attend the July 20-25 pilgrimage this year.
You are the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World is the pilgrimage's theme, the same as the World Youth Day gathering in Toronto. The idea is to offer a glimpse of the spirit of World Youth Day to those who cannot attend and to bless those who will be attending, Gauthier said.
People have been trekking to Lac Ste. Anne, some 80 km west of Edmonton, for over 113 years. But the religious history of the area goes back to 1844, when the first Oblate missionaries arrived on the shore of "Devil's Lake." The Indians gave it that name because they feared the fierce storms that often blew up when they were fishing on the lake.
"They come to have a special encounter with the Lord."
- Fr. Gilles Gauthier
Father Jean-Baptiste Thibault dedicated the lake to his patroness, St. Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary and grandmother of Jesus. It became the Oblates' first permanent mission west of St. Boniface, Man.
By 1886 there was little growth so the Oblates decided to abandon the mission. Father Jean-Marie Lestanc made a visit to the shrine of Ste. Anne d'Auray in France and while praying there, a voice challenged his decision to close the mission and he changed his mind.
On his return, he built a new church at Lac Ste. Anne and organized the first pilgrimage of about 100 people in June 1889. He organized a second pilgrimage that summer which gave birth to the annual pilgrimages that have grown in size and popularity as a major religious experience in Western Canada.
The six days are a steady round of Eucharist celebrations, holy hours, opportunities to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation, veneration of the relic of Ste. Anne, blessing of the sick, Stations of the Cross and a taking or renewal of the sobriety pledge.
Archbishop Thomas Collins will celebrate the Eucharist in honour of World Youth Day at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 21. Archbishop Peter Sutton of Keewatin-Le Pas, Man., will bless the lake on Tuesday, July 23 following a 6:30 p.m. Eucharist celebration.
The blessing of the lake is one of the most meaningful events of the pilgrimage as thousands of fully-clothed people of all ages wade into the lake to search for healing. They fill plastic jugs, bottles and other containers to take the water home for their own use and by relatives and friends throughout the year.
Pilgrimage organizers are still looking for volunteers. Those who know anything about electricity, carpentry or crowd control can contact Father Gauthier at 780-405-7155 or Rod Lorenz at 780-924-2381. There are 110 volunteers registered out of a total of 150 needed.