Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 9, 2002
Skaro: A home away from home
Pilgrimage unites faith with Polish culture
By LASHA MORNINGSTAR
WCR News Editor
Shielding the flame of his candle from the wind, Ambrose explained, "This is the light of my faith. I can come here and even though I am no longer in my homeland, I know I am not alone."
A tear spilled down his sun-browned cheek and the Polish immigrant added, "I need to be here."
"Here" is the Skaro shrine, a grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes hand-wrought in 1919 by Polish settlers living in the countryside 20 km north of Lamont. Each year, the faithful trek from all over northern Alberta to this traditional place to pray.
The 84th pilgrimage on the evening of Aug.14 battled cloudbursts and biting winds, but the 2,500 seasoned pilgrims just unfurled their umbrellas, flipped open lawn chairs, wrapped themselves in blankets and celebrated their faith-filled heritage.
Polish was the language of the night as time after time pilgrims who obviously had not seen each other since their Skaro visit last year, welcomed each other with hearty handshakes and greetings in their first language.
A faithful devotee to Skaro, Walter Shymanski said the meeting of the faithful "boosts up" his spirit. His father Vincent was one of the many who crafted the grotto with their bare hands and precious little tools.
"It was all done by hand," said the retired school bus driver. "They did it all." His father and every other parishioner brought 10 to 15 wagonloads of stone to create the semi-circle grotto that sustains parishioners like Chris Klita.
"It's part of my life. I was born in the area and have always come here. We feel blessed. God is here. And if the rain comes down, well all good things come from heaven."
Thirty-five priests heard Confessions of the faithful seated around the outside of the shrine, followed by the praying of the rosary and Vespers in Polish.
The threatening rain finally spilled from the heavens and Father Daniel Wach, assured the congregation, "I have blessed the clouds and it is holy water that is coming down."
The tradition-filled Mass began, weather was forgotten and when Msgr. Donald MacDonald, vicar general of the Edmonton Archdiocese, answered his homily's "Why did we come?" question with words of guidance and counsel, the congregants listened with a hungry silence.
The evening, he said, gives the pilgrims, "time to reflect on our faith . . . time to begin anew . . . time to retrieve our relationship with God . . . time to remember what I have lost or forgotten."
He told the pilgrims to remember, but not dwell in the past: instead, use those memories as energy for the future and live a holy and good life
Glancing down the rows of worshippers, one could see generations of families gathered together to nourish their heritage and spiritual beliefs.
"It's the sense of togetherness, that we have come from all over to share our faith," said Bonnyville's 22-year-old Kim Schultz.
Father Mitch Fidyka, speaking in Polish, also reflected on why we visit shrines.
"If we asked each pilgrim why they come to these places, we would get as many answers as there are pilgrims. One has come to pray for health and another to pray for peace in the family. A young person has come in thanksgiving for graduation from school and yet another to pray for a solution for his father's drinking problem."
The voice of the youth was expressed again by Wach who told the Skaro pilgrims about his trip with the World Youth Day delegates. It was a pilgrimage, he said, that let the young people claim their faith as their own and be able to defend it.
Wach attested to God's presence in Toronto, saying he looked into the night sky over the city and saw luminescence emanating from four doves flying in formation. This, he said, let him know "the Holy Spirit is present."
As the processions surrounding the grotto concluded, pilgrims lit their candles and tried to set them into the rocks. But the blustery wind and rain snuffed flame after flame.
The flickering lights may have gone out, but Father Duncan MacDonnell knows the flame of faith burns eternally amongst the Skaro believers.
This is the second year MacDonnell has served as pastor for the pilgrimage.
"So many of the older people are so committed to this journey. They don't mind the cold and rain if they have the opportunity to experience, once again, the faith of their traditions and their families and Church."
Many pilgrims stayed in their motorhomes overnight so they could attend the healing Mass the next morning.
"All the chairs and benches were filled," said MacDonnell as three priests administered the Sacrament of the Sick.
"There were so many elderly in their wheelchairs and with their canes being helped up. It was a moving experience to see the faith of these people."