Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of August 22, 2005
Skaro pilgrims nourish faith, roots
Ancestors revered at 87th pilgrimage
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
As sunlight faded and white and purple candles were lit following Mass, Larry Motiuk stood partway up the south ramp of the Skaro grotto looking pensive as if he pictured his ancestors piling the earth and rocks under his feet.
"My great-grandfather, my grandfather and his brothers helped build the grotto. They picked stones from their fields about three miles away. They continually brought them to the site, building and building," said Motiuk, 44.
He looked out to the throng gathered to celebrate the 87th pilgrimage to the Skaro shrine about 80 km northeast of Edmonton.
"I am related to so many people here. We used to gather and have picnics. Now we see maybe 3,000 people come together for the pilgrimage. I would be lost if I didn't come every year. It's so spiritual."
Waves of cars and buses arrived earlier under skies that teased with rain: but none fell.
The evening was unseasonably cool, forcing the gathering to wrap themselves in blankets and around each other.
It's been said that a mother's greatest joy is having her family gather for a special event. On this evening dedicated to the Virgin Mary, she might have been well pleased.
"I get reacquainted with family and friends and we have conversations without skipping a beat," Motiuk said.
The Aug. 14-15 pilgrimage has been an annual event for Polish and other Catholics since the shrine, a replica of the grotto at Lourdes, France, was built in 1919.
Msgr. Jack Hamilton, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Sherwood Park, celebrated Mass along with 22 archdiocesan priests.
Following Mass, young altar servers carried a statue of Mary in procession around the grotto followed by hundreds of pilgrims, many of whom left their candles burning on the rocks of the grotto. Hamilton carried the Blessed Sacrament.
Teresa Hong, of Good Shepherd Parish in Edmonton, lit several candles for her sister and her parents who moved to nearby Andrew 10 years ago. Her parents have made Our Lady of Good Counsel in Skaro their home parish.
"It's amazing so many people from around Edmonton come to Skaro just for the one day to celebrate what they believe," Hong said. "Walking away from the grotto, you see all the candles. It brings so much meaning to Mary."
The shrine holds a special place for Barbara Kuropatwa, secretary of Holy Rosary Parish. Her parents settled in Edmonton when they arrived from Poland after the Second World War. They began attending Holy Rosary Church where they learned about Skaro.
"I remember them bringing me here when I was a little girl. Families came mostly by themselves. Now they arrive by the busload," she said. "Afterward at the church, people said the pilgrimage was uplifting. I find it peaceful. I feel much closer to God. It's a place where I feel close to our Blessed Mother. My prayers are answered here."
Brian Malica lives two miles from the grotto. On this night, his wife is busy selling candles at the volunteers' table. His son is an altar server.
"There is a great spirit here. The Virgin Mary has been taking care of us quite well," Malica said. "People have come from the United States and Europe just to visit the grotto. There is no problem talking with strangers. It's hard to explain, but people are so friendly."
When Vaune McKee arrived from Athabasca, she was surprised to run into her godson. Her great-grandparents are buried in the cemetery. McKee has been coming to Skaro for more than 30 years.
"My fondest memories as a child are here, spending the weekend at the grotto. I ran around and played. We visited the graves and placed candles on them," she said. "We always listened to family stories about how they built the grotto, hauling rocks from the fields. My grandfather was a young man when he helped."
This was an event to make any mother proud of her family.