Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
August 24, 2009
Grandma Anne' offers her help
Lac Ste-Anne pilgrims rejoice in miracles during annual festival in honour of Jesus' grandmother
WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Bishop Gerald Weisner blesses a woman during the pilgrimage in late July.
The pilgrimage site is west of Edmonton, near Gunn and Alberta Beach.
The event is staffed by volunteers of all ages. Many designated their vacation time to ministries ranging from taking older people from the campground area to the shrine on golf carts to helping out at the information booth, food kiosks and gift shop.
One such volunteer is Florence Large from Saddle Lake. She and her husband became volunteers at the pilgrimage about 15 years ago. Large worked in the shrine with the priests for five years and then started a children's program.
This year she was again helping out in the Cursillo tent, a popular attraction for the children. The program incorporates crafts, gospel singing, fellowship and testimony.
"We have a long association with Lac Ste. Anne. I remember camping here with my family when I was five, maybe even younger, with my grandparents. They were very, very Catholic and believed in the power of St. Anne, the intercessions of St. Anne," said Large.
Lac Ste. Anne is a place for healing, renewal, fellowship, and miracles. She knows of people adopted as children who later met their biological parents at past pilgrimages.
In trying to keep the spirit of St. Anne alive, changes have been made over the years. Large believes the past few years have been a time of transition for the pilgrimage because some native people are still affected by teaching they received in the residential schools that lay people were not to touch the sacred vessels.
"Even for my husband and me, when we worked in the shrine, we didn't even feel worthy that we were able to touch the host. That wasn't our place when we were growing up, to touch any of the vessels. We were then expected as laypeople, all of a sudden, to be helping the priests and bishop up there, it was very humbling."
With two centuries of native people being Christianized, many of them are still not fully embracing their role in Catholicism. Believing that native people can play a vital role in the Church will take time, she said.
Every culture changes continually, and the First Nations people are no exception. Since she first came to the pilgrimage as a young girl, which was over 50 years ago, music was more traditional.
Large knows of elders who prefer the nostalgic organ music and the traditional language of Cree and Dene. To attract young people, however, some changes might be necessary, she said, such as reflecting the joyful spirit of God through guitars and modern language.
WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Pilgrims look out over the lake that has been the site of many healings for 120 years.
There are direct parallels between Catholicism and traditional native faith. Having teachings from both faiths blends well, Large told the WCR.
"As an example, we smudge with the sweetgrass, sage and cedar, different things like that. It's an act of purification.
"It's the very same thing with incense. We use the incense as a prayer. The smoke that goes up from the sweetgrass, we are praying to the grandmothers and grandfathers of the four directions and to the Holy Spirit, the Creator. The same with incense when the smoke rises, it's rising to all the angels and saints to pray for us. That's how I put it in perspective for myself," said Large.
During her three years as executive director of Lac Ste Anne, Marlene Morin said that the major issue has been funding.
"We are still looking for funding to help out, and trying to get everything done with no money is the hard part," she said.
This year's event had moments of sunshine, moments of cold rain. The thunderstorm that struck Edmonton and area July 18, uprooting fences and trees, did not impact the pilgrimage.
The lake makes an ideal place of gathering, and allows generations of native people to carry on both an important family tradition as well as Catholic tradition.
"I think it's more the grounds and the place, even before the white people came, it was always a place of peace. The different tribes met here. There is a special feeling about this place," said Morin.
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