People come from northern to the West Coast to seek healing in the blessed waters of lac Ste. Anne, northwest of Edmonton, or to collect water to take home with them.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

People come from northern to the West Coast to seek healing in the blessed waters of lac Ste. Anne, northwest of Edmonton, or to collect water to take home with them.

July 25, 2016
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

As Redemptorist Father Mick Fleming blessed the waters of Lac Ste. Anne July 17, people waded into the lake in droves, anxious to dip themselves into the sacred waters. Many filled jars with the blessed liquid to take back home.

A young woman, pain clearly visible on her face, slowly pushed her walker into the lake in the hope of obtaining relief. Younger people helped their elders into the water. Some older people with canes walked in by themselves.

Bernice Cardinal has seen many people healed at Lac Ste. Anne over the past 40 years.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Bernice Cardinal has seen many people healed at Lac Ste. Anne over the past 40 years.

Priests and bishops also walked inside the lake to bless the people, one by one.

After receiving his blessing, Peter Deranger came out of the water and, pointing to the lake, he said: "There is a good thing going on here. This is a good place."

The 74-year-old elder came from Fort McMurray to seek healing at Lac Ste. Anne.

"Back home the oil companies have polluted most sources of water but here the water is still holy," he said. "This is a holy place. People get healed. When they go home they feel better."

Like hundreds of other people, Deranger and his friends stayed for the duration of the event in a large tent on the grounds of Lac Ste. Anne.

Richard Opikokew of Meadow Lake, Sask., came out of the lake half soaked carrying a jar filled with water.

"This water is not just for me," he said. "I'll share it with other people from the community who couldn't come."

Peter Deranger

Peter Deranger

The water is used for blessings and to cure pain. "It does work," he said.

Opikokew has been attending the pilgrimage for 40 years and said the water from the lake has cured him from all kinds of illnesses, including arthritis. This year he came with his wife, two of his kids and three grandchildren.

Apart from the blessing of the lake, the pilgrimage also featured pipe ceremonies, benediction, rosary, candlelight processions, stations of the cross, testimonies and healing prayers.

Archbishop Gerard Pettipas of Grouard-McLennan blesses a young boy following the blessing of Lac Ste. Anne July 12.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Archbishop Gerard Pettipas of Grouard-McLennan blesses a young boy following the blessing of Lac Ste. Anne July 12.

The roots of the pilgrimage date back to 1844 when Father Jean-Baptiste Thibault blessed the lake, then known as Manito Sakahigan or Spirit Lake, and renamed it in honour of St. Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary.

Before 1844, Aboriginal families and clans and tribes were drawn to its shores for ceremonial summer gatherings. About 400 people attended the first pilgrimage.

Now it is a major pilgrimage destination – the largest event of its kind in North America. It is estimated that about 55,000 pilgrims, mostly Aboriginal and Métis, made their way to the pilgrimage site.

Camped in tents and trailers, the pilgrims come from across Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, Manitoba and Ontario.

Bernice Cardinal, a mother of six and grandmother to 25, has been coming to the pilgrimage for at least 40 years and has seen people being healed in mind, body and soul.

"I come for praying and healing," the Saddle Lake woman explains. "I feel good when I come here. I feel lifted. When I go home I feel renewed."

Karen Desjarlais and her husband Charlie came from Lac La Biche searching for emotional, spiritual and physical healing. She has endemic stomach pain and Charlie walks with a limp due to his swollen legs.

They hope a dip in the water and a blessing from a priest will take care of their illnesses, at least partially.

"I believe it's going to help," Karen said.

Richard Opikokew of Meadow Lake, Sask., is taking a jug of Lac Ste. Anne water home to share.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Richard Opikokew of Meadow Lake, Sask., is taking a jug of Lac Ste. Anne water home to share.

The mother of three is also dealing with lots of grief after the recent deaths of her auntie and of a son a year ago. "I'm searching for consolation and it seems to be working," she said. "I feel uplifted out here."

EPILEPTIC SEIZURES

Victor Hansen, a radio announcer, and Jeanne Isidor came by bus from La Ronge, Sask. While in the lake, Hansen would splash water on his neck and face. "I want to be healed," he explained. He has epileptic seizures and heart problems.

"I'm sure this is going to help," he said matter-of-factly. "I believe it will."

Unlike Hansen, who was attending his first pilgrimage, Isidor started coming 41 years ago. "I come to pray for my family back home that are sick," she explained.

"No matter how much money I spend I still come here year after year." This time she and Hansen spent about $1,000 to attend.

Rhoda Cardinal, who works at a school in Saddle Lake, came to lead pilgrims in prayer.

The mother of six adult children and grandmother to 15 is leader in the Cursillo movement and is chair of the pastoral council at Sacred Heart Parish in Saddle Lake.

Rhoda Cardinal has been coming to Lac Ste. Anne since she was a little girl.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Rhoda Cardinal has been coming to Lac Ste. Anne since she was a little girl.

"Ever since I was a young girl I remember coming to Lac Ste. Anne," she said. "I come here to pray and to see people I don't get to see during the year."

HEALED BROKEN HEART

The pilgrimage has helped Cardinal heal her broken heart. Three years ago she lost a 17-year-old grandchild she had been raising since he was a day old. Rayton died from a virus he contracted in hospital while recovering from a fall.

Cardinal said if she wasn't part of the Cursillo movement and didn't come to the pilgrimage, "I probably would have lost it. This is a holy place that helps you heal. I love coming here."

The blessing of the lake is one of the central and most popular ceremonies of the pilgrimage, which this year ran from July 16 to 21. It took place immediately after the 3 p.m. Mass at the shrine on July 17.

Fleming, the Saskatoon priest who presided at the Mass, led a procession from the shrine to the lake.

At his side were Archbishop Gerard Pettipas of Grouard MacLellan, Archbishop Emeritus Sylvain Lavoie, Oblate Father Garry Laboucane and other priests and deacons.

With his right arm pointing to the lake, Fleming invoked Creator God to bless the lake and invited people to dip in. "Come into these waters for healing, come into these waters for renewal, to be given new hearts."