Ominous-looking clouds move to the south of the Skaro Pilgrimage site shortly before the annual event began on Aug. 14.

WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN

Ominous-looking clouds move to the south of the Skaro Pilgrimage site shortly before the annual event began on Aug. 14.

August 29, 2016
GLEN ARGAN
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Ominous-looking clouds gathered in the direction of the Skaro Pilgrimage site as my wife Nora and I headed out from Edmonton for the annual Marian pilgrimage late in the afternoon of Aug. 14.

A couple of showers rained down as we approached the site. However, at Skaro itself, all was dry . . . and stayed dry throughout the evening of prayer and liturgy as the usual crowd of several thousand came to celebrate the vigil of the feast of Mary's Assumption.

Over the past 35 years, it's been at least 10 times that I've been privileged to attend the pilgrimage at Skaro, the frequent passage of transport trucks disturbing, but not breaking, the prayerful calm close to the grotto. The trucks are a reminder of the world to which we will return after these few hours; the pilgrimage site a touch of heaven itself.

What would a pilgrimage be without lineups for the sacrament of Confession?

WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN

What would a pilgrimage be without lineups for the sacrament of Confession?

In my pilgrimages to Skaro, it has never rained, although more frequent attenders say there have been some fearsome storms in years past. A couple of others recalled one year when the rain clouds headed straight for Skaro from the west, and suddenly split - one going north and the other to the south - with the storm completely missing the pilgrimage site.

Mary, the Mother of God, seems to keep a watchful eye to ensure the pilgrimage will be a time of Confession, Eucharist and prayer. The Blessed Mother gets plenty of help on the ground from the large number of volunteers who do their bit to make the pilgrimage a success.

CHANGING DEMOGRAPHICS

Skaro clings closely to its origins in 1919 among the Polish settlers of the area, although as the years go by, the crowd and the volunteers are multicultural. It was the Polish settlers who built the miniature replica of the grotto at Lourdes, France. Today, their grandchildren and great-grandchildren remain faithful to the cause.

Pilgrims place their candles signifying their prayer intentions at the top of the Skaro grotto.

WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN

Pilgrims place their candles signifying their prayer intentions at the top of the Skaro grotto.

 

 

 

 

On pilgrimage day, the grotto site is spotless as are the cemetery on one side and the small church on the other. The event is run with military precision. At exactly 6:30 p.m., a couple dozen priests go to their posts, and confessional lines form immediately. At 7 p.m., the rosary begins; at 7:30, it is Vespers sung in Polish.

And at 8:02 p.m., the long procession for Mass begins. Msgr. John Hamilton, this year's celebrant, began his homily saying, "Life is full of surprises," and noted that he had prepared his homily on the readings for the feast day Mass on Aug. 15, not those for the vigil Mass of the 14th. Unperturbed, Hamilton delivered his homily as planned.

Following Mass came the candle-lit Eucharistic procession which wound around behind the grotto and then back up to the top.

WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN

Several religious goods stands offer pilgrims a choice of rosaries and Christian art.

FUTILE REQUEST

This year, pilgrims were asked to stay in the procession and, if they wanted to deposit their candles on the grotto, to come back afterwards. It was a futile request as one knew it would be. Pilgrims scrambled to get the choice spots for their candles while the procession backed up on the grassy path to the top of the grotto.

One couple ordered me out of the way so they could place their candles as close as possible to the crucifix at the top of the grotto. I never knew that the success of one's prayers depended on getting one's candle placed exactly in the right spot.

FLICKERING IN DARKNESS

The candlelight procession is Skaro's trademark, a beautiful carrying of the candles in the dark to cover the grotto. It's not as large as the procession at Lourdes, but, in my view, more beautiful as the candles continue to flicker against the darkness of an Alberta summer night.

As Nora and I head home, earlier than expected at 9:30 p.m., it is still not dark, and the majority of pilgrims hoping to place their candles on the grotto, entrusting their prayer intentions to Mary, remain patiently in line, the storm clouds now nothing more than a memory.