Pilgrims to trek to grotto Aug. 18
By Mark Merlino
Special to The B.C. Catholic
Many pilgrims travel to the shrines of Our Blessed Mother, especially Lourdes in France, Fatima in Portugal, and Guadalupe in Mexico. These are miraculous places of devotion, healing, and faith.
Many pilgrims continue to follow the ancient tradition of visiting the Holy Land, the land of Biblical events and the ancient promised land, now home to great shrines at the places of Christ's birth, ministry, passion, and resurrection.
Countless others stream to the city of Rome, the resting place of the apostles Peter and Paul, to visit the Holy Father and to see the finest examples of sacred art in existence.
Living in a land where the Church is quite young, we might be tempted to think that sacred places are elsewhere, far from here, but it really isn't so. In fact, there are many sacred places right here in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, our own back yard.
In Mission there is the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, a beautiful meditative spot built in 1892 by the first bishop in the archdiocese as B.C.'s first Marian shrine.
Each year there is a pilgrimage to this shrine, usually hosted by St. Joseph's Parish in Mission, and usually on the third Saturday in August, close to the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Aug. 15).
This year's pilgrimage will be Saturday, Aug. 18, in Mission's Heritage Park, at the east end of 5 Ave. off Stave Lake St. off Lougheed Highway. Confessions will be heard from 11 a.m. until the beginning of Mass, to be celebrated by Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, beginning about noon.
After Mass there will be a procession with the Blessed Sacrament from the site of the Mass in the lower area of the park up the hill to the restored grotto. Pilgrims will pray the rosary on the way. At the grotto there will be Benediction.
The rest of the afternoon is an opportunity for socializing and picnicking in the park.
In Vancouver, the parish church of St. Jude is also the shrine of Saint Jude the Apostle, since it houses actual first-class relics of the martyred apostle. The shrine is a peaceful and prayerful place, and this apostle is the patron saint of difficult situations (sometimes conveyed as the patron saint of hopeless cases).
The vast majority of sacred places in our own communities are not destinations for pilgrims and tourists. Holy Rosary Cathedral and every other consecrated church, oratory, and chapel are sacred places dedicated to the liturgy, which itself is a foretaste of the heavenly sanctuary.
As well, all Catholic burial sites, such as the beautiful Gardens of Gethsemani in Surrey, are blessed places for prayer and the funeral liturgy. Every one of these locations is a true sacred place in our midst.
These sacred places have something in common: by drawing us to them they encourage us to worship God.
The Second Book of Maccabees describes our relationship with sacred space beautifully. "The Lord, however, had not chosen the people for the sake of the place, but the place for the sake of the people" (2 Mc 5:19).
The adoration that these places inspire is far more important than the places themselves. Sacred space, in fact, is not something distant at all. As St. Paul said, "Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (1 Cor 3:16).
Whether you travel to one of these holy places overseas or to a local shrine, or even just when visiting your parish church or local cemetery, remember that this place is here to help direct your mind and life to God.
Mark Merlino is a teacher in Powell River, B.C., with a master's degree in the cultural heritage of the Church from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.