Annual trek offers insight into upcoming Year of Faith activities in the Archdiocese of Vancouver
By Karen Murphy Corr
Special to The B.C. Catholic
For nine years Squamish tribe elder Wendy M. Charbonneau has led the procession at the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in Mission during the annual pilgrimage. However this year, more than in past years, she relied on her love for Jesus and His mother to help her walk the steep hill at Fraser River Heritage Park.
People from all over the archdiocese joined in the pilgrimage Aug. 18.
"I've had chronic rheumatoid arthritis in my spine now for several years, but osteoarthritis developed this past year in my shoulders and hips. I also have nerve damage in my foot so I usually use a scooter now," Charbonneau explained softly.
Devoted to Mary from a young age, Charbonneau cherishes her role as a drummer at the pilgrimage. "I will offer it up today for all the women who need help and can't cry out."
The crowd of over 3,000 pilgrims watching Charbonneau in her beautiful regalia and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha T-shirt probably had no idea of her physical discomfort as she smiled and drummed, leading the procession of clergy and Knights of Columbus first to the band shell in the park for Mass, and then, with the faithful from across the archdiocese, up the hill to the grotto.
She says she spent the previous week praying for the strength she needed for the walk, and she trusted that Mary and her Son would see her through.
"I feel the grace. I feel the love. I feel the people coming together as one whole family. I've noticed that even as the faces change over the years the family feeling remains.
"I feel the awesome power, and it is just like it is coming down and covering us with a blanket. Jesus is covering us with a blanket," explained Charbonneau, a parishioner at St. Paul's Church on the Squamish Reserve in North Vancouver.
The pilgrimage, held the third Saturday of August to celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Aug. 15), is hosted by St. Joseph's Parish in Mission.
It can be traced back to the consecration of the original grotto in 1892. It was rebuilt and rededicated in 1954 but deteriorated and was demolished in 1965. The current grotto, a project of the Mission Heritage Association and the Knights of Columbus Council 8248, opened in 1997.
That the site is right next to the St. Mary's Residential School site is poignant for Charbonneau, who attended a residential school in Sechelt. It is hard to remember those days at times, she says, but she listened to the words of her maternal granny Eva.
"I've always held on to her words. She said it was all a misunderstanding because we didn't speak each other's languages. I've always held that in my heart, and I know that as a family we can all get through this together."
Her mother Lila Johnston, in her red Squamish regalia, walked beside her daughter in the procession. Johnston is still recovering from the removal of a tumour from her throat in recent years.
She has been attending the pilgrimage for 19 years, and said it is always beautiful how it brings people together as they seek to spend time with Jesus and His mother at Mass and by reciting the rosary at the grotto.
Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, reminded everyone in his homily that the pilgrimage to Mission began with the native communities. He pointed out that in just two months Pope Benedict XVI will canonize Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.
"The Pope wants us to understand our faith needs to be strengthened. It needs to be fortified. It needs to be shared," said the archbishop as he briefly explained how the Pope has declared a Year of Faith will begin in October 2012 and conclude at the end of November 2013.
The Year of Faith, which coincides with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the release of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, challenges Catholics to deepen their knowledge of the faith.
On Holy Rosary Cathedral's patronal feast day, Our Lady of the Rosary, Oct. 7, the archbishop said, he will invite participation in his response to the papal directive: a year-long special initiative to welcome home Catholics who no longer practise their faith.
"Each one of us is called to be a missionary of the Gospel to those who need to be invited gently and welcomed warmly back to the faith."
He entrusted the initiative to the Blessed Virgin Mary, asking Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha and Our Lady to pray for the success of this initiative as we seek to bring members of our family of faith home.