Pilgrimage pain for graces gained

By  William Stephenson, Catholic Register Special
  • September 11, 2009
{mosimage}TROIS-RIVIERES, Que. - Some 80 pilgrims blended their voices in hymns to the Blessed Virgin as they wound their way through 100-km of Quebec’s countryside over the Labour Day weekend.

This was part of the Marie Reine du Canada Pilgrimage , which has taken place every Labour Day weekend for seven years. Pilgrims from Ontario and Quebec gathered in St-Joseph-de-Lanoraie to walk to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Cape, just outside Trois-Rivières. They came to gain graces, to do penance, to turn to God and to grow in faith.

“A pilgrimage is a personal endeavour to enable us to seek the answers we need from God,” said Fr. Denis Cuchet, FSSP, the chaplain of this year’s pilgrimage and one of three priests to accompany pilgrims. “We go on pilgrimage as penitents, knowing that God is forgiveness, well beyond our own expectations even.”

Indeed it is a great form of penance. From sunburns to fatigue, muscle aches on to blisters, the special bane of walkers, pilgrims are beset by a plethora of pains. But for many pilgrims it is a small price to pay for the graces  received.

“It’s definitely a challenge, but it’s not just walking a hundred kilometres. We do this to gain heavenly merit,” said Ian Gallagher of Ottawa. “It’s not just a physical activity, not just meeting new people. It is that, but it’s also the spiritual side, the graces we receive.” 

Despite the pains of the pilgrimage, charity abounds. Carrying another’s bag, a word of encouragement, helping to set up the tents of others are all common sights. Pilgrims sing together, pray together and become a family.

“On the pilgrimage, we see demonstrations of the littlest kindness; sisters comforting each other, people carrying others’ knapsacks, setting up tents ahead of time,” said Clare Meechan, one of the 23 pilgrims from Toronto this year. “These acts of charity are reminders of what’s really important.”

Though most pilgrims walk, essential to the functioning of the pilgrimage are the working pilgrims. They prepare meals, bring water to rest stops, set up tents before walkers arrive and help their walking counterparts in whatever other capacity they may. Meechan was one of them. She was the pilgrimage nurse and helped countless pilgrims treat their blisters.

Marie Reine is a lay apostolate of St. Clement parish in Ottawa. In 2003, a handful of parishioners walked the route, preparing the way for a new pilgrimage in North America, based on the Notre Dame de Chrétienté pilgrimage to Chartres, France. Since 2004 it has drawn more than 70 pilgrims each year.

Daily Mass in Latin is offered in country churches along the route.   

“What makes me keep coming back for more is the Mass, the reverence, the silence,” said Patrick McLoughlin of Toronto, secretary of the Toronto Traditional Mass Society. “It emphasizes the transcendent in our faith. It is the Mass in its most extraordinary form.”

(Stephenson is a freelance writer in Russell, Ont.)

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