A high school retreat takes place at the Marian Shrine of Gratitude in Toronto. The shrine and nearby Ukrainian Basilian Monastery are under threat of closure. Photo courtesy of Angie Carboni

Community fighting to keep Marian shrine alive

  • October 12, 2016

TORONTO – The community at the Marian Shrine of Gratitude in Toronto is growing in strength and numbers despite a looming closure.

More than 5,000 signatories have petitioned to keep the shrine and the nearby Ukrainian Basilian Monastery open after hearing in early June that the lease on the property, which expires in 2019, will not be extended.

“This summer, with the possibility of this place being closed down, it brought more people than any year ever,” said Angela Carboni, executive director of St. Jude’s Academy of the Arts, which is located on the same property.

“We didn’t imagine this place would be closing because it kept growing. The rosary processions, the retreats, devotional prayers….”

The plan to sell the property in northwest Toronto came after two of the three Ukrainian Basilian Fathers living at the monastery were transferred to hospital this year and the remaining father was transferred. The only priest now living in the monastery, Basilian Monastery provincial superior Fr. Gabriel Haber, was unavailable for comment.

The decision to close the monastery is in the hands of rector Genesio Viomar of the Ukrainian Pontifical College of St. Josaphat in Rome.

Carboni said it was a surprise to hear that the Ukrainian Basilian Fathers, who have been on the property since 1958, will not renew the lease and she met with the community members to show Viomar how important the shrine is to the area.

“This order never knew how much Toronto wanted this shrine,” said Carboni.

Carboni spent the summer putting together a package of photos, letters and testimonials that demonstrated the shrine to be “a little piece of Heaven in the city.”

“I’ve seen kids and young men that are about 20 years old that are on their way home from a date or on their way home from work that would stop to light a candle for Mary,” said Carboni. “I have seen people on their knees climbing the staircase to the statue of Jesus on the top of the hill thanking Him for graces received.”

John Biafore, co-founder of Mission Canada Rosary Makers, runs his mission work from the property as well. He works with a network of volunteers that make rosaries and send them with Canadian missionaries to other corners of the world. Every first Saturday of the month from May to October, he co-ordinates a candlelight rosary procession at the shrine followed by Mass. More than 400 people attend regularly.

Every second Saturday, dozens of community members visit the shrine to say more than 2,000 Hail Mary’s in honour of Our Lady of Fatima.

“I am almost certain that it’s not going to close,” said Biafore. “We sent 5,000 signatures to Rome. Just look at the devotion we have here. People love our Blessed Mother here.”

Last month, Carboni and six other community members flew to Rome to meet with Viomar to deliver the petition and the package of testimonials in person.

She also included about 20 testimonials of people experiencing miraculous healings after visiting the shrine, which was built in 2005.

“I’ve heard from all ages from children to adults, how many have come here with cancer, blindness, paralysis and went home got great news,” said Carboni. “We need more places like this. We need places that revive people.”

The first miracle claimed from the site of the shrine was in 2004. Ukrainian Basilian Father Basil Cembalista was working in the garden outside the monastery. While gardening, a piece of a dry bush struck Cembalista in the right eye. It caused him excruciating pain but at the same moment, Cembalista said he felt the presence and protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Two days later, Cembalista went to see eye specialist Dr. Matthew Boermans. After examining his injured eye, he was surprised to see the eye was irritated but his sight was unaffected. Boermans said it was a miracle he did not lose his vision.

“I need to mention that for over 10 years, I required glasses for driving, but since the incident, my eyesight improved,” wrote Cembalista on the Marian Shrine web site. “The eye doctor concluded that my eye was healthy and my distance vision had actually improved. Within two days all signs of the injury vanished.”

When Carboni went to Rome in September, she also applied to have Cembalista’s miracle officially investigated by the Vatican. Though she has yet to receive any confirmation from the Vatican-appointed Miracle Commission, she is hoping that this investigation will help validate the Marian Shrine of Gratitude as a national shrine.

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