Angie Carboni leads the rosary at the Marian Shrine of Gratitude in Toronto. Photo by Wendy-Ann Clarke

Marian shrine draws faithful following

By 
  • October 9, 2020

Every Saturday a group of people gather at the Marian Shrine of Gratitude in northwest Toronto to pray the rosary.

Tucked away along a secluded path on 57 acres of land behind the Carmine Stefano Community Centre lies the striking shrine which features a statue of Mother Mary beneath a larger statue of Jesus with outstretched arms on the hill above her. On this chilly damp early October night, roughly 12 people are gathered, mostly women, chanting together, “Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee …,” as Angie Carboni leads them in prayer.

Kneeling before the shrine in the middle of an immaculately-kept terraced garden, the prayers go on for just over an hour with intentions ranging from healing for marriages, to politics, to an end to the coronavirus pandemic.

“(Mother Mary) has chosen these grounds for her children and her people to go and especially now to be consoled and to receive the graces,” said Carboni in an interview.

People have been gathering for rosary processions at the shrine since 2005. They have seen up to 1,000 people at a time, many who have travelled from across the world. This year, due to gathering restrictions they’ve seen on average 25 to 50 for their Saturday night prayers. On this night — during the Month of the Rosary — the damp weather has not stopped a faithful few, and for good reason.

Situated before the former monastery of the Basilian Fathers, the shrine was built in 2005 after Fr. Basil Cembalisty on Oct. 4, 2004 had an accident while building a tomato garden on the property. A twig poked through his retina and he was told by doctors that he would never see through the eye again. He asked Mother Mary to save his eye and reportedly was completely healed and as a result built the shrine.

“He died with 20/20 vision,” said Carboni, 16 years since the incident. “He passed (in 2018) at 78 years old and he never needed glasses from the day he was healed. His reasoning was to build an altar, to give thanks to Jesus and mother Mary for listening to his prayer.”

Carboni says there have been many claims of healing and encouragement that have come from those who have visited from far and wide. She became connected to the shrine when she used to rent rooms out of the facility on the property to run programs for developmentally challenged adults. After a visit to Lourdes, France, she felt called to bring the Marian procession to the shrine in Toronto.

The shrine was in danger of being lost in 2016 when word came that the lease on the property, which was to expire in 2019, would not be extended. A petition to keep the shrine open received more than 5,000 signatures, and the shrine so far has been allowed to stay.

John Biafore, who has been involved with Mission Canadian Rosary Makers for over 20 years, makes and distributes hundreds of thousands of rosaries across the world and is one of the faithful who have been attending for years. He helps Carboni lead the procession and at 80 intends to do so for as long as he can.

“You want to keep praying and you want to always go back to the shrine, wouldn’t you if you’re seeing her there?” said Biafore with a chuckle.

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