The Hungarian flag honours pioneers in the procession at the Kaposvar Pilgrimage. Alan Hustak

Faith ploughs on with Prairie pilgrimages

By  Alan Hustak, Catholic Register Special
  • September 1, 2023

REGINA, Sask. -- Just as harvest season was beginning, Saskatchewan’s pilgrimage season ended in mid-August with a pilgrimage to a Roman Catholic shrine at Kaposvar, an annual ritual for descendents of 19th-century Hungarian, Czecho-Slovak and Ukrainian sodbusters who settled the area around Esterhazy.

The traditionally ethnic gathering has become increasingly more diverse over the years. Gretta Nimbashaho, who is from Burundi, was among those taking part. 

“Devotion to Mary is important in my country,” she explained, “so when I heard about this Marian shrine, I decided to come.”

Almost every week during the summer religious processions took place at various shrines throughout the province. There about 30 of them in locations that aren’t easy to find on a map, places like Bluemthal, Mount Caramel, Kronau, Candiac, Reward, St. Louis and Kaposvar. These are journeys in which the cultural weight of Roman Catholic belief and symbolic depth of the liturgy are on display. It is estimated at least 5,000 people travel to the various outdoor shrines. Attendance depends on the interest and stamina of those taking part.

Many of the rural shrines have no services for pilgrims, no hotels, no restaurants, no gas stations. Just getting to any of them requires a degree of faith. At Mary Queen of All Hearts shrine in Lestock, pilgrims become part of a living rosary, each individual a bead who recites the Hail Mary; at Candiac, pilgrims follow the Way of the Cross through a wooded glade.

There is also the St. Philomena Pilgrimage, a 90-km walk from Yorkton to Rama. This year 20 pilgrims took part in the three-day “walk with God” that ended in Rama on the eve of the Feast of the Annuniciation Aug. 14

“Rama’s is the biggest (pilgrimage) in the archdiocese,” said Regina Archbishop Don Bolen, who drives long distances to celebrate Mass at many of them.

The Marian shrine at Rama is a replica of the one in Lourdes, France, and was built by a Polish and Ukrainian immigrant community in the summer of 1939 as Germany prepared to invade Poland. The statues in Rama (population 50) outnumber the people who live there. There are life-sized bronze monuments to Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa, St. Gianna Beretta, St. Anthony and to Fr. Anthony Sylla, the Oblate priest who had the shrine built.

There are also trumpeting angels and a score of Marian statues on the grounds and the wall of the community hall is painted with a mural depicting the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.

Many in the crowd this year had come to pray for peace in Ukraine. But what was unusual about those that gathered in Rama this year were the growing number of young people in attendance, young families who came with their children. About two dozen youngsters attending the St. Michael’s  teen camp helped wash the statues and trimmed the hedges at the shrine in preparation for the three-day program.

“Many of the young campers had no idea the shrine was there, but they made being part of the clean-up team part of their own personal spiritual journey,” said Mary Kowalyshyn, one of the pilgrimage organizers.

One 18-year old from Bonnyville, Alta., told Grasslands News he came to the shrine at Rama because he “is anxious about things” and needed to get away from “the noise of the everyday world for a couple of days and think about things.”

Bolen echoed that theme in a timely homily in which he referred to God’s message to Elijah in the Bible.  

“God speaks to human beings in subtle ways,” said Bolen. “You will not find Him in the wind or in earthquakes or in fire. Dramatic change comes to us often, but God comes to us in silence, in subtle ways.”

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