Marian shrine attracts devoted following

  • December 12, 2008
{mosimage}TORONTO - Some call it a place of miracles. For Ukrainian Catholic priest Fr. Basil Cembalista, OSBM, the Marian Monument of Gratitude is also a place of prayer and thanksgiving.

Little known outside its circle of devoted visitors, the Marian shrine which Cembalista built has steadily drawn crowds and interest from many Roman Catholic groups.

The shrine was built in 2005 in thanksgiving for a miracle Cembalista believes he received through the intercession of Mary. It is located in the spacious backyard of the Basilian Monastery in northwestern Toronto, beside St. Basil the Great Ukrainian Catholic Church and St. Basil the Great High School.

A white marble statue of Mary stands above a metallic icon of the Last Supper and a multi-coloured stone crucifix. There is also a Way of the Cross surrounding the prayer garden. Just beyond it is a soccer field and a man-made lake which Cembalista said was constructed when Highway 401 was being built in the 1940s.

The miracle Cembalista cites is his restored eyesight. Though he had been wearing glasses for 12 years — glasses with a high prescription, according to optometrist Dr. Mathias Boermans — in 2006 the 67-year-old said he no longer needed them.

“I don’t believe in miracles. I believe in science,” Boermans said.

And while it is possible that a man in his 60s could have his eyesight improve as he ages, Boermans said that is not normal.

As for the improvement of Cembalista’s sight, he said, “there is no explanation scientifically speaking.”

According to the Ukrainian Catholic eparchy of Toronto, the shrine is the result of Cembalista’s personal experience “and the devotion that arose around it is entirely a private one. It is not sponsored by the eparchy of Toronto.”

As for Cembalista’s claims of miracles, a statement from Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Stephen Chmilar also said, “No one doubts that God and the saints answer peoples’ prayers. But no one claims that these were extraordinary or miraculous. If any such claims are implied or made, they have only the authority of the person making the claim.”

But Cembalista is not the only one to make such proclamations. Since 2005, Cembalista says 10 people have claimed a miracle occurred after visiting the shrine. These miracles, however, have not been independently confirmed.

One of these people is Basilta Rosemond, 61, a former dietary aide. She said after eight years of having problems with her right leg and needing a cane or assistance to walk, she was healed after praying at the shrine for three years. She said doctors did not know what was wrong with her leg, even after undergoing tests and CAT scans.

Rosemond went to healing Masses and was told about the shrine by a friend three years ago. Soon, she became one of its regular fixtures, praying the rosary with an Italian group.

Before attending a wedding in May, Rosemond said she decided not to use the cane and was able to walk to and dance at the wedding.

“It’s faith. You have to have faith. You have to be a strong person, to believe in prayer,” she said.

But those who have visited the shrine, like Johnny Biafore, co-ordinator of the Mission Canada Rosary Makers, say that miracle or not, the shrine is a place of peaceful reflection, solace and comfort.

In mid-October, about 350 people attended a rosary procession at the site and last year, nearly 700 Catholic high school students were at a prayer rally at the site.

Close to 20 people visit the shrine daily, Cembalista said, and more come during the warmer months.

In May, the archdiocese of Toronto’s Office of Catholic Youth will be co-sponsoring a youth rally there.

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