Author: Borowiecki, Michelle
Date published: July 1, 2011
Thousands of people will gather on the shores of Lac Ste. Anne this July, continuing a tradition that dates back over 120 years. The annual Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage is the largest of its kind in Western Canada.
Father Jacques Johnson has been involved with the pilgrimage to Lac Ste. Anne for over 20 years. Many who visit the lake experience miracles and leave behind baggage that slow them down, he said.
"It's not always a wooden crutch, sometimes it is a mental crutch. (They) let go of being a prisoner of anger," said Johnson in an earlier interview with Sweetgrass.
This year, over 30,000 people are expected to attend, with 4,000 of those staying in tents and trailers on site. Some pilgrims will travel from incredible distances and some will come on foot.
Pilgrims make the journey in faith to to seek blessing from God.
Madeline Spence, who has made the pilgrimage from Winnipeg, is familiar with the miracles that take place at Lac Ste. Anne. The 65-year-old brought her son on the 18-hour journey over 20 years ago when he was suffering from a serious heart condition.
"He was going to have open heart surgery for a tumour he had in his heart," said Spence, who prayed for her then 14- year-old child at the five-day Catholic event. "When he went for his check up the doctor told him, 'You're okay.'"
She is one of the many pilgrims, who is drawn by the belief of the lake's healing powers.
The pilgrimage is not only a spiritual event but a social one as well. Many families have been making this voyage for generations, and for one week in July they have the opportunity to reconnect with all those they have met over the years.
The Ste. Anne mission was almost shut down in 1887. It was then that Father Lestanc made a trip to the shrine of Ste. Anne in France and felt a powerful message that he should not shut down the mission, but build a shrine in honor of Jesus's grandmother Ste. Anne, and create a place where pilgrims could come and receive spiritual help. The pilgrimage was born in 1889.
The missionary oblates were primarily responsible for the direction of the mission until the year 2000. At this time the decision was made to empower Aboriginal people to direct and operate the pilgrimage. Lac Ste. Anne, located 80 km northwest of Edmonton, was declared a national historic site in 2004.
The pilgrimage takes place July 16 to 21.
BY MICHELLE BOROWIECKI
LAC STE. ANNE