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St. Albert 80th Pilgrimage

St. Albert Grotto, St. Albert, AB

80th St. Albert Pilgrimage - August 19, 2018

I'd like to begin this homily with a citation of something said recently by one of the parishioners about this holy place and event. Mimi Belhumeur was interviewed by our own Grandin Media for an article written in preparation for this particular pilgrimage.

Mimi attended the first pilgrimage here, which means she is uniquely qualified to speak with authority on the long-standing significance of this place and this event. In the interview, she described the importance of this annual gathering in words that, to my mind, captures the significance that I earnestly hope we all come to recognize. What she said was this: "This is one occasion of coming and feeding yourself on what [Mary] has to give us, and then (to) go out and live whatever we have to live, with her support.” What I invite us to focus upon this morning is, precisely, "what Mary has to feed us," because, just as Mimi says, to live as followers of Jesus Christ in the concrete and often difficult circumstances of our lives requires Mary's support. We need that with which she "feeds us." 

As a Catholic people, we are well aware that we live from that with which Christ feeds us. The first reading today reminds us that, from long ago, God had promised to feed his people with food that he himself would provide. The Gospel text gives us the fulfillment of that promise. The passage is from St. John, and is part of what we call the Lord's Bread of Life discourse, in which he identifies himself as heavenly food that leads to eternal life for those who receive it. This gift comes to us in the Eucharist, where we feed on his very Body and Blood, given in the transformed gifts of bread and wine. 

But what of this idea of being fed by what Mary gives us? There is a profound truth here, and so we need to consider it carefully. In fact, the second reading this morning mass helps us to get to the heart of it. 

From Ephesians, we heard this admonishment from St. Paul: "Brothers and sisters, be careful how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, .... understand what the will of the Lord is." Listening to these words as we gather at a place of Marian devotion, how can we not recall the words of Mary spoken in response to Gabriel: "I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to thy word." Mary had had proclaimed to her exactly what the will of the Lord was for her, and, indeed, for the whole world, and her response to that will was one of humble, complete and trusting obedience. Obedient listening to God's will is the heart of the Christian life. This is why Mary has from the beginning been held up by the Church as the exemplar of the Christian life. She is the perfect disciple.

So, how does Mary feed us? She feeds us with her example. When we look upon the mother of our Lord, we see all that it means to be a Christian. From her we learn that, to be a disciple, means accepting that Jesus is, in fact, the one sent from the Father to save the world, that he is the one to whom we must listen, that he is the one who alone is the way that leads to eternal life. We also learn from her example that following Christ is no guarantee of an easy life. She who stood at the Cross of her son knew the pain of suffering to an extraordinary degree. yet we also learn that, even in the midst of intense pain and anguish, we can continue to trust in the fidelity of God, who is always with his people, who brings his plans to fulfillment, and who can transform even acts of unspeakable evil into instruments of good. When we allow ourselves to be fed by Mary's example, we see clearly to the truth of things, life finds meaning and direction, and we are strengthened by hope.

We know, too, that we are fed by her maternal love. From the words that Jesus spoke from the Cross to John - "Behold your mother" - the Church has always understood Mary to be, not only the mother of Jesus and thus Mother of God, but also our mother, too. She is the mother of the Church. Like every mother, Mary remains close to her children. She is always near us and earnestly wants us to turn to her for the help - the unsurpassable assistance - that she can give us, that she wants to give us, by the power of her intercession. The love of Mary for her children is the source to which Catholics of all ages and in every generation throughout the history of the Church has turned to be fed with the support that we need to, as Mimi puts it, "live what we have to live" as followers of Christ. 

For eighty years now, the people of St. Albert parish and beyond have given visible expression to their trust in Mary by an annual pilgrimage to this site made holy by their faith and their prayers. The pilgrimage to this grotto, built in 1920 in honour of Our Lady of Lourdes, has thus become a stable and important element in the life of faith of the people of this Archdiocese. For this reason, I have decided to honour this anniversary pilgrimage by formally designating this site an official Archdiocesan Marian shrine. The decree that brings this into immediate effect reads as follows: 

WHEREAS a grotto was built in 1920 by the Oblate Scholastic Brothers on the grounds of St. Albert Parish, St. Albert, Alberta,

WHEREAS a new grotto dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes replaced the first grotto and was blessed on August 19th, 1955 by the Archbishop of Edmonton, Most Reverend J. H. MacDonald, 

WHEREAS annual pilgrimages to the Grotto began in 1938 and have been encouraged by the Parish and the Archdiocese of Edmonton,

WHEREAS the Grotto continues to be place of special devotion and pilgrimage to many of Christ’s Faithful,

IN ORDER that the means of salvation be more abundantly made available to the faithful who attend this long-standing place of pilgrimage and veneration, to encourage the liturgical life there and especially the celebration of the Eucharist and penance, and to foster suitable and approved forms of popular devotion (can. 1234, §1),

IT IS HEREBY DECREED that the lands of the Parish on which has been erected by popular devotion a Grotto in honour of Our Lady of Lourdes, be established as a Shrine of the Archdiocese of Edmonton (can. 1230) for the purposes of special devotion and pilgrimage. 

The Parish of St. Albert is to see to the fitting maintenance and embellishment of the Grotto and is to promote it as a place of devotion and pilgrimage

Let us all draw deeply from that with which Mary feeds us: her example of discipleship and her maternal love. With the help of her prayers, may we all grow in fidelity to our baptismal dignity and calling to live as followers of Jesus Christ.

✠ Richard W. Smith
    Archbishop of Edmonton

19 August 2018