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Skaro 100th Pilgrimage

Grotto, Parish of Our Lady of Good Counsel, Skaro, AB

100th Skaro Pilgrimage - August 14, 2018

This past week I was on a flight to Edmonton. I couldn't help but notice the number of people wearing what looked to me to be very sophisticated headsets. In fact, they were rather advanced, because they were making use of what is called noise cancellation technology. Ambient noise is reduced so as to eliminate anything that might distract from the music, podcast or video to which the user has chosen to listen.

I suggest that this serves well as a symbol to evoke for us what is among the most difficult challenges today for the followers of Jesus Christ. Daily we are submerged in a tsunami of noise. Whether we are listening to the TV or radio, surfing the Internet, using social media applications on the smartphone or reading the latest drivel in the tabloids, we are bombarded with a cacophony of messages. We know well that the messaging is not all good, indeed, it is often dangerous, even diabolical, and threatens to lead us to very dark places. Where we need to worry the most about this, of course, is among our young people. This noise is leading them in no good direction, and is resulting quite often in deep anxiety and at times even suicidal ideation.

From this reality arise some urgent questions: who am I listening to? Why? What voices am I allowing to enter my home, to come into my mind? What impact are these messages having upon the way I think and behave? Particularly, does the message lead me to Jesus, and to a life of faithful discipleship, or is it a noise, a distraction, that leads me away from him? If it does lead me away, why do I continue to listen? What voices are trustworthy and what are to be shunned? How am I to I know the difference?

As we ponder this situation and contemplate these questions, let us consider what has been proclaimed to us in the Gospel passage this evening from St. Luke. Someone who has been listening to Jesus naturally thinks that his mother is especially blessed to have such a son and cries out: “Blessed is the womb that bore you and blessed are the breasts that nursed you!” Indeed! This particular praise of Mary has found a constant echo throughout the history of the Church. We, too, acknowledge that Mary is blessed among women, because in her womb she bore the Saviour of the world. Looking back to what we heard in the first reading, we see that this blessedness of Our Lady was foreshadowed by the ark of the old covenant, because she carried within her womb, as in an ark, Jesus, the one who would himself be the everlasting covenant between God and humanity. Tonight, our appreciation of the extent of Mary's blessedness deepens as we recall that, by her Assumption, she was preserved from the corruption of the tomb and was taken up, body and soul into heaven. Blessed indeed is the mother of our Lord!

Yet Jesus replies that her blessedness does not stem solely from her motherhood. He said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and do it." Blessed, in other words, are those who cancel out all the noise and distraction of the world in order to listen with close attention to that one voice which alone is trustworthy, that alone can satisfy our deepest longing for meaning and search for truth, that alone guides us along the path to eternal life. That one voice is the Word of God, made flesh in Jesus Christ. Blessed are those who hear this word, who welcome it into the sanctuary of their heart, and who, moreover, do not rest at simply hearing this word but put it into practice, who obey it!

Of this blessedness, Mary is the perfect exemplar. Everything changed for her when she heard the Word of God and obeyed it. God's plan for her became clear when she heard that Word spoken by the angel and did not allow any other considerations, any other noise, to distract her from instant and complete obedience, a submission born not of total understanding but of complete trust. In obedience to the Word, she spoke her fiat and from that instant, life and hope entered into human history in the Incarnation of the Son of God.

One hundred years ago, the people of this region did not have noise cancellation technology. Neither were they pestered with the multiple forms of communication that besiege us today. This does not mean, however, that they were free of distraction. They knew well the noise that surrounds people of every era: the blare of anxiety, the clamour of uncertainty and the distraction of temptations. Nothing was more precious to them than their faith, nothing more important than remaining faithful to the Lord and the teachings of the Church. To help them in their life of faith they knew that they could always turn to Mary for the help of her prayers and rest assured in her maternal love. Wanting a way to give visible expression to their reliance upon the Mother of God, they built this grotto, constructed by hand with 600 wagon-loads of stone! Ever since then, their ancestors, together with the people of this Archdiocese and beyond, have been coming to what has become a place of pilgrimage. This year the pilgrimage is made for the 100th time.

Because of Mary's indispensable role in our life of faith, and in recognition of the history of this particular place, I have decided to honour this special anniversary by designating this grotto at Skaro an official Marian shrine of the Archdiocese. The decree reads as follows:

WHEREAS a grotto dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes at Skaro, Alberta, was completed in August 1919 on the grounds of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, whose first church was blessed on July 5th, 1904 by Bishop Émile Legal, OMI, later Archbishop of Edmonton,

WHEREAS a first pilgrimage to the Grotto took place on August 14th and 15th, 1919 and an annual pilgrimage to the Grotto has been encouraged by the Parish and the Archdiocese of Edmonton,

WHEREAS for 100 years pilgrimages have been made on August 14th and August 15th of each year to the Grotto at Skaro, Alberta in honour of Our Lady of Lourdes,

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 Our Lady of Good Counsel is to see to the fitting maintenance and embellishment of the Grotto under the administration of Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Fort Saskatchewan, and is to promote it as a place of devotion and pilgrimage

Tonight, we give special thanks to Almighty God for the gift and example of Our Lady, and particularly for the hope we derive from her glorious Assumption into heaven. We thank God also for the pioneers who 100 years ago constructed this shrine. May their example, too, inspire us to be faithful to our Lord and his Church under the guidance and inspiration of Mary, the Mother of God.

✠ Richard W. Smith
    Archbishop of Edmonton

14 August 2018