CENTRALIA, PA — Hundreds of pilgrims traveled near and far to Centralia on Sunday to a small church on the side of a mountain for prayer, for hope, for faith and for God.
The fourth annual A Call to Prayer Marian Pilgrimage was held at the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church, which overlooks the remains of the Columbia County borough mostly evacuated because of a mine fire. The church is located in Conyngham Township built on rock, sparing it from any possible ravages of the mine fire, expressing with religious symbolism of being preserved by the rock of faith in God. As explained in the “Guides for Prayer” section of the Catholic Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Pilgrimages evoke our earthly journey toward Heaven and are traditionally very special occasions for renewal of prayer. For pilgrims seeking living water, shrines are special places for living the forms of Christian prayer in Church.” Pilgrims walked around the beautiful grounds enjoying the beauty, looking into the valley toward Centralia and the church constructed in 1912 where the call to prayer was centered. Sunflowers were seen throughout the church grounds, the bright flowers being the national flower of Ukraine. Prayers of the Third Hour and traditional Marian hymns were sung by the choir of the Holy Family Ukrainian National Shrine, Washington, D.C., at 11 a.m., which were followed by the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy at noon. It was celebrated by six bishops: • Metropolitan-Archbishop Borys Gudziak of Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia. He is the spiritual shepherd of all Ukrainian Catholics in the United States. • The Most Rev. Paul Chomnycky, OSBM, bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Stamford, Connecticut. • The Most Rev. Bishop Ronald W. Gainer, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg. • The Most Rev. Alfred A., Schlert, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown. • The Most Rev. John Bura, auxiliary bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia. • The Most Rev. Andriy Rabiy, auxiliary bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia. Gudziak was the main celebrant and the homilist, with Father Deacon Paul Spotts assisting as deacon. The responses to the Divine Liturgy were provided by the congregational singing led by Dennis Hardock, cantors from local parishes, members of St. Nicholas Choir, Minersville, and Holy Family Ukrainian National Shrine Choir, Washington, D.C. Some people arrived early at the site for parking near the church, while others were able to use shuttle buses from Ed’s USA Car Rentals for transportation to and from a parking area in Centralia. Mary Ellen Koval-Steeves and her husband, Philip Steeves, traveled from their home in the North Shore area of Massachusetts north of Boston. “I’m originally from the Mahanoy City-Barnesville area,” Mary Ellen said. “This is the first year I was able to make it.” When asked what caused her to come to the pilgrimage, she said, “I’m Ukrainian, I’m Byzantine from the coal region. This is where it all started in the new world. I was born in Shenandoah at the Locust Mountain Hospital near St. Mike’s (St. Michael Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church). In Mahanoy City, I actually belonged to St. Mary’s (Byzantine Catholic Church). My mother was Ukrainian. My dad was Byzantine, so I was at St. Mary’s. I love our tradition. I adore it. There is one small Ukrainian church in Salem, Massachusetts, and we keep it going.” Asked about the importance of religious events such as Sunday’s pilgrimage, Mary Ellen said, “One, we need to be brought together in this world that we’re living in, for sure. We need the prayers. And this is our tradition to keep alive. It’s incumbent upon us for what our people passed down to us to keep it going. I feel very strongly about that. I’ve been back to see my family in Ukraine a number of times. I deal with a few charities back there and sending shipments to my family since 1993. I send close to a half a ton every year. And now I can communicate with my family on a cellphone.” Luke Lapotsky was baptized in the church and continues to be a member and attend services. A Minersville resident, Lapotsky helped with parking control and assisted people leaving and entering the shuttle buses. “It’s absolutely wonderful and amazing that so many people are coming here for prayer,” Lapotsky said. “We have people coming from Washington, D.C., from Bridgeport, Pennsylvania, from New York.” The church was filled to standing room only for the Divine Liturgy. In order to accommodate the crowd, an outside area was set with a large TV monitor and speakers for people to watch the service. The bishops, priests, deacons and other clergy processed into the church with members of five Knights of Columbus Fourth Degree assemblies: Schuylkill 0932, Pottsville; Bishop Thomas J. Welch 0931, Bethlehem; St. Ann 0938, Scranton; Father Rechsteiner 0942, Williamsport; and Father Cyril J. Allwein 0944, Hanover. “There is a sense of holiness,” Gudziak said in his homily. “I don’t know what you’re experiencing coming to this church and walking around it before liturgy. There is a real integrity. There’s a beauty in nature. There’s a beauty in you in your faith. There is a peace in the light and joy of the Gospel.” Gudziak spoke of Centralia of being a bustling town of many homes and churches, a town that had life and many families, and then the mine fire occurred that caused the borough to be evacuated.“We are celebrating the parish feast day, the Dormition of the Mother of God, which is called the Assumption in the Western Church,” Gudziak said. “We celebrate Mary going from earth to heaven, making us a way to follow. It is a peace, joy and great hope.” After the Divine Liturgy, a procession from the church was held with the Icon of Our Lady of Pochaiv to be placed in the outside chapel for veneration. At 2 p.m., a discussion “Out of Many, One” on Eastern and Western churches that comprise the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church was led by the Very Rev. Archpriest John M. Fields, the archeparchy’s director of communications. Priests were available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the pilgrims at various locations throughout the church grounds. A Living Rosary prayed at 2:30 p.m. before the historic and jeweled 18th century copy of the Icon of Our Lady of Pochaiv. At 3:30 p.m., the Akafist Prayer to the Dormition (Assumption) of the Most Holy Mother of God before the Holy Shroud of the Dormition was sung. Religious items were blessed in the Pochaiv chapel. At 5 p.m., everyone gathered at the chapel for a candlelight procession with the icon of Our Lady of Pochaiv to the church for the celebration of a Moleben to the Mother of God. At the conclusion of the Moleben, prayers for healing and the anointing with holy oils for the healing of soul and body took place. Sunday’s Divine Liturgy was recorded and will be broadcast on EWTN at 3:30 p.m. EDT Friday.