August 18, 2019

65th Annual Cooks Creek Pilgrimage Concluding Day

On Sunday morning, over 30 people gathered before the great shrine church at Cooks Creek to participate in a symbolic, but very memorable 4-mile walking pilgrimage around the surrounding road-ways and back to the grotto. The walk was an occasion of repentance on a personal level and on behalf of the Church as well as a time for spiritual renewal and fellowship as the group sang songs and engaged in prayer all along the way.

A bit later that morning at 10:45, a group, led by clergy, made their way to the cemetery where a panakhyda was prayed at the grave of the saintly missionary Fr. Philip Ruh, OMI who designed and oversaw the building of western Canada's most famous shrine at Cooks Creek. Fr. Taras Kowch, the parish priest and de facto rector of the shrine, explained that it is because of Fr. Philip's vision and dedication that pilgrims from throughouut the Archeparchy - and well beyond - have been gathering here for 65 years now.

The next event was the Divine Liturgy at the Grotto. As the clergy gathered at the "prairie cathedral" church of the Immaculate Conception, word came that His Grace Metropolitan had taken ill and would not be attending the service. It was decided that Chancellor Fr. Michael Kwiatkowski would be the main celebrant and Fr. Taras Kowch would preach the homily. Other clergy would concelebrate and/or hear confessions. It was a very windy day, but the Divine Liturgy was truly an uplifting Eucharistic experience. Some of the priests that had spread out around the territory to hear Confessions did not make it back to the altar to concelebrate, but they were certainly okay with that because 1. they had already offered a Divine Liturgy earlier in their home parish, but especially because 2. it meant that there were so many people that decided to take advantage of the opportunity to make their pilgrimage confession. The choir of the Immaculate Conception Parish led the responses to the bilingual Liturgy.

Following the Liturgy, Fr. Michael performed the blessing of flowers and herbs (zillya) as is customary for the feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, after which Fr. Taras went around the congregation blessing them with a healthy sprinkling of the holy water that had been blessed by the Archbishop the day earlier (a sprinkling that was also appreciated for the refreshment it offered on the sunny afternoon). One of the important highlights of the pilgrimage is the daily anointing of all who come forward seeking a blessing and healing of any illness, be it emotional, spiritual or physical. A number of priests proceeded pray over and anoint everyone that came forward.

It was interesting to note that - not unlike the Apostles at Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration feast celebrated only two weeks prior - the hundreds that gathered were in no hurry to leave. They tarried that at the grotto well after the Liturgy and anointing to pray, talk in small groups and just linger in that beautiful, welcoming atmosphere at this "home of our Mother".

Fr. Taras also acknowledged a number of people who were present and had actually attended the very first pilgrimage 65 years ago. They were each presented with a rose. Everyone was invited to an elaborate dinner prepared by the local parish at the parish hall beneath the cathedral structure.

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