Pilgrimage shrine a gathering place for First Nations
By Madeleine Marchildon
ST. LAURENT, Sask. — In spite of heavy rain and impassable roads, many people came to the 133rd annual pilgrimage at Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine on July 15 and 16.
The shrine site sits high on the riverbank in the rolling hills along the South Saskatchewan River. As early as the 1800s, missionaries used it as a camp. The first recorded mass was celebrated by Rev. J. B. Thibeault on May 24, 1842.
In 1884, Charles Nolin vowed to purchase a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary should his wife be healed of hemorrhages behind her eyes. She was healed and Nolin made good his pledge. Over the years, a log church and a rectory were built and the grotto and grounds were improved. The shrine is cared for by the pastor of the nearby Duck Lake parish, a shrine and liturgical committee, and volunteers.
On July 14 Bishop Albert Thévenot, M.Afr., blessed a new roadside shrine on no. 11 highway. He said that Mary’s presence would touch people and would be an inspiration for all who travel. The roadside statue came into being from donations and volunteer labour. It marks the entrance to the main shrine of St. Laurent.
Bishop Albert Thévenot, M.Afr., and Harry Lafond
Early on July 16, First Nations people gathered for a mass in Cree concelebrated by Thévenot and Rev. Susai Jesu, OMI. Since the pipe carrier was unable to come because of the rain and roads, the pipe ceremony had to be cancelled. Instead, a tobacco offering was made by Leona Durocher of Flying Dust First Nation. Then, four elders were given a yard of cloth of four different colours — red, blue, green and blue print. The cloth is considered a symbol of prayer: Yellow indicates east; red, the south; blue, the west; and white, the north. The elders were asked to pray for youth, their health and parents and grandparents who share responsibility in their spirituality and prayer life.
The readings and homily were given by Susai in Cree. At the end of mass, everyone shook hands. As Harry Lafond explained, this gesture recognizes the deep relationship among his people and seals it until the next meeting.
Lafond said, “The Shrine is a gathering place. First Nations people come from as far away as Canoe Lake and Beauval.” In the early 1900s, his grandfather came as a pilgrim from Muskeg Lake. His people come to this holy place to reconnect with each other in a prayerful way.
“Over the years, we have begun to understand the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe for the Indigenous people,” he added. “She encourages us to find Christ inside our own culture. It’s an invitation into a journey of discovering Christ. The pipe ceremony and the eucharist complement each other.”
The French community also gathered that day to celebrate the eucharist. Rev. Maurice Fiolleau, vicar-general for the Diocese of Prince Albert, concelebrated mass with Rev. Cuong Luong. In his homily, Fiolleau shared that Jesus will be our new wine if we would invite him to our wedding and into our lives.
As the rain continued, the crowd gathered for the afternoon mass for healing and anointing. Music ministry was provided by the St. Joseph Parish Youth Choir. In his homily on the Wedding of Cana, Thévenot challenged the full assembly to listen to Mary and take her advice.
Thévenot pointed out that the miracle is a sign signifying that the new wine is Christ himself. Wine brings life, love and joy and sometimes makes one feel good. He explained, “Now you are the new wine. Be new wine to others. Go to the world and bring Christ, his life, his love and his joy. Christians need to give a new image of God and religion.
They need to be joyful Christians living out God’s love of self-giving. Sad Christians give a false image.”
“When we go to Mary,” he emphasized, “she brings us to Jesus.”