A Pilgrimage to Lac Ste. Anne

August 2nd

The annual pilgrimage to Lac Ste. Anne happens from July 21-27.  Last year, this pilgrimage made the news because Pope Francis is the one who blessed this sacred lake. The lake has been sacred for thousands of years – identified as a place of healing by Indigenous groups long before Europeans came to this  land. As Catholicism spread, the sacred lake Wakamne (or “God’s Lake”) as named by the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, and Manito Sahkahigan (or “Spirit Lake”) as named by the Cree was renamed Lac Ste Anne. According to Catholic tradition, Anne and Joachim were the parents of Mary, mother of Jesus. It is the Catholic order of the Oblates that has been involved in oversight of the pilgrimage since 1889 when the first pilgrimage for area Catholics took place. 

Since 1980 the Oblates have been reaching out to the Indigenous Catholic communities of the area to include and reflect Indigenous languages and culture in the pilgrimage. And, according to the history page of the Lac Ste. Anne website, “On July 26, 2000, in the year of the great Jubilee, the Missionary Oblates made a public declaration of intention to enter into a new partnership with the aboriginal people to own, direct, and operate the Lac Ste Anne Pilgrimage.”

Don Baergen from Holyrood Mennonite Church, Salwa Khadri from Al Rashid Mosque, and I joined the pilgrims on Tuesday, July 25th.  Upon arrival, we were informed that because of tornados, and tornado warnings later that day, the pilgrimage was being cut short. Everyone was packing up to leave. Some were lining up for a final blessing from the two Oblate priests present – Father Susai and Father Mark, both from Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples in Edmonton. Both are involved in guiding our process for hosting an interfaith dialogue in their space this October. 

Given our growing relationship with these two priests, we asked for a blessing from Father Susai for our time among the pilgrims, and as we prepare to come together in October. We also smudged, and received a blessing from an indigenous elder who was the host for the smudge table. And we also met up with Father Mark -- see below.

There are two focal points on the pilgrimage site: the Shrine where masses are held – large enough to seat 4,000 people, and the sacred lake that is blessed every year. Pilgrims walk on the path to the lake, following the 14 stations of the cross, and then walk into the lake for healing and blessing. And they  gather for mass which is held daily in Cree, Dene and English in the Shrine which sits alongside the flags of the different nations – all standing together as equals. 

All three of us were blessed by our own pilgrimage on this land and water, located on Treaty Six territory. It was a windy day, reminding us of our vulnerability in the face of the unpredictable weather patterns of our day. Let us join in the prayer posted by the statue of Ste Anne: May Christ bless our families and communities, may He give strength to those who struggle, and may he welcome home those who are not with us anymore.  Amen.
Until next year.