One casualty of the global pandemic in recent years, the annual Call to Prayer pilgrimage held at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian-Greek Catholic Church in Centralia, came back to life on August 21 at the humble, but visually stunning church perched amidst the hillside overlooking the ghost town of Centralia. Once a thriving coal town in the heart of Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal fields, a long smoldering underground mine fire has seemingly killed the town forever, except for this profoundly moving, holy hill where some 200 faithful gathered for this year’s pilgrimage.
Celebrating the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God – a tradition the Eastern Church views as the falling asleep of Mary and her Assumption into heaven – Metropolitan Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia was the main celebrant of Holy Mass at noon to begin the day. Bishop Ronald Gainer concelebrated, along with Bishop Alfred Schlert of Allentown and a number of other Ukrainian Catholic bishops and priests. Following Mass, Bishop Gainer led a living Rosary prayer service outside for the more than 200 faithful gathered.
This year marks the fifth time the pilgrimage has been held on the sacred grounds of St. Mary’s, and in his homily, Archbishop Gudziak spoke to the faithful about the devastating war in Ukraine as Russian forces continue their relentless push to militarily force the capitulation of Ukraine. “It is easy to become sad, confused and despondent in times like this,” the archbishop said. “This is such a time of killing – so many of my brothers and sisters are dying every day in Ukraine…. But nobody is giving up, nobody will give up doing what is right in Ukraine.”
He has visited Ukraine several times since the war broke out in February, and he again was leaving to visit the shattered country just hours after the pilgrimage.
“What a glorious thing it is to be upon this holy hill. This is such an inspiring, mystical place that honors our Blessed Mother,” the archbishop said. “Mary was a simple young woman from a small town just like Centralia… she was the first to hear of the Resurrection of our Lord… she was there with Him on the cross. It is all so simple if you really think about it…. This feast is so central to our spirituality and our piety. It teaches us what our destiny is – heaven. Do not fear death, you cannot fear, the people of Ukraine are not fearful, they are hopeful.”
A second class relic of Blessed Father Nicholas Konrad was also on the grounds – a vestment pierced by a bullet that killed the revered priest on June 26, 1941, during World War II and the Soviet occupation of Ukraine in the early stages of the worldwide conflict. Pope John Paul II beautified him in 2001, and his cause awaits canonization. He was shot innocently by a KGB sniper ordered to kill the priest who had voiced his protest at the brutal treatment the Soviets were inflicting upon the innocent faithful of Ukraine some 80 years ago.
That long past day, like many days now present, witnessed an innocent casualty in a brutal war who was killed by oppressors still killing.
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness