For seventy-eight years, on Labor Day weekend, pilgrims from all over the United States and Canada have travelled to my home town, Uniontown, Pennsylvania, for a pilgrimage honoring Our Lady of Perpetual Help. This pilgrimage is hosted by the Sisters of Saint Basil the Great at their motherhouse at Mount Saint Macrina. It centers around an icon/image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help given to the Sisters by Pope Pius XI with the request that the Sisters spread devotion to the Mother of God under this title. This pilgrimage has been celebrated on their beautiful grounds since 1934. The Sisters of Saint Basil the Great are a Religious Order of the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church, whose dioceses/eparchies in the United States co-sponsor this annual gathering.
The theme for this year is "Theotokos, Guide on the Journey of Life", looking to Mary to guide us on the right path, the path to the source of Life, her Divine Son.
In our area of Southwestern Pennsylvania, the Byzantine Catholic Church is strong and they are good neighbors. In all but one of my assignments they have had a church in the same or neighboring town. I value the friendships that I have with many of their priests and people. When I was in the seminary at Saint Francis in Loretto, we had three men studying there for the Byzantine Church, one of which, Father Dennis Hrubiak, is a priest of the Eparchy of Parma, Ohio.
The pilgrimage is a wonderful experience of faith. Beginning Friday evening with vespers, it concludes with a morning Divine Liturgy on Monday. In between, the faithful gather and pray, they visit, have the opportunity for "the mystery of reconciliation" (a great name for confession), Divine Liturgies, Liturgy of the Hours, Mystery of Anointing, daytime and candlelight processions, teaching at a variety of levels (children, teens, adults), and prayers for the dead. I remember attending as a youngster and again later in life and being truly moved. Buses would pull up, the pilgrims disembark and a procession, led by a flower bedecked processional cross, would lead them to the icon shrine. I remember in my younger days when Venerable Bishop Fulton Sheen, whose was bi-ritual (able to celebrate in both rites) would celebrate liturgy and preach to tens of thousands. But most importantly I remember the simple and deep faith of good and humble people whose Labor Day weekend would bring them to Uniontown and Mt. St. Macrina - and still does.
The pilgrimage is open to all, and is a time of grace ... and if you are local and would like to attend, you would be welcome. Just to walk the grounds and experience the peace is a blessing. More info can be found on the Sisters' web site: www.sistersofstbasil.org