The Revival of the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows

In 2018, Fr. Ivan Nahachewsky and a group of dedicated volunteers began the process of reviving the site of the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows at Cudworth. What once had been a well-known and active pilgrimage site, was a forlorn shadow of its former self.

Pilgrimage became part of the Catholic tradition in the fourth century when Christians wanted to travel to the places that were part of Jesus’ life, or to the graves of the martyrs and Saints Peter and Paul. Pilgrimage is not universally practiced by Catholic Christians, but it is fair to say that across the tradition it has an important place for many Catholics. Pilgrimages usually then end at a shrine. Catholic shrines are often marked by flowers, candles, notes, or money left by devotees. A shrine is a church or other sacred place where a relic is preserved, like the Shrine of St. Jude in Baltimore; where an apparition has taken place, like the Shrine of Our lady of Knock in Ireland or the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City; or an historical event of faith has taken place like the Shrine of Our Lady of the Martyrs in Auriesville, N.Y., where the early Jesuit missionaries were martyred. A shrine may also be a place designated to foster a belief or devotion; for example, the Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (a basilica and a shrine) was built to foster devotion to the Blessed Mother in the United States, particularly since she is the patroness of America under the title of the Immaculate Conception. (https://www.catholicsandcultures.org/practices-values)

The most powerful shrines are always places where a saint lived, died, or was buried; where his or her presence is somehow especially felt; or where a supernatural visitation took place. These sites are occasionally located inside or just outside a parish church, but more often are distinct from the parish, whether they are official or unofficial sites, examples include major Marian shrines that claim to be sites of apparitions such as the Marian shrine at Cudworth; devotional shrines that crop up at side altars or outside parish churches, allowing for ongoing devotion to Mary or another saint; statues and grottoes in neighborhoods or at crossroads; and sites where a saint or a holy person is buried.

Damage to the buildings on the site from time and mother nature had made it unsafe, and it fell upon the Very Rev. Ivan Nahachewsky, Vicar of Eparchial Properties, Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon to manage the site and come up with a plan going forward. He gathered around him a committee of dedicated individuals to work with him on what would become the revival of the site that he himself remembered joining in pilgrimages to. The buildings on the site were condemned because the foundation had been structurally compromised and therefore needed to be decommissioned. After attempts to sell the buildings and move them off the site failed and later attempts to give them away also failed, the decision was reached to deconstruct them, harvesting what wood could be harvested and safely disposing of what remained.

A September 25, 2020 news update on the Eparchy’s website noted that:

“The Hill is a holy site. A sacred site that we are protecting. The mother of God appeared there to children. It was a pilgrimage site for decades. It grew and developed over the decades and then went through a declining period where attendance shrunk and maintenance waned…. The hill itself is a precious gem.”

“The committee spent a lot of energy to upgrade the Stations of the Cross and the altar on the summit. Last year the main cross fell down through the actions of the wind. New wood has been procured and the cross and the corpus of Christ will be fixed this winter. For years we have been restricting access to the site due to the dangerous conditions, but if all goes according to the plan then the danger will be removed by end of May. We anticipate that in 2021 June 20th (date to be confirmed) we will hold the pilgrimage on site.”

The re-opening of the site was heralded on the Eparchy website in a brief article written by committee member Marianne Greer. “For those who have not yet been back to see all that has been done, a new cross tops the hill; while the original Corpus Christi has been repaired, it is too fragile to re-mount on the cross and a replacement is necessary; the metal shelter at the foot of the hill remains as a welcome site for gathering; the site of the chapel and church has been filled and leveled; the stations of the cross look wonderful; and the common areas are groomed for access.” But it would be another year before a grand re-opening celebration could be held on September 4th, 2022. The day was marked with a Divine Liturgy, a BBQ lunch, games and dances for kids, and the Stations of the Cross around the Shrine site. Almost 110 people were in attendance and nearly $2000 was raised for the upkeep of the Shrine and future events.

Then on January 21, 2023, Fr. Ivan Nahachewsky led a Blessing of the Waters at the north pond on the site of the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows with nearly 50 people in attendance before he and six others partook in a Theophany Plunge.

A theophany is the combination of two Greek compounds: Theos (God) and phainein (to appear), therefore a theophany, then, is an appearance of God to human beings. The Feast of Theophany recognizes the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. The feast of the Theophany celebrates not only Christ's conquering of sin through baptism but also God's revelation of Christ as his Son and the beginning of Christ's ministry. (https://www.catholic.org/news/hf/faith/story.php?id=76661) To mark the day, Eastern Catholics begin celebrations with Divine Liturgy at the Church, which includes a blessing of the waters in the baptistry. After the water is blessed, the faithful drink the water, and bring bottles of water to bring back to their homes for use and not only physical but spiritual healing. During the Theophany season, priests also try to visit each home in the parish to bless the house with Holy Water that was blessed at Theophany.

The assembled formed a procession that descended the hill before stepping out on the ice of the north pond where an opening in the shape of a cross was cut in the ice. The blocks of ice which had been removed in the creation of the opening were used to fashion an altar upon which sat a customary bowl of water to be blessed during the service, and a cross that was coloured blue and yellow, the national colours of the Ukraine. After circling the altar with its bowl of water awaiting the blessing, and the hole in the ice three times while singing hymns, the congregants then gathered in front of the altar as the liturgy was intoned. With the conclusion of the blessing, the wooden ladder structure was lowered into the water of the north pond, and Fr. Ivan invited those not participating in the plunge to partake of the water on the altar. Seven hardy souls, two women and four men in addition to Fr. Ivan submerged themselves in an act of renewal.

The event on Saturday was not just a renewal of the Shrine site, Fr. Ivan explained, but of everyone who will go to the Shrine and all who were in attendance on Saturday. The plunge into the ice-cold waters of the north pond was also a personal renewal of the participant's baptismal promises and since a full immersion into ice-cold water in January in Saskatchewan is not something that everyone wants or is necessarily capable of doing, the rest sufficed with partaking of the newly blessed Holy Water. While the weather for the blessing was not the warmest of January days, the sun shone and frost crystals floated off the trees on the breeze, carried across the frozen surface of the pond toward the gathering there.

Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wakaw Recorder