Pope Francis Opens Week Long Pilgrimage Site at Lac Ste Anne

After celebrating Mass at the Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on the Feast of St Anne and St Joachim, Pope Francis followed in the footsteps of indigenous pilgrims. He opened the week-long pilgrimage site at Lac Ste Anne.

Newsroom (26/07/2022 7:30 PM Gaudium Press) Many different Indigenous peoples have for generations visited Lac Ste Anne. The waters of this Lake are considered sacred healing properties and have attracted many people to its shores through the ages.

After visiting the church in private, the Holy Father followed in the footsteps of those arriving on pilgrimage. The Pope stopped briefly in front of the statue of Saint Anne. It is customary that pilgrims, who in some cases have walked for dozens, if not hundreds of kilometres to make their way to the site, stop and pay homage to the intercession of Saint Anne by simply touching the statue or placing rosary beads or flowers at the statue. Pope Francis will pause to acknowledge the image and also give thanks for the intercession of Saint Anne on her feast day.

The Holy Father then made his way down towards the waters of the Lake, passing by a traditional Métis cabin, symbolic of Métis life and culture. As he made his way to the Lake, accompanied by drumming and traditional singing. Along the way the pope also kissed a few babies much to the delight of all gathered especially their parents. 

The drumming and singing by a lone drummer, Eugene Alexis, is a song believed to have been heard by their ancestors. The Stoney Nakoda peoples, having moved up from the Dakotas to this very remote area in the middle of the eventual province of Alberta, came because their Chief received an image of this Lake in a vision. In this place, he was to bring his people, and they knew they had arrived at this place because they believed they could hear the words of this song being whispered on the treetops surrounding this Lake.

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They immediately gave the Lake the name ‘Wakamne (wah-kam-nay),’ which can be heard repeatedly in the song. Wakamne, in their language, means God’s Lake.

The Holy Father made a simple gesture, but one full of significance to Indigenous people. He turned to the East and gave a blessing. Then turned to the South, then to the West, each time doing the same blessing. Last of all, facing the North, he overlooked the Lake.

This is regarded as how Indigenous people have traditionally prayed: orienting themselves in the four directions, beginning in the East and following the way of the sun.

The Holy Father, now facing the North, with his hands extended over the water, offered the blessing that has been used almost every year for decades by the different bishops who have come to pray here and lead the pilgrimages.

From now on, the people who continue to remain in this place on pilgrimage will look to the waters of the Lake as a source of healing and refreshment. They will do so this year with particular attention to the fact that the Holy Father himself has blessed the Lake.

After being blessed, water was drawn from the Lake and placed in the Popemobile. Pope Francis made his way toward the large structure commonly referred to as the Shrine. Passing close to the people, the Pope sprinkled them with blessed water as a reminder of baptism.

The Holy Father entered the Shrine and conducted a Liturgy of the Word service. The first reading is Ezekiel 47, 1-2. 8-9. 12, Isaiah 12, 2. 4. 5-6 and the Gospel of John 6, 63. 68. The Readings have been carefully chosen to identify with the theme called ‘living water.’

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In the first reading, we hear the description of a vision – like that of the ancient Stoney Chief who first came here- from the prophet Ezekiel who describes water flowing out from the gates of the temple to the East and West, South and North, which is another reference to the four directions which Indigenous peoples hold so dear. The First Reading was proclaimed by Ms. Cecilia Babesca, representing the Tlicho (‘klee-cho’) community in Bechoko, near Yellowknife.

The Responsorial Psalm was sung by Ms. Shannon Emery-Gunn, a parishioner of the local community.

Deacon Steven Callaghan from the Diocese of Sault St. Marie proclaimed the Gospel. He is of Métis background. This place is also traditionally held sacred by the Métis people, which is also close to several Métis settlements. And it is within Métis Territorial Region Three.

The Pope proceeded to give a sermon in Spanish and then read in english, related to our Lord’s relation with the sea of Galilee and his preaching of the Kingdom of God also focussing on relationships and fellowships of differences as we are all pilgrims on a journey, then moving onto a message of reconciliation and rebirth in the waters and through the intercession of the Mother of God (Mary) and the Grandmother of God (St Anne). The full text  sermon will be published verbatim on this website.

Following the sermon, several individuals of indigenous origin processed to the ambo (lectern) for the offering of the general intercessory prayers commonly known as the “Prayers of the Faithful.”

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After praying the Our Father, the Pope concluded the ceremony by offering his apostolic blessing. The Holy Father then greeted an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

This handcrafted sculpture immediately to the right of the Pope was specifically made. The artist of this sculpture Timothy Schmaltz has done other works that were specially commissioned at the request of Pope Francis. The sculpture is a gift from the Holy Father to the people.

Timothy Schmaltz has prepared this image under the traditional title of “Our Lady, Undoer of Knots,” which is a title that is used to invoke the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is a title that Pope Francis especially loves and invokes the Blessed Virgin Mary under.

In this depiction, the Mother of Christ is depicted standing over the globe with a rope consisting of many knots, which she is seen as untying. It is customary through this particular devotion to entrust any of the ‘knots’ in our lives to our Lady’s intercession and ask for her assistance in ‘untying’ them. Slots are fashioned into the sculpture, allowing ribbons to be tied into the statue for people to symbolically untie, making it an interactive sculpture. The Holy Father offered a prayer of blessing over this sculpture which will remain here as an enduring legacy of his visit.

Returning through the crowd again by Popemobile to the church, the Pope departed to the joyful sounds of the Métis fiddlers.

– Raju Hasmukh

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