Current Issue
March, 2018
Volume 44, Number 1
14 March 2018
Catholic News Service

An Israeli flag on Mount of Olives flies near the city of Jerusalem on 13 February.
(photo: CNS/Jim Hollander, EPA)

U.S. Christian leaders, including the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote government and church leaders in the Holy Land to express opposition to Jerusalem’s plan to tax church properties not used for worship.

The religious leaders urged the Israeli government and the city of Jerusalem not to inhibit the churches’ work in and around Jerusalem. In a separate letter, they told Holy Land church leaders they would continue to press the Israeli government on these issues.

In early February, the Jerusalem Municipality announced it would begin collecting $186.4 million in property taxes from some 887 church-owned properties that were not houses of prayer. The proposal to levy taxes on some properties would run contrary to the unofficial historical tax-exempt status the churches have enjoyed for centuries. Franciscan Father David Grenier, general secretary of the Custody of the Holy Land, which oversees Catholic religious sites, said bank accounts of some churches, such as the Anglicans and the Assyrians, were frozen in mid-February. He said some churches had been threatened with confiscation of property if the bills went unpaid, and churches were being charged retroactively for seven years.

After the Christian leaders closed the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for three days, the Israeli government set up a negotiating team to resolve the dispute.

A church source in the Holy Land told Catholic News Service 14 March that the committees for the talks had not yet been formed.

Besides Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, USCCB president, signers of the two letters included Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Armenian Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, ecumenical director and legate of the Armenian Church of America; and Bishop Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.

“We affirm your protest against the recent efforts to confiscate church lands or tax church properties whose function is integral to the churches’ mission,” the U.S. church leaders told Holy Land Christian leaders. Their letter was sent to Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III, Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian and Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land.

In their letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, the U.S. church leaders noted that the proposed tax measures “would have the effect of creating a situation that jeopardizes the very survival of the Christian community in the Holy Land.”

They said the different activities in which the Holy Land churches are involved — education, health care and pilgrimages — “are integral to the churches’ mission” and also benefit the Jerusalem community beyond the churches.

5 March 2018
Catholic News Service

A man is helped out of a damaged building 22 February after attacks in Douma, Syria.
(photo: CNS/Bassam Khabieh, Reuters)

The patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church denounced a statement issued by the head of the World Council of Churches regarding the situation in Syria, in particular the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus.

“We are deeply appalled by your statement on Syria,” Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch wrote the Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse-Tveit, general-secretary of the World Council of Churches, regarding the 26 February statement.

“You mention 550 victims killed in Eastern Ghouta, including more than 130 children. However, you neglect to mention hundreds of civilians, including many children, killed by the mortars and missiles coming from Eastern Ghouta, especially when most of these mortars have long targeted areas populated by Christians from churches which are members of WCC,” the patriarch, a native of Qamishli, Syria, wrote in the 2 March letter.

“Targeting of civilians on all sides should be indeed condemned,” he stressed. However, the patriarch said Rev. Fykse-Tveit’s statement “clearly shows a biased position concerning what is happening in Syria in general, and in Damascus in particular.”

“As a council of churches representing its members, including those of us who live in Syria, your statement should have been apolitical, more pastoral and reflecting the position of the great majority of Christians in Syria,” he said. “It is obvious that your information on what is happening in Syria lacks accuracy and objectivity.”

The Syriac Orthodox patriarch warned that “such an unbalanced statement will be used as a political tool serving a political vision of Syria’s future that does not necessarily express the views of the majority of the Syrian people, including Christians.”

He expressed his hope that the WCC “once again becomes the voice of the suffering churches in Syria” and would “convey to the entire world the reality of what they are going through.”

2 February 2018
Catholic News Service

Archbishop Stefan Soroka of Philadelphia, metropolitan of U.S. Ukrainian Catholics, and Bishop Paul P. Chomnycky of Stamford, Connecticut, have placed a culinary wager on the outcome of this weekend’s Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.
(photos: CNS/Jacqueline Dorme, Republican-Herald and Gregory A. Shemitz)

Two Ukrainian Catholic prelates have placed a culinary wager on the outcome of the 4 February Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.

Archbishop Stefan Soroka of Philadelphia, metropolitan of U.S. Ukrainian Catholics, is rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles, in their first Super Bowl appearance since 2005. Bishop Paul P. Chomnycky of Stamford, Connecticut, is rooting for the New England Patriots — the returning Super Bowl champions and perennial powerhouse.

To show their confidence in their respective home teams, the bishops announced on 1 February they have placed a friendly wager on the ultimate outcome of the game. The beneficiaries will be either the chancery staff in Philadelphia or the chancery staff in Stamford.

“If the Eagles do not fly high on Sunday,” Archbishop Soroka said, “we will provide a luncheon for the Stamford chancery staff highlighted with Philadelphia cheesesteaks. However, I do not suspect I will have to do so.”

While Bishop Chomnycky and his chancery staff are looking forward to the Philly cheesesteak luncheon, the bishop stated that “if the Eagles fly high and the Patriots experience a rare defeat,” he will provide the Philadelphia chancery staff with a luncheon “with Boston cream pie as the dessert.”

The Ukrainian leaders’ wager came a day after one announced by another Eagles fan, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, and another New England Patriots supporter, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston. The two prelates, who are longtime friends and classmates from their seminary days as young Capuchin Franciscans, are wagering $100 donations to aid the poor in their archdioceses.

The Philly cheesesteak was developed in the early 20th century “by combining frizzled beef, onions and cheese in a small loaf of bread,” according to a 1987 exhibition catalog published by the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Philadelphians Pat and Harry Olivieri are often credited with inventing the sandwich by serving chopped steak on an Italian roll in the early 1930’s.

According to the owners of the Parker House Hotel in Boston, the Boston cream pie was first created at the hotel by an Armenian-French chef, M. Sanzian, in 1856 and originally called a chocolate cream pie. While other custard cakes may have existed at the time, baking chocolate as a coating was a new process, making it unique and a popular choice on the menu.

The name “Boston cream pie” first appeared in the 1872 Methodist Almanac was declared the official dessert of Massachusetts on 12 December 1996.

While both bishops are rooting for their respective home teams, they said they see the big game as an American tradition that brings the nation together on Super Bowl Sunday.

“It is amazing how on this one Sunday, people throughout the nation, indeed throughout the world, come together to watch a game played by grown men. Families, neighbors and organizations have parties and socials to enjoy this American classic. It is a unifying event,” Archbishop Soroka said.

Bishop Chomnycky commented, “While we all hope for an exciting and competitive football game on Sunday, we also look forward to good sportsmanship and camaraderie among the players and fans both on and off the field. For a few hours, we are able to forget about the many problems throughout the world.”

5 December 2017
Catholic News Service

Residents carry their belongings as they evacuate their home on 2 December after flooding caused by Typhoon Ockhi in the coastal village of Chellanam in the southern state of Kerala, India. The storm claimed the lives of at least 32 poor Catholic fishermen who were at sea and 200 more were missing. (photo: CNS/Sivaram V, Reuters)

A typhoon that rapidly developed on the southern Indian coast claimed the lives of at least 32 poor Catholic fishermen who were at sea and another 200 more were missing.

Thousands of other coastal residents had relocated to relief camps by 4 December, reported.

The confirmed deaths were in Kerala and Tamil Nadu states, according to government sources.

All the dead are Catholic men who had gone out to sea, said Father V. Wilfred, a priest of Vizhinjam parish, a fishing village near Kerala’s capital, Thiruvananthapuram.

Antony Silvaster, a Catholic fisherman in the fishing village of Vizhinjam, said there was no warning of the storm. He said that with 200 fishermen missing, the community expected the death toll to rise.

Worst affected was the coastal area near India’s southern tip, a Catholic stronghold.

Gusty winds and heavy rains began to lash the coast in southern India 30 November after a depression near Sri Lanka rapidly developed into a typhoon, named Ockhi. The storm’s intensity declined by 4 December.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India expressed solidarity with the fishing communities and offered prayers for the families affected by the storm.

“We offer our condolences to the families of all those who have lost their lives and we wish to comfort those who have been afflicted by pain and suffering caused by the devastating hurricane in the past few days,” Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, conference secretary general, said in a statement December.

The bishops’ conference also asked diocese throughout India to offer prayers during Masses 10 December.

Archbishop Soosa Pakiam of Trivandrum and local priests traveled to the devastated area and began arranging for the delivery of relief supplies.

The Kerala government had opened 29 camps for an estimated 3,000 people forced from their homes. About 200 houses were destroyed, state Fisheries Minister J. Mercykutty Amma told local media.

Father Justin Jude of Poonthura said people also lost boats and nets. He urged the government to provide adequate compensation so that fishing families could return to work as soon as possible.

Typhoons are rare on India’s west coast. The last major typhoon on the Kerala coast occurred in 1941, killing 62 people and destroying about 50,000 homes.

16 November 2017
Catholic News Service

An Indian Christian woman prays on 2 November, All Souls’ Day, at a cemetery in Bhopal. A Catholic bishop has sought protection for the Christian community in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh after Hindu nationalists marched through the streets waving burning torches and denouncing missionaries. (photo: CNS/Sanjeev Gupta, EPA)

A Catholic bishop has sought protection for the Christian community in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh after Hindu nationalists marched through the streets waving burning torches and denouncing missionaries.

The marchers on 10 November accused Sagar district authorities of not acting upon complaints they filed against missionaries for violating a law that restricts religious conversions. They said if the administration failed to act within two weeks, they would start an indefinite strike in front of a Catholic-run orphanage in the area. reported the trouble in Sagar started in September after government officials evicted a Catholic priest working in the orphanage and closed a 20-year-old mission following a dispute over the land title. Church leaders say the government action was instigated by Hindu groups.

The leaders of the fundamentalist religious awakening co-ordination committee, which organized the march, told media that the church's social services and work in education and health care are all a facade to convert gullible people to Christianity.

The protesters said they were working with the government for a national law against religious conversions and to check missionary activities. Madhya Pradesh and five other Indian states already have laws that make religious conversion through allurement and force illegal.

“We are under tremendous pressure,” said Bishop Anthony Chirayath of Sagar, who submitted a memorandum to district officials and the state chief minister and governor seeking their intervention for the protection of Christians. reported the bishop wanted the administration to take immediate steps to end this “false and malicious campaign” in the media that projects Christians as “out to convert Hindus, violating laws.”

The facts disproved the propaganda, he said. Sagar has some 300,000 people. But since its beginning in 1986, the diocese has only 1,000 Catholics.

“Our number has not grown in years. Still, we are accused of converting people,” he said.

The district has only 5,000 Christians among its 2.3 million people, 92 percent of whom are Hindus. In the predominantly Hindu state, Christians form less than 1 percent of the 72 million population.

Christian leaders say the state, run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, has been tacitly supporting violence against Christians orchestrated by Hindu nationalists, pushing to establish a Hindu-only nation in India.

Missionaries in the diocese say the campaign by hardline Hindu activists has made their work increasingly difficult as villagers view them as criminals.

13 November 2017
Catholic News Service

A woman mourns next to a dead body following an earthquake in Sarpol-e Zahab, Iran, on 13 November. The 12 November earthquake killed more than 400 people and injured more than 6,000 in Iran and Iraq. (photo: CNS/Tasnim News Agency via Reuters)

Pope Francis sent messages of condolence to people in Iran and Iraq after a magnitude 7.3 earthquake killed more than 400 people, mostly in Iran.

The pope “assures all affected by this tragedy of his prayerful solidarity,” said the nearly identical messages, released on 13 November.

“In expressing his sorrow to all who mourn the loss of their loved ones, he offers his prayers for the deceased and commends them to the mercy of the almighty,” said the telegrams, signed by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

As he often does in emergencies, Pope Francis also asked for the “blessings of consolation and strength” for first responders and civil authorities.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the 12 November quake was centered 19 miles outside Halabja, Iraq. It was felt as far west as the Mediterranean coast.

The hardest-hit area was Iran’s western Kermanshah province, which sits in the Zagros Mountains that divide Iran and Iraq. The Associated Press reported residents in the rural area rely mainly on farming to make a living.

Caritas MONA, the regional branch of the church’s charitable aid agency in the Middle East and North Africa, sent tweets asking people to join Caritas Iran and Caritas Iraq in prayers for those affected.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with our brothers & sisters in Iraq and Iran following yesterday’s devastating earthquake that hit the border region,” said another tweet.

30 October 2017
Catholic News Service

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, left center in red, looks on as Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai blesses a chapel to Lebanon’s St. Charbel in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City on 28 October. (photo: CNS/Mychel Akl for Maronite Catholic Patriarchate)

Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of Maronite Catholics, inaugurated a chapel to Lebanon’s St. Charbel in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The chapel is the first of its kind outside Lebanon.

“St. Charbel is a sign of hope for Christianity and for all the people of the Middle East who suffer in difficult circumstances,” Cardinal Rai said in his homily on 28 October at a Mass at the cathedral. New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of the Maronite Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn concelebrated the Mass.

“We are here in New York and the United States to hear the voices that speak to us about the Middle East,” said Cardinal Dolan.

The artistic mosaic sanctuary depicts St. Charbel wrapped in a luminous halo in the Lebanese mountain, near the St. Maron monastery in Annaya, Lebanon, where his tomb is located. The saint is surrounded by flourishing cedars and crystalline waters of the Mediterranean, a symbol of spiritual life.

The 19th-century Lebanese Maronite monk had a strong devotion to the Eucharist. He was canonized by Blessed Paul VI in 1977.

St. Maron’s Monastery says it has approximately 26,000 documented miracles attributed to the intercession of St. Charbel, not just in Lebanon but worldwide. It says that, lately, at least 10 percent of recipients of miracles are nonbaptized individuals, including Muslims, Druze, Jews and atheists.

4 October 2017
Catholic News Service

Clergy, religious and laypeople of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia pose for a photo with newly ordained Auxiliary Bishop Andriy Rabiy at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception 24 September in Philadelphia.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Ukrainian Catholic Metropolitan Archeparchy of Philadelphia)

The newly ordained auxiliary bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia said on 24 September that he was so “full of joy” about his new role serving the faithful that it was hard to put it into words.

“Today I am full of joy. This is how I feel right now,” Auxiliary Bishop Andriy Rabiy said in his homily during the hierarchical Divine Liturgy. “My joy is hard to express. My heart is overflowing. I am so happy to be with you.”

Clergy, religious and laypeople welcomed Bishop Rabiy to the archeparchy with the liturgy celebrated by the bishop at the golden-domed Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Archbishop Stefan Soroka, head of the archeparchy and metropolitan of Ukrainian Catholics in the United States, was the presider and offered words of welcome.

“Our archeparchy is blessed with many priests who are dedicated and capable to exercise leadership within our church,” the archbishop said. “From amidst this talented family of priests, God has called our young Bishop Andriy Rabiy to provide spiritual leadership as our auxiliary bishop.”

Bishop Rabiy, vicar general and a pastor, was consecrated a bishop 3 September in St. George’s Cathedral in his native Lviv, Ukraine. The co-consecrators were Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Archbishop Soroka and Bishop David Motiuk of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Edmonton, Alberta.

He was named a bishop 8 August by Pope Francis, who confirmed his election by the Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. At 41, he is the youngest Catholic bishop in the United States.

During the Divine Liturgy in Philadelphia, Msgr. Dennis Kuruppassry, a representative of Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the United States, offered greetings from the nuncio and presented the papal bull on the new bishop’s appointment. It was read in Ukrainian by Father Roman Pitula, the cathedral rector, and in English by Archpriest Michael Hutsko, dean of the South Anthracite deanery.

Bishop Rabiy presented the bull to the congregation, who responded with the traditional acclamation “Axios!” (“He Is Worthy!”)

Auxiliary Bishop Andriy Rabiy displays the official apostolic letter from Pope Francis appointing him as an auxiliary bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia. He held up the letter during a 24 September hierarchical Divine Liturgy celebrated at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Ukrainian Catholic Metropolitan Archeparchy of Philadelphia)

In his homily, Bishop Rabiy recalled the verses from Psalm 103, “Bless the Lord, my soul; all my being, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, my soul; and do not forget all his gifts.”

“Truly the joy is overwhelming,” he told the congregation about serving them as a bishop. “It is such a beautiful feeling.”

At the end of the Divine Liturgy, Auxiliary Bishop John Bura, of the Philadelphia archeparchy, welcomed his brother bishop on behalf of the clergy, religious and laity.

Bishop Bura recalled the life experiences of both Bishop Rabiy and the situation of the persecuted Ukrainian Catholic Church in Ukraine in the 20th century. The underground church, the church of the catacombs, was the church Bishop Rabiy experienced in his home country.

“Bishop Andriy grew up in two worlds, two realities, in Ukraine and in America,” Bishop Bura said. “As a 17-year-old youth, he responded to Christ’s call. He entered the seminary in Ivano-Frankivsk and eventually St. Josaphat Seminary in Washington, D.C. He’s lived in Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Washington, D.C., New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

“As a bishop, he will reveal the faith and beauty of our church to all believers,” he added.

After Bishop Bura’s remarks, Bishop Rabiy went up and down the aisles of the spacious cathedral blessing the congregation with holy water.

Bishop Rabiy will continue as pastor of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Reading and administrator of St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Lancaster, a newly formed mission parish which he founded in February 2013.

Bishops who concelebrated the Divine Liturgy of welcome included Bishop Bura; Bishop Paul P. Chomnycky of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Stamford, Connecticut; Archbishop William C. Skurla of the Byzantine Archeparchy of Pittsburgh; Bishop Kurt R. Burnette of the Byzantine Eparchy of Passaic, New Jersey; Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Deliman of the Latin Archdiocese of Philadelphia; retired Bishop Basil H. Losten of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Stamford; and retired Bishop James C. Timlin of the Latin Diocese of Scranton. Several priests also concelebrated and Deacons Michael Waak and Paul M. Spotts assisted.

Seminarians from St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Seminary Washington were the altar servers. Liturgical responses were sung by the choir of the Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family in Washington.

5 September 2017
Catholic News Service

A displaced Iraqi man is seen through a car window near Mosul, Iraq, 9 August. The Rev. Michael Czerny, S.J., undersecretary of the migrant and refugee section of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, said 4 September the Vatican believes countries must guarantee “adequate legal frameworks and reliable pathways to prevent migrants from becoming victims of human trafficking.” (photo: CNS/Suhaib Salem, Reuters)

Many people become more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation when safe, legal and affordable opportunities for immigration or asylum are lacking, a Vatican official told global leaders.

Since human traffickers “can easily take advantage of the desperation of migrants and asylum seekers,” such people on the move can end up “in an irregular or undocumented status,” which puts them “at a very high risk of abuse and exploitation, including trafficking and enslavement,” said Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, undersecretary of the migrant and refugee section of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

That is why the Vatican believes it is very important countries guarantee “adequate legal frameworks and reliable pathways to prevent migrants from becoming victims of human trafficking,” he said 4 September.

The priest spoke at a meeting in Vienna 4-5 September that was part of the U.N. process for developing and adopting a Global Compact for Migration and a Global Compact on Refugees. The U.N. hopes to have a draft of the compacts ready by February and to present them to the general assembly in September 2018.

Father Czerny led the Vatican delegation at the meeting where other Catholic organizations also have been participating in discussions and hearings to formulate the compacts.

He told the assembly that “despite the great achievements of international agreements, asylum seekers and migrants, who risk their lives in search of safety and a new home, are still and ever more vulnerable, especially to criminal organizations.”

“Since safe, regular and affordable routes are generally not available, many migrants employ smugglers,” he said. Since smugglers are sometimes involved or connected with human trafficking, migrating to start a new life “can go disastrously wrong.”

While victims and potential victims need more protections, he said, receiving communities need to recognize the role they play as part of fueling the demand for forced and slave labor, particularly in prostitution and work that does not meet legal standards in terms of pay or safety.

With human trafficking now being a multibillion-dollar industry, “slavery must not be an unavoidable aspect of economies. Instead, business should be in the vanguard in combating and preventing this travesty,” Father Czerny said.

A measure of the Global Compact for Migration’s success “will be if tomorrow’s migratory movements are no longer inevitably marked by human smuggling as today’s clearly are,” he said. “For irregular migration is not freely chosen but rather forced on people because legal and secure channels are simply not accessible.”

30 August 2017
Catholic News Service

Ukrainian Catholic Archbishop Stefan Soroka of Philadelphia blesses a woman and other pilgrims during "A Call of Prayer Marian Pilgrimage" on 27 August at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church in Centralia, Pennsylvania.
(photo: CNS/courtesy George Ann Novak-Katchick)

Only a few structures still stand in this nearly abandoned borough 62 miles northeast of Harrisburg. Even fewer are visible through the tree cover from the top of an adjacent mountain overlooking what was once a thriving community.

The most notable and recognizable structure is the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church, with bright blue domes that rise out of the foliage on the side of the mountain. Though all but seven of the town’s residents relocated because of the continuing fire in the anthracite coal mine beneath its surface, the church continues to serve a successful and thriving parish.

Nearly 400 people made the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Philadelphia’s pilgrimage to the little church on 27 August for the second annual “A Call to Prayer” on the eve of the Dormition of the Holy Mother of God.

The pilgrimage was the second since Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, Ukraine, the leader of more than 5 million Ukrainian Catholics around the globe, visited the church on 10 November 2015. He was accompanied by Archbishop Stefan Soroka of Philadelphia, metropolitan of Ukrainian Catholics in the United States, and Father Michael Hutsko, pastor of the parish.

Archbishop Shevchuk felt a sense of true holiness at the church and expressed his desire for all people of faith to visit and share the same sanctity and serenity. Six months after the visit, he declared the church a holy pilgrimage site.

“This church is built on the top of solid rock,” Archbishop Soroka said at the time. “A rock of faith for the area, for these pilgrims, and that’s what we want everyone to benefit from here, that our Lord’s love for us in unending.

“Even in disaster, the church continues,” he said.

For the pilgrimage, people crowded into the church, built in 1912, and onto the grounds for the Divine Liturgy celebrated by Archbishop Soroka and local clergy. Outside the church, they followed along in prayer and song heard over large speakers.

“When one thinks of Centralia, two images come to mind — the mountain and the fire. This is providential, since many references to holy mountains and fire as the presence of God are found in sacred Scripture,” Father John Fields said during his homily.

“Today, as pilgrims to this holy mountain we come with open hearts, humility and faith to be in the presence of God and seek his grace and his blessings for our needs,” Father Fields told the faithful.

After the liturgy, the pilgrims processed from the church to an outdoor chapel that held an 18th-century replica of the miraculous Our Lady of Pochaev icon. A long line of pilgrims waited to pray before it.

Conventual Franciscan Father Martin Kobos, pastor of Mother Cabrini Church in Shamokin, Pennsylvania, offered a reflection on the living rosary. He held up a photo of his meeting with St. John Paul II and then took out something even more special — a rosary given to him by the saint.

Msgr. James T. Melnic led the Akafist to the Dormition of the Mother of God before the Holy Shroud of the Dormition as pilgrims spilled out of the outdoor chapel.

The service was followed by a candlelight procession with the icon to the church for a Moleben prayer service to the Mary led by Archbishop Soroka.

During his homily, Archbishop Soroka recalled the words of Mary to the servants at the wedding feast at Cana: “Do whatever he tells you.” It’s the same advice Mary gives to the faithful today, he said, “to follow Jesus and to do what he inspires us to do.”

Afterward, participants were anointed with the holy oil and venerated the icon as well as the icon and relics of Blessed Nicholas Charnetsky, a martyr of the church who was beatified by St. John Paul in 2001.

Pilgrims traveled from as far as Philadelphia, Washington and New Jersey to focus on their spiritual lives during the afternoon.

The procession was the moment Marsha Brubaker of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, had been waiting for. She and her husband, Phil, made the pilgrimage after reading about the event in the faith section of a local newspaper.

“It’s visually powerful when you see so many people praying for peace and praying for others; it’s outstanding,” she said.

Making the trip from Philadelphia for the second year was Eugene Borys and his family, who received individual blessings from Archbishop Soroka. Borys’ son is a seminarian and joined the pilgrimage with five seminarians from St. Josaph at Ukrainian Catholic Seminary in Washington.

Mary Theresa Mattu, 83, of nearby Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, was raised in the parish, being baptized and married there. It is also where her parents are buried. She still attends Divine Liturgy at the church.

Barbara Liparela of Shavertown, Pennsylvania, attended as a member of the choir from St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in McAdoo, Pennsylvania, which sang the responses during the Divine Liturgy.

Several languages could be heard being spoken during the pilgrimage, reminding those on the grounds of the feast of Pentecost, when the common language understood by all was that of faith.

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