St. Joseph pastors hope Catholics across archdiocese will take part in once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage
By Kyle Greenham
A unique spiritual adventure is underway for the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan.
As pandemic restrictions are expected to lessen this summer, a special pilgrimage to all three St. Joseph parishes in our archdiocese may soon begin.
This spiritual excursion, from the northern reaches of John D’or Prairie to the western plains of Spirit River and Grande Prairie, is in celebration of the Year of St. Joseph. This year marks the centennial anniversary of St. Joseph being named patron saint of the Catholic Church.
The St. Joseph pilgrimage is the brainchild of His Grace Archbishop Gerard Pettipas, CSsR. When Pope Francis announced 2021 as the Year of St. Joseph, Pettipas wanted to find a way to uniquely commemorate this year. With three parishes in the archdiocese honoured with the name St. Joseph, a pilgrimage seemed like the most fitting form of celebration.
“Like any spiritual exercise, a pilgrimage is about strengthening our spiritual life,” Pettipas said. “In the spirituality of the pilgrimage, the journey is as significant as the destination. The journey is a time of reflection, and hopefully just making the journey to each of these churches will feel like a spiritual experience for our people.”
The pilgrimage protocol is quite simple. Pilgrims must travel to all three St. Joseph churches in the archdiocese – St. Joseph’s Church in Grande Prairie, Spirit River and John D’or Prairie. At each parish, the prayer of the seven sorrows and seven joys of St. Joseph are prayed. These prayers are contained in a “pilgrim’s passport” that can be picked up at any of the three churches.
After you recite the prayers, your passport is stamped, and you can move on to the next destination.
When all three parishes are “stamped”, the pilgrimage ends at the chancery office in Grande Prairie – where you must get your passport signed by Archbishop Pettipas, and then you will receive a blessed olive-wood cross from the Holy Land. Each cross is made by Catholics in Palestine.
“These poor Palestinians, because of the pandemic and the lack of pilgrims to the Holy Land, have made next to nothing this past year,” said Pettipas. “So we purchased some of these crosses and will offer them as a gift and memento to those who take part in the pilgrimage.
“But the real focus here is the spiritual life – to reflect on St. Joseph and his life as a father and protector of the family.”
Rev. Andrew Simiiyu, FMH, has been encouraging his parishioners in John D’or Prairie to pray the seven sorrows and joys of St. Joseph at home. It has already created a major impact in his parish community.
“People have phoned me and said, since they’ve started saying this prayer, their family’s faith and devotion has increased. They are getting much spiritual nourishment from these prayers,” he said. “It shows devotion to St. Joseph is not only important in the church, but in the home.”
If covid restrictions ease over the summer, Simiiyu hopes Catholics throughout our vast archdiocese will venture out for this once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage. It is important, however, that pilgrims call ahead to this parish to ensure the John D’or Prairie reserve is not on lockdown due to the pandemic.
“My message to the people of this archdiocese is to come out in a very special way for this pilgrimage, to honour and be blessed by the Year of St Joseph,” Simiiyu said. “Our ‘teepee’ church is a great thing to come and see. It’s not like any other church. We have a very unique parish with a very unique culture.”
Father Remi Hebert, CSsR, also hopes people will take up the opportunity. The Grande Prairie pastor has already begun planning his own pilgrimage.
“As things open up this summer we can plan to do more, and a family pilgrimage is a great idea,” Hebert said. “The more we can do, especially as families, to honour this year will be a blessing for our spiritual lives.”
Rev. Arockiam Savarimuthu has already received one family of pilgrims to his parish – St. Joseph Church in Spirit River. He hopes to see many more pilgrims throughout the summer.
Father Arockiam is particularly inspired by St. Joseph’s immense respect and love for the Virgin Mary.
“St. Joseph is an outstanding, exemplary person in the respect he showed to our Blessed Mother,” he said. “He handled the situation around Mary’s pregnancy with so much dignity and respect. It’s something I admire much and would like to learn from him. He respected everyone extremely well, even if it offended his personal feelings.”
Father Remi is also inspired by St. Joseph’s role as a dedicated family man.
“We don’t know a whole lot about St. Joseph. But it’s clear in the Gospels that it was important for St. Joseph to always do what was best for his family.”
The St. Joseph pilgrimage continues until March 19, 2022. More information can be found at archgm.ca/pilgrimage-year-of-st-joseph/.