2018 Marian pilgrimage in Centralia, Penn. Photo courtesy of Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia.

By Perry West

(CNA) - Centralia, Pennsylvania, is on fire … literally: a coal fire has been raging underneath the town for more than 50 years, but a century-old church still stands, drawing hundreds of Catholics for an annual Marian pilgrimage.

“The town is essentially gone, for all intents and purposes dead, but the Church is what gives life,” said Father John Fields, communications director and vice-chancellor for the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia.

“Jesus Christ gives life to the whole location,” he told CNA.

On August 26, four bishops and more than 500 pilgrims gathered to celebrate the Feast of Assumption of Mary, known in the Eastern rites as the Dormition of the Theotokos.

Pilgrims came from nearby and as far away as Texas and Florida for the third annual pilgrimage at the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church in Centralia, a nearly deserted town where a fire still burns up to 300 feet underground.  

 

Believed to be from an attempt to burn trash in a former strip mine, the fire began under Centralia in 1962. The fire stretches 8 miles and could last up to 250 more years, according to the Smithsonian Institute.

Most of Centralia has evacuated, Fr. Fields told CNA, but added that the church still stands on the solid rock upon which it was built by Ukranian miners in 1912. He said that tests have shown the church to be safe from the fires.

The Marian pilgrimage was coordinated by Father Michael Hustko, the pastor of the Ukrainian church, built on a hill overlooking the now smoldering town and which still has about 50 families who are parishioners.

Also in attendance were Bishop Kurt Burnette of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic, Bishop Ronald Gainer of Harrisburg, Bishop John Bura of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, and Bishop Andriy Rabiy, apostolic administrator of the same archeparchy.

The event began with the celebration of Divine Liturgy, followed by the Akafist hymn, a poem of 24 stanzas composed by St. Roman the Melodist, which reflects on the earthly life of Jesus and the Mother of God, and the theological reality of the redemption of humanity.

Later in the day, a procession of candles was held as attendees prayed the Moleben, an eastern liturgical service of thanksgiving. A healing service was also held.

Participants were also welcome to pray a living rosary, which used a large set of beads held by numerous people. The rosary was prayed in front of an 18th century copy of the Icon of Our Lady of Pochaiv.

Divine Liturgy was led by Bishop Rabiy, who compared the pilgrimage to the mountain parish to the Transfiguration of Christ in the New Testament.

“Our Lord went up the mountain with Peter, James and John and was transfigured before their eyes. They experienced something special,” he said during the homily.

“Today, during this pilgrimage, gathered on this holy mountain, may each of you encounter the Divine. You come here to seek God’s grace. Say to Him, 'I am here to listen. Lord, what do you have to tell me?'”

Bishop Burnette led the Moleben, reflecting on the theme of forgiveness and especially Mary’s willingness to forgive those who killed her Son.

“If Mary could forgive those people [who crucified her Son], you and I could forgive anyone,” he said, and prayed that this time be one of “fresh beginnings” for the pilgrims.

“Ask God’s help for the forgiveness of sins and of each other. Ask God’s help, pray for others and ask the Mother of God for her help.”


Teachings of Christ

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35 ESV)

Christ is Born!

Your Nativity, O Christ our God, * has dawned upon the world the light of knowledge. * for through it, those who served the stars * were taught by a star to worship You, the Sun of Righteousness * and to know You, the Dawn from on high. * Glory to You, O Lord! (Troparion, Tone 4)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One, * and the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One. * Angels and shepherds sing His glory; * Wise Men journey with a star * for there is born for us an infant Child, the God Who is before all ages. (Kontakion, Tone 3)

Random Proverb

"Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her." (Proverbs 8:10,11 ESV)

Pray Without Ceasing

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Wisdom from the Church Fathers

For to despise the present age, not to love transitory things, unreservedly to stretch out the mind in humility to God and our neighbor, to preserve patience against offered insults and, with patience guarded, to repel the pain of malice from the heart, to give one's property to the poor, not to covet that of others, to esteem the friend in God, on God's account to love even those who are hostile, to mourn at the affliction of a neighbor, not to exult in the death of one who is an enemy, this is the new creature whom the Master of the nations seeks with watchful eye amid the other disciples, saying:"If, then, any be in Christ a new creature, the old things are passed away. Behold all things are made new" (2 Cor. 5:17). 

St. Gregory the Great