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

“Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33 ESV)

Holy Forefathers

Through faith, O Christ, you justified the Forefathers, * betrothing through them in advance the Church of the gentiles. * The Saints exult in glory, * for from their seed came forth a glorious fruit: * she who gave birth to You without seed. * Through their prayers, O Christ God, have mercy on us. (Troparion, Tone 2)

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

You did not honor a hand-depicted image, O thrice-blessed ones, * but defended by the undepicted Being you were glorified in a trial by fire. * And, standing in the midst of unbearable flame, you called upon God: * “Hasten, O Compassionate One, and speed to our help, * for You are merciful and You can do whatever you will.” (Kontakion, Tone 6)

(Second Sunday Before Christmas)

Saint Nicholas of Myra

The truth of your deeds has revealed you to your flock, * as a rule of faith, an image of meekness, and a teacher of abstinence. * Therefore, you attained the heights through humility, * and riches through poverty. * O Father and Hierarch Nicholas, * pray to Christ God that our souls may be saved. (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.

In Myra, You were shown to be a servant of the sacred things, O Holy Nicholas, * for, fulfilling the Gospel of Christ, you, O Venerable, laid down your life for your people, * and saved the innocent from death. * Therefore, you were sanctified as a great initiate of the grace of God. (Kontakion, Tone 3)

Random Proverb

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7 ESV)

Pray Without Ceasing

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

Wisdom from the Church Fathers

The man who endures accusations against himself with humility has arrived at perfection. He is marvelled at by the holy angels, for there is no other virtue so great and so hard to achieve.

St Isaac the Syrian