It is February in Grande Prairie, Alta., and our parish, St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, decided to create and host a winter pilgrimage for our parishioners and guests who wanted to experience the warmth of journeying together. The pilgrimage was in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Redemptorist community receiving the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help from Pope Pius IX saying, “make her known throughout the world.”
We have always had this image prominently displayed in our parish but, as a parishioner, I was not aware of its significance to the Redemptorist community or of the icon itself. The pilgrimage was a beautiful opportunity to “come out of the cold” and join my fellow pilgrims to journey together and find out more.
Our pastor, Rev. Remi Hebert, CSsR, asked six parishioners to each speak to one aspect of the icon during the evening. I was asked to specifically focus on the gentle hands of a mother, highlighted in the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Since I had very little knowledge of the icon specifically, but do have experience as a mother, I agreed.
Soft Taizé-style music was performed by our choir that aided in creating an immediate sense of holy and calm, a call to journey both outwardly and inwardly. A display of the icon at the front of the church was set up with rich blues and gold to complement the colours of the icon. Lights were set lower and candles were a source of soft light as well. The Holy Spirit could be felt as a powerful sense of the holy was encountered simply by coming in and committing to this quiet time out of the busy-ness of life.
We had six stations set up around different parts of the church. These stations all housed one speaker sharing on one the following aspects of the icon: the falling sandal; the faces of Jesus and Mary; the fringe of Mary’s gown; the gaze of Mary — human and divine; the gentle hands of a Mother; praying with icons; and prayers for healing.
A short explanation of each presentation was included in a booklet provided so that the pilgrims could choose three of the seven stations. Each presentation was 15 minutes, which included the presentation itself as well as some quiet reflection time.
A soft bell was rung throughout the church after 15 minutes and the choir would begin to sing as the people slowly made their way to their next stop on this personal yet communal pilgrimage.
The evening ended with a communal gathering in the pews for prayer as pilgrims individually placed their lit tea light around the altar. Father Remi led us in prayer and invited us to join for social time after the pilgrimage.
Our parish is blessed with an abundance of willing and capable people who can share their own personal story framed within a holy context. As much as it is often considered out of a comfort zone for most people to give a talk in front of others, there is always a blessing and generosity that God shows to those who say “yes.”
My short presentation focused on how our own hands could be a way to serve children/our families/those in our lives that need support by keeping in mind an attitude of holy service: a true and practical building up of the kingdom of God in our own spaces. These daily “chores” of a parent (or anyone caring for children) can be transformed into acts of living prayer in our own approach to them.
Afterward, some pilgrims shared with me how they were changed in their outlook and could now see the often thankless and arduous task of caring for children as a gift to be able to become more holy and share their faith and love with a little one. Others shared a new perspective on their careers (past and present) in caring for others, now framed in a holy light.
This is the gift of the icon: the gift of Jesus and Mary to us as willing and open pilgrims. If we search with an open heart and mind, giving time for reflection and sharing, the Spirit of God will move within us, as individuals, but also as a faith community.
It was a beautiful way to spend a cold winter evening — gazing upon the image of a mother, her son, our Saviour. Meister Eckhart tells us, “The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me.” This truly is an “icon of love”
Moore writes from Grande Prairie, Alta.