With the mass shootings that have taken place in this country in recent weeks and "the state of our society in our big cities and small towns," this is a time "when we all need to turn to God," said the pastor of a historic Ukrainian Catholic church in Pennsylvania.
Father Michael Hutsko, pastor of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church in Centralia, made the comments in an interview with SSPTV of Hazelton, Pennsylvania, ahead of the annual Call to Prayer Marian Pilgrimage set to take place at the church Aug. 25.
The white church, with its distinctive three onion-shaped blue domes, sits on a hill to the north of the town, which has been almost entirely condemned as a result of underground mine fires that have undermined the stability of the ground.
"People are coming from all over the East Coast (to) make their way here to pray," Father Hutsko said. "It truly is a day of prayer and we try to keep the property as peaceful and calm as possible, not to turn it into a reunion or a picnic. It's a place to experience to God and this mountain is conducive to that."
The fact the church sits high above the town, escaping the underground mine fires is "something providential, " the priest added. "Only God knew it would be a place to call people and remind people of his presence."
Today, while the town is a memory, the church still serves a thriving parish family, with congregants driving to the hilltop on Sundays and holy days from communities throughout the area.
This year's annual Marian pilgrimage will feature five bishops who will concelebrate the Divine Liturgy: Metropolitan-Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia; Bishop Paul P. Chomnycky of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Stamford, Connecticut; Bishop Ronald W. Gainer of the Latin-rite Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Bishop Alfred A. Schlert of the Latin-rite Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania; and Auxiliary Bishop John Bura of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia.
Metropolitan-Archbishop Gudziak will be the homilist. Father Deacon Paul Spotts will serve as deacon. Responses to the Divine Liturgy will be congregational singing led by Dennis Hardock, cantors from local parishes, members of St. Nicholas Choir in Minersville, Pennsylvania, and Holy Family Ukrainian National Shrine Choir in Washington.
After the Divine Liturgy, a procession from the church will take the Icon of Our Lady of Pochaiv to the outside chapel where the icon will be placed for veneration.
Priests will be available for much of the day offering the sacrament of reconciliation for pilgrims at various locations on the church grounds.
A living rosary will be prayed in the afternoon before the Icon of Our Lady of Pochaiv. Afterward the Akafist Prayer to the Dormition (Assumption) of Mary will be sung.
The schedule also will include a 5 p.m. a candlelight procession with the icon from the Pochaiv Chapel to the church for the celebration of a "moleben," or prayer of (prayer of supplication) to the Mother of God. At the conclusion of the moleben, prayers for healing and the anointing with holy oils for the healing of soul and body will take place.
"During this Marian pilgrimage, as we are called to prayer," Father Hutsko said, to ask that Mary "extend her mantle of protection over us and lead our nation toward a spiritual conversion of mind, heart and soul."
The first pilgrimage to the Centralia church was held in 2016 and the story of this unique pilgrimage site has been told throughout the world. It was the cover story for the Christmas 2018 edition of Reader's Digest and BBC News did a feature story in February 2018.
During a 2015 visit, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, Ukraine, the head of the worldwide Ukrainian Catholic Church, marveled at the continuing presence of the church in Centralia. He also noted how this coal region parish fostered vocations of four men to the priesthood and three sisters to religious life.
With the visit of Major Archbishop Shevchuk and the encouragement of now-retired Metropolitan-Archbishop Stefan Soroka of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, the place was designated a holy site of pilgrimage.