Pilgrimage to the Shrine of St. Anne in Quebec
By Tonia Long
One rainy afternoon in July, my son Joshua pulled up in a rental car, loaded my bags, pointed the car north and we left the familiar town of Geneva, New York. We were on our way to Quebec, Canada and our mission was to deliver 11,739 prayer intentions from friends of America Needs Fatima to the miraculous Shrine of Saint Anne de Beaupre’. This was my first visit to a place I had heard wonderful things about and I was very excited.
Before too long, we were driving through the Adirondack Mountains, God’s Green Cathedral in upstate New York. The pines pointed heavenward, making a jagged silhouette against a serene summer sky. The road wound in a serpentine fashion up hill and down; Joshua enjoyed putting the Dodge Charger he had rented through its paces. At one point we crossed over the magnificent Hudson River. I could not help but think that the Black Robe missionaries who first traveled here to bring Christ to the Native Americans did not have it so easy.
We crossed the Canadian border at dusk and soon all that there was to see were the exit signs. Even those proved uplifting. This area of Canada was settled by French Catholics, so almost every town is named after a saint. Simply by reading the exit signs felt much like praying a litany of the saints: Saint Julie, Saint David, Saint John, Saint Pierre (Peter), Saint Charles (this was a river), Saint Jeanne d’Arc, Saint Edmond…pray for us.
A Candlelight Procession
The next morning, Joshua decided he wanted to get some photographs of the shrine on a day that wasn’t too busy. Since the candlelight procession would begin at 8:15 that evening, we left the hotel room late in the afternoon and headed toward the shrine. As we pulled off the expressway we noticed right away the glistening white spires of the shrine looming large against a sapphire blue sky. A cluster of modest homes opened to the spacious courtyard graced with a statue of Saint Anne. She presided over all her grandchildren atop a beautiful fountain, with the cathedral behind her.
While the cathedral itself is large and splendid in its grand proportions, the aura within was one of gentleness and patience. I immediately felt welcome, just as I did as a child entering my own grandmother’s home. Standing in the middle of this holy place, my thoughts were whisked back to my childhood visits with my Grandma Mary. She was always happy to see me, but never encouraged any foolishness; she kept a clean and orderly house! The devout and the curious milled about, respectful and quiet. Even the many children were less than rambunctious.
As the 8 o'clock hour drew near, the Blessed Sacrament was processed out for Adoration. All the lights went out, as candles were lit one by one throughout the entire house of God. As the procession began, a song that I was not familiar with was sung, its verses alternating between French and English.
We left the shelter of the church and walked out into the chilly Canadian air and I noticed that those in wheelchairs were being lovingly tucked under blankets by their caregivers. I was given the grace of watching a young boy with jet-black hair wrap his Native American grandmother in a red and black checked blanket. Their eyes met in silence and they smiled at one another. I could just imagine a tender moment like this passing between Jesus and Saint Anne.
As the procession drew to a close, we gathered in the courtyard to pray a litany and adore the Blessed Sacrament raised above the crowd in blessing. All those in wheelchairs, and there were many, lined up in front to receive a special prayer for healing.
As a final farewell to Saint Anne, those who held a candle raised it high as her statue was brought back into the cathedral. Everyone slowly dispersed, drinking in the graces of the night spent with Grandma Anne.
The Feast Day of Saint Anne
Early the next day we returned to the shrine. Had the building not been the same and we had not heard the GPS declare, “you have reached your destination” we would have questioned whether we were truly in the same place as we had been the night before. Busses were pouring in, belching out a steady stream of visitors. There was a great hustle and bustle and the calm of the previous evening had all but evaporated. I found myself thankful for my son’s foresight to take his photographs the day before. Our only objective on this day was our greatest—to finally deliver into the hands of Saint Anne on her feast day the prayer petitions sent to America Needs Fatima from our friends and supporters across the country.
As we made our way into the shrine, I was again impressed by the two pillars near the entrance that were covered in old canes, crutches, and other medical paraphernalia that had been left by those who no longer required their assistance. These devout pilgrims had entered the shrine crippled and had left whole. These crutches, et cetera, of course only represented physical healings. Who knows how many visitors went home with hearts and souls made whole through Saint Anne’s intercession.
With this thought in mind, I walked to the left, in the direction of a side altar we had observed the night before. On it was reposed an amazing relic of Saint Anne’s arm bone. Imagine, the very arm that held the Blessed Mother as Saint Anne went about her daily chores. Years later, this same arm would reach down to take the Hand of the Divine Savior, the very Hand that would one day be pierced by my sins. This was indeed the best place to carry out our last duty.
Many others kneeled at the foot of this holy place and it was filed with bouquets of flowers that had not been there fourteen hours earlier. To the left of the relic I saw a small golden statue which had long ago been donated by Saint Francois de Laval, the first bishop of Quebec. Against the base of this statue I laid the envelope containing 11,739 heartfelt prayers and petitions. Kneeling beside my fellow pilgrims, I made a final prayer to Grandma Anne asking her to take these to the throne of her Divine Grandson. For who can deny a request made by their grandmother?
Relieved that the serious obligation of delivering the petitions safely to their destination had been fulfilled, I looked one last time at the crowds around me. I saw young and old alike, of various skin color and social class. So many eager faces. So many looking for help; help from their grandmother and mine. I left the Shrine of Saint Anne de Beaupre’ that day confident that their prayers and mine would be answered.
DAILY QUOTE for September 29, 2020
In his book, The Secret of the Rosary, St. Louis de Montfort relates that Blessed Thomas of St. John was a great devotee of the Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary.