Pilgrims return to abandoned coal town for worship and fellowship
Only a few structures still stand in what was Centralia, Pennsylvania. Even fewer are visible through the tree cover from the top of an adjacent mountain overlooking what was once a thriving community.
The most notable and recognizable structure is the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church, whose bright-blue domes rise out of the foliage on the side of the mountain. Though all but seven of the town’s residents relocated because of the ongoing fire in the anthracite coal mine below its surface, the church continues to serve a successful parish.
On Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, the church was the site of the second annual “A Call to Prayer” pilgrimage. Two years ago, Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Sviatoslav Shevchuk visited the church and suggested it as a place for pilgrimage. He marveled at the beauty of the property, the number of vocations from the parish, its rich history in Centralia, and qualities about it that are endearing to prayer and a place for gathering.
“Father [Michael] Hutsko, the pastor here … He was enthusiastic about it. He arranged it with the parishioners,” said Metropolitan-Archbishop Stefan Soroka. “A tremendous amount of work went into it, but it’s all joyous work on their part …. Isn’t that the best gift? That you not only pray for your own needs but you provide for the journey of faith of others.”
A few hundred pilgrims traveled from as far as Washington, D.C.; New Brunswick, New Jersey; and Philadelphia to focus on their spiritual lives for the afternoon in Centralia. People crowded into the church and out onto the grounds for divine liturgy with Metropolitan-Archbishop Stefan Soroka as the main celebrant.
Consecutively, Father Martin Kobos prayed a living Rosary and Rev. Msgr. James T. Melnic celebrated the Akafist to the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God before the Holy Shroud of the Dormition — both with attentive parishioners spilling out of the outdoor chapels and into the yard. The service was followed by a candlelight procession to the church for the celebration of a moleben to the Mother of God.
The “Welcome” message read, “We, the people of Ss. Peter & Paul and Assumption Churches, are a Catholic community that worships God, spreads the Good News of Christ and serves those in need. Come into the house. Bring all you are, no need to check your failures at the door. There are no perfect people here. You are invited: Come. Come in seeking, come in wondering, come in hurting. Come into this house of companionship and compassion. Come in. You are welcome here. [We] open our doors to you.”