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First pilgrimage to Berlin honoring St. Anne

This relic, a piece of bone from Saint Anne, is in a special container and will be part of the Feast of Saint Anne Courtesy photo. (click for larger version)
July 18, 2012
BERLIN - When Berlin was being settled loggers, first, and then their families came from many different parts of the world and many different cultures. Scandinavians settled in the northern part of town in what's known as the Norwegian Village and built a Lutheran Church, Russians settled near Mt. Forest and built their distinctive Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church, the Irish came and built St. Kiernan's, and at one time Jews also had a synagog here.

But by far the largest population that came were French Canadians. Perhaps they named the church they built St Anne to remind them of the Saint Anne de Beaupre Shrine in Quebec. At one time there were other Catholic churches and parishes in Berlin, but today all Catholics in Berlin are part of the Good Shepherd Parish and St. Anne is their church.

On the Catholic religious calendar, July 26 is the Feast of St. Anne, and for the first time in Berlin's history a pilgrimage will be made to this city to honor the Feast of St. Anne.

Not being a Catholic, this writer was curious as to what it was all about and so met with Deacon Andrew Nelson, a fourth year seminary student (and, interestingly, a former writer for the Union Leader on religious stories) who is helping to organize the Feast.

Saint Anne is the mother of Mary, thus the grandmother of Jesus. She is the Patron Saint of Grandmothers, and thus well-loved, Nelson said.

In Catholicism, a "Feast" means a special day meant to honor the life of a Saint.

Nelson said Bishop Peter Libasci of the Diocese of Manchester wanted to make a pilgrimage to the North Country for a couple of reasons. He knows the North Country has had hard times economically and wanted to get together to pray together. He wanted the pilgrimage to come to the North Country as a sign of solidarity with the region.

The Bishop wanted to make this special pilgrimage to give prayers of thanks for vocations and to Berlin specifically because the Berlin-Gorham area has a long history of being generous to the church, of serving the church in may capacities.

Nelson noted The Holy Family Parish in Gorham is working with the Good Shepherd Parish in planning this event.

A pilgrimage, Nelson explained, is a spiritual journey someone takes. Going somewhere is a prayer and the journey itself is part of the prayer.

A vocation is a call "God calls us to do certain things. We're called to respond," Nelson explained. The call is not necessarily to become a priest or nun. It could be a call to be a husband, wife, or parent.

The pilgrimage will actually start on Wednesday, July 25, with an evening candlelight vigil prayer service at St. Anne beginning at 8 p.m. Candlelite lanterns will line the church steps and the Church will be completely lit by candlelight that night. Those attending will pray in preparation for the pilgrimage.

Nelson said the Church realizes not everyone will be able to attend the events the next day because of work. This will allow those to participate in the pilgrimage.

Thursday, July 26, will begin with a Pilgrim welcome/information center at the church beginning at 9 a.m. There will be several on-going events during the day until 3 p.m., including a Eucharistic Adoration, Veneration of the Relic of St. Anne, guided tours of St. Anne Church, river boat rides, Moffett House history tours, scenic drives with guide maps and pilgrimage hikes.

Nelson explained the first two events.

Catholics believe during the celebration of Mass bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ and stays that way. During a time of prayer the Eucharist is put into a Monstrance, which is a decorated vessel that hold the Eucharist. The Monstrance is put in the Tabernacle. St. Anne's Tabernacle was built around the turn of the century, paid for by pennies saved by children. The names of those children are kept on the floor underneath the Tabernacle.

St. Anne Church has a piece of Anne's bone. This is called a relic. It is kept in a special container. The bone is visible, but can't be directly touched. During Veneration of the Relic, pilgrims are invited to come forward and show reverence. Nelson said they sometimes kiss it or pray before it. It is not a prayer to the relic or St. Anne, but a prayer for intercession, asking St. Anne to intercede with God for them.

As part of a pilgrimage it is common for someone to bring a particular prayer with them. There will be places to light candles and leave these prayers, petitions for intercession by St. Anne. The bone was a gift from a Bishop around the turn of the century. For many years it was kept in a safe and taken out once a year for the Feast of St. Anne. Now it is kept in a Marian Alter behind a locked glass door, where it can always be seen. A sign in Latin, translated says, "This is the bone of Saint Anne, Mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary."

This writer had to ask, how can you be sure it's really her bone.

Nelson said the Vatican has papers of authenticity for all relics. There is a process each must go through that meticulously traces it back. The Vatican has whole departments dedicated to trying to disprove proposed relics and proposed saints.

From 11:30-1 p.m. there will be a BBQ put on by the Knights of Columbus at Northern Forest Heritage Park.

Confessions will be available from 12-3 p.m. There will be an organ concert at 1:30 p.m. at St. Anne Church.

Bishop Libasci will celebrate Mass at 3 p.m. Following Mass there will be an Eucharistic Procession. It will go down Pleasant Street, across Mason Street and up Main Street back to the church.

Nelson said Bishop Libasci will lead the procession carrying the Monstrance, which hold the Eucharist (body and blood of Christ). The Eucharistic Procession is a symbol of the journey we are taking together, Nelson explained.

Following this pilgrims will be free to enjoy the Farmers' Market on Pleasant Street or go out to dinner. The church is working on putting together special packages for that at local restaurants.

Nelson said they do not know how many are coming. Several parishes in the state have booked buses and those wanting to participate are asked to pre-register at saintannefeast.eventbrite.com. He said this is so they will know how many candles and how much food to have.

He emphasized this is a community event and all are welcome to participate. You do not have to be Catholic.

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