Archbishop J. Michael Miller celebrates Mass under the shade of a gazebo at Fraser River Heritage Park before the procession to Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto. After several years of cancellations and smaller numbers, the annual pilgrimage drew at least 4,000 people this year, organizers say. (Paul Schratz photos)

Grotto pilgrimage attendance returns to pre-pandemic level, or better

The largest annual event in the Archdiocese of Vancouver is again the largest annual event in the Archdiocese.

Families were present in large numbers for the Mass at the Fraser River Heritage Park gazebo.

After a two-year pandemic-caused hiatus and last year’s return with only half the typical number of participants, massive crowds flocked to this year’s pilgrimage to Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in Mission.

Archbishop Miller celebrates Mass.

Despite the sweltering heat, more than 4,000 people gathered in Fraser Heritage Park on Saturday, Aug. 19, for a day filled with confessions, Mass, and a procession up the hill to the shrine overlooking the Fraser River where Archbishop J. Michael Miller led the praying of the Rosary and a benediction before the Blessed Sacrament.

Taking a moment to honour Our Lady of Lourdes.

Volunteers quickly ran out of the 3,000 programs they had printed, and one organizer said she had never seen as many cars parked in the parking area.

“The Marian Pilgrimage Committee led by Ryan and Lysia Murphy did a wonderful job putting back this annual event to the normal of before the pandemic period,” said Teresita Nixon.

A choir from St. Jude’s in Vancouver offers music during Mass.

The shrine sits on the historic grounds of St. Mary’s Residential School, and Archbishop J. Micheal Miller spoke about the mixed legacy of the area, reflecting on the important spiritual nature of the grounds, as well as the harsh historical reality they represent. 

Priests from the Archdiocese and Westminster Abbey listened to confessions for several hours before the procession.

“Over the years, these grounds have known not only an outpouring of prayer to Mary and blessings received from her but also, tragically, they have known untold suffering because of the residential school situated here and the graves of those who have been laid to rest here,” he said in his homily.

Speaking to the First Nations communities present, he said “I thank you, brothers and sisters, for your commitment to this pilgrimage and for your deep love of the Mother of Jesus, who has never ceased to accompany you in your joys and sorrows down through the years.”

He also expressed his gratitude to the Indigenous peoples “for putting us on the road to deeper awareness of the injustices committed against the Indigenous peoples of this land and for listening to our pleas for forgiveness.”

He recalled the words of Pope Francis during his July 2022 penitential pilgrimage to Canada: “‘We want to walk together, to pray together and to work together, so that the sufferings of the past can lead to a future of justice, healing, and reconciliation.’ May his words resound throughout the Archdiocese of Vancouver!”

A Knights of Columbus honour guard outside the grotto.
Archbishop Miller leads the Rosary and then prays a benediction to the Blessed Sacrament in Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto

A substantial number of pilgrims remained in the park afterward for a picnic lunch, to mingle with each other, and to take a look at information booths set up by various parishes, prayer groups, and organizations.

For more information about the grotto and pilgrimage visit

Pilgrimage’s history includes First Nations participation

The pilgrimage to Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in Mission celebrates the Aug. 15 feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the third Saturday of August each year.

The event, which has long had strong representation from First Nations people, traces its origin back to the founding of the Archdiocese of Vancouver. Bishop Louis Joseph d’Herbomez, OMI, bishop from 1864 to 1890 of what was then the Vicariate Apostolic of British Columbia, used to meditate at a particular spot on the Fraser River because it reminded him of the grotto of Lady in Lourdes, France.

His dying wish was that a grotto be built at that location, and it was completed in 1892, two years after his death. The grotto, which became the largest Marian shrine in B.C., was known as the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes and was so striking and prominent that the community surrounding St. Mary’s Mission, where the grotto was located, became known as Mission.

 The pilgrimage has been the largest annual event in the Archdiocese of Vancouver since it began in the 1990s.

The grotto gradually fell into disuse and was torn down in 1965, with the land sold to the provincial government for $1.

In 1988, the Knights of Columbus and the Mission Heritage Association began a fund to rebuild the grotto, and it was reopened in 1997 with 2,500 people attending and 4,000 taking part a year later. The event has since been the largest annual event in the Archdiocese of Vancouver.


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