Ukrainian Catholic Church Near Centralia Becomes Holy Site

CONYNGHAM TOWNSHIP -- Decades after an underground fire forced people to move, a church still stands and serves the community.

Sunday marked a special day for the church and members as the Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church designated the church on the top of a hill as a site for a holy pilgrimage.

The church with three blue onion-shaped domes sits just on the outskirts of virtually abandoned Centralia.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church has stood here since 1912 even after the underground mine fire that led to the demise of the community.

"I think it was God's blessing that this church is still standing especially with the fire. It's like a miracle," said James Kocher of Easton.

On this day, the church became the site for a holy pilgrimage after church leaders say it reminded them of the way churches near the Chernobyl disaster lived on.

The sanctuary was packed with hundreds of people, far more than the usual 50 or so worshipers on a Sunday.

Pastor Michael Hutsko says the celebration gave people who didn't know each other a chance to share and worship together.

"We all need to prayer in our lives. Let's put aside anything that keeping us away from that at least for one afternoon," Pastor Michael Hutsko of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church.

For some, it was a time for fellowship and for others, it was a time to reminisce.

"It reminds me of when my mother used to talk about pilgrimages overseas. There's a shrine of the Virgin Mother, and that's what brought me here," said June Troyanosky of Gilberton.

The church which is located right outside of Centralia is built on solid rock.  Tradition is what keeps the Ukrainian Catholic Church alive.

"The rock gave stability for the Church to continue, but not only that, the rock of faith of the people, the early founders and every one since. They are people of strong faith. There are people that drive in that are not living here or around the Church," said Stefan Soroka, Archbishop of Philadelphia for Ukrainians.