CENTRALIA, Pa. - The abandoned, desolate borough of Centralia was destroyed by an underground mine fire over 50 years ago.
The mine fire resulted in the relocation of all but an estimated 10 residents and the demolition of all but a few buildings.
In the wake of the destruction, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church still stands with a thriving parish.
The church has been a staple in the community since 1912.
"We have about 50 people that attend every Sunday," Father Michael Hutsko said. "They still consider this their spiritual home and their social home as well."
Parishioners continue to drive to the hilltop on Sundays and Holy Days.
It is a church that has caught the attention of spiritual leaders in Philadelphia.
"I think it says is that even in the midst of fire and flame and clouds and smoke, and people being relocated and losing their homes and communities, that God is still present among us," Father Hutsko said.
Major-Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Primate of the worldwide Ukrainian Catholic Church, marveled at the continuing presence of the church in Centralia and helped to designate it as a holy site of pilgrimage
On Sunday, the first pilgrimage invited all to join for a day of prayer and spiritual blessings, as well as a message of mercy and faith for the future.
"The fact that this church stands on the mountain above Centralia, a town that was devastated, still ringing its bells, still proclaiming the glory of God, still celebrating His presence, gives people a reason to hope," Father Hutsko said.
Allentown, PA 18102