After many years, a Catholic Church in Centralia of Pennsylvania’s coal-mining mountains, that has existed for centuries, is still existing despite a burning that started around 1962.
It happened, 27 May 1962 when fire spread from a surface mine to underground seams, and kept burning.
(It’s not known how the fire started, but “the most widely accepted” explanation – according to the state – is that workers set fire to a nearby rubbish dump.)
More than $7m was spent trying to stop the fire, but it didn’t work. In 1983, the US Congress approved a $42m package to relocate the residents.
John, who happen to be a member but has relocated to Numidia, eight miles north but still attends the Church says;
“This was our church, Everybody in my family – they were baptised here, went to communion here. Even buried here, some of them.”
“I could have gone to [churches in] Berwick, or Mount Carmel, or Marion Heights. But as long as it’s going, I’ll keep coming.”
When the fire started, there were five churches in the town. One by one, they disappeared. In 1986, the Ukrainian church – built in 1911 – almost followed.
“It was on its last breath,” says Father Michael Hutsko, the pastor.
“The church would have been knocked down, and all that would have remained was the cemetery.”
But, as the state oversaw the clearance of Centralia, Archbishop Stephen Sulyk ordered a survey under the hillside church.
“So they drilled, and they found solid rock [rather than coal],” says Father Hutsko.
“That’s so scriptural. ‘You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.'”
In November 2015, the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, visited Centralia during a tour of the US.
He was so impressed by the church, it was made a pilgrimage site. A framed letter on the church wall, complete with the patriarch’s golden seal, confirms the honour.
The Church Now becomes a place for pilgrimage.
“We invite people worldwide to join us,” says Father Hutsko. “We really want to extend it – it’s not just for Ukrainian Catholics.”
“We lost the town, but we didn’t lose the church,” says Father Hutsko.
“As a priest, that gives me great uplift, great feeling, both spiritually and socially.”
Father Hutsko – who has another parish in Mount Carmel, four miles west – is confident the church will survive “longer than I’m going to be alive”.
“When you look back, it was saved in 1986 for something greater,” he says.
“I think the history is unfolding before our eyes. The final chapter hasn’t been written yet.
“We don’t know what it’s going to be, but when I look back I see the hand of God, really, in all of these things.
“I can’t help believe that something truly spectacular is going to happen here. Truly spectacular.”
Source: BBC News