Walking on Rosary Path is prayer in motion

The Rosary Path at Marylake

Written by Vanessa Santilli-Raimondo for The Catholic Register on June 27, 2019

Here’s a novel way to pray the rosary: In the middle of a field, with rosary beads so large an adult can kneel inside them, in the company of a gaggle of geese — mom and dad with five goslings in tow.

That was my experience at the Rosary Path at Marylake, run by the Augustinians and touted as the world’s largest living rosary. Located 30 minutes north of Toronto in King City, the Rosary Path is a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of life in the city. Linked pink and white rosary beads are spread across a winding 1.5-km path, and the 19-acre landscape is punctuated with statues of Mother Mary amidst a backdrop of nature.

Walking the path is prayer in motion. The physicality helps bring the joys and sorrow of the rosary to life on what feels like a mini-pilgrimage. You don’t just pray the rosary, you enter into it intimately.

The path starts at a 7.5-metre statue depicting the crucified Jesus. Immediately, it grounds you in the reality of the faith and the reason for your visit. When you detect the hum of others praying nearby the route is infused with the spirit of faithful community.

Running parallel to the rosary beads alongside the path are the Stations of the Cross, which add another prayerful dimension. Images etched in vivid stained glass illustrate each of the stations. It was here that we encountered a family of geese, which scurried alongside my mom and I as we prayed the second decade.  

The Rosary Path is a great summer escape for Catholics in the Archdiocese of Toronto, but I was interested to learn that internationally there is a wide array of “record-breaking” rosaries, both indoor and out, that have been assembled — or curated — to help the faithful meditate on the sacred mysteries. 

In the Philippines, for example, a reported 25,000 people formed the world’s largest human rosary at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila in 2010. Participants wore different coloured t-shirts depending on whether they were representing a bead, the cross or a connecting chain. 

In Tagum City, a giant rosary outside of Christ the King Cathedral weighs more than 6,000 pounds — with each of its roughly 77-pound beads fashioned from iron wood native to the local mountains of Davao Oriental and Surigao del Sur. 

A museum in Washington state boasts a whopping 4,000 rosaries, the largest collection in the world, according to Ripley’s Believe It or Not. They belonged to the late Donald A. Brown, a Catholic convert who began collecting rosaries in 1917 after a bout of pneumonia brought him into contact with the Sisters of Mercy, who cared for him in hospital. 

In Lebanon, there is a project underway to construct a concrete rosary path not that far away from neighbouring Syria, where many Christians are persecuted for their faith. The living rosary being built by the Lebanese Maronite order will measure 600 metres long and will be built in such a way that visitors can pray inside the Hail Mary “beads” — which look like little mushroom-capped huts — and go to confession inside the Our Fathers. 

What is it that makes all these renderings and experiences that are related to the prayer given to us by Our Lady so compelling? 

Having visited Marylake, I can attest to the power of combining movement and prayer. It’s often said that movement is medicine — meaning that exercise can prevent and help to alleviate symptoms of illness. In the spiritual realm, movement in prayer helps bring prayer to life.

I was profoundly struck by how that movement affected me as I walked from decade to decade through the winding path. Every step was intentional. You are required to make a conscious decision to keep going, to keep praying. I could feel the spiritual flame of pilgrimage guiding us along and helping us focus on why we were there, for prayer.

Sr. Lucia of Fatima, one of the children who witnessed the Marian apparition in Fatima a century ago, famously said, “There is no problem I tell you, no matter how difficult it is, that we cannot resolve by the prayer of the Holy Rosary.”

It can be a struggle to fit prayer into our daily lives, and the Rosary Path at Marylake is certainly not an every-day outing. But the reality is that we all need the Blessed Mother’s help and support. Walking and praying along the Rosary Path was a good reminder of that. 

Move. Pray the rosary. Repeat. 

Silence is indeed golden


Written by Vanessa Santilli-Raimondo for The Catholic Register

In today’s world, people are mostly foreign to stillness.

Being continually busy is the norm, and finding time to do absolutely nothing but sit back, relax and be still is a novel concept. But hard as it may be to find time for stillness, it’s a practice that can be used to increase our focus and direction — and to build a deeper connection with God in our lives.

Travel writer Pico Iyer is an expert on staying busy and being still.

“Not many years ago, it was access to information and movement that seemed our greatest luxury,” reflected Iyer in his book, The Art of Stillness. “Nowadays, it’s often freedom from information, the chance to sit still, that feels like the ultimate prize.”

Iyer would know — he’s made a life of travelling the world. It was through his habit of movement that he found himself a visitor at a Benedictine monastery in California, where he first engaged in the pursuit of stillness. He’s since visited more than 80 times and has found a silence that has enriched his life.  

Society’s collective need for downtime has surfaced through a travel trend called “silence tourism.” According to an article published last summer in Condé Naste Traveler, “being quiet is the newest adventure trend” as people flock to vacation destinations that promise a digital detox from the demands of a 24/7 culture. 

There’s science behind the claim that silence — a key to stillness — is beneficial to health. In 2011, a World Health Organization report called noise pollution the “modern plague.” The report found overwhelming evidence that exposure to environmental noise has adverse effects on the health of the population.

In the Catholic tradition, the benefits of silence are not new. Silent retreats are one means widely available for people to take time to be still, unwind and re-orient their life’s direction. Another tool that can bring an encounter with the art of stillness is Christian meditation, often described as a “prayer of the heart.”

Aside from the myriad spiritual benefits, the Canadian Christian Meditation Community’s website lists a wide array of associated health benefits, including: improved attention, lower blood pressure, a boosted immune system, reduced anxiety and depression and improvement in coping strategies and emotional processing.

To meditate, sit upright and breathe calmly. Then, close your eyes and in your mind and heart repeat the Aramaic word “Maranatha.” It’s an ancient Christian prayer word that means, “Come, Lord Jesus.” While you do this, pay particular attention to your breathing and listen to the sound of the mantra (to be recited as four syllables).

“Let go of all thoughts (even good thoughts), images and other words,” wrote Fr. John Main, an Oblate who played a major role in the rediscovery of this prayer tradition once practised by early Christian monks. “Don’t fight your distractions: let them go by saying your mantra faithfully, gently and attentively and returning to it as soon as you realize you have stopped saying it or when your attention wanders.”

It may sound easy — after all, you are kicking back and relaxing — but in practice it’s not that straightforward. Even after multiple attempts, I still found it difficult. It feels counterintuitive to sit still in silence and let your thoughts pass by. But keeping up the practice has led me to moments of much-needed tranquility. 

Christian meditation is essentially the discipline of finding time and training yourself to be still, which, in turn, helps focus your thoughts on God — even if it’s just for a few minutes a day. Cutting through the external noise is the first step, but there is also internal noise and distractions that can be just as loud. 

Praying the rosary is another tried and true method for becoming still and connecting with God. Praying the rosary in the silence of your home is one option, or you might try putting your rosary in your pocket and taking it on a walk with you, swapping your headphones for the decades of the rosary.

There are many ways to achieve stillness but they all require much self-control. But it’s definitely a worthy pursuit as a means to counter the distractions and overstimulation that is part of daily living.

“God hidden within me,” wrote the late, great theologian Thomas Merton. “I find Him by hiding in the silence in which He is concealed.”