CENTRALIA, Pa. — Centralia is the spookiest and saddest place in Pennsylvania. An unquenchable 54-year-old underground coal fire compelled the relocation of virtually the entire population of the borough through federal government buyouts in the 1980s.

From a population of more than 1,000 in 1980, only a half-dozen holdouts remain in the Columbia County community – residents who struck an agreement with the government allowing them to stay until they die.

Improbably, however, there is life beyond their scattered homes.

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church – perched on a hilltop just outside the borough line – is still active, drawing congregants from afar on Sundays and holy days.

This Sunday, the church will host a daylong event welcoming the faithful for liturgy and prayer. It’s the first such event since Assumption was declared a holy pilgrimage site.

“Everyone is invited,” said the Rev. Michael Hutsko, Assumption’s pastor of six years. “It’s not just for Eastern Catholics. It’s a call to prayer. We’re hoping people will leave with a renewed sense of God’s presence in their lives.”

Founded in 1911, Assumption has about 50 parishioners. Last year, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, primate of the worldwide Ukrainian Catholic Church, visited and marveled at how the congregation had endured despite the desolation of the borough, which is essentially an empty street grid slowly being reclaimed by nature.

Shevchuk likened the jarring emptiness to that of Pripyat, a Ukrainian town of 49,000 abandoned in 1986 after the Chernobyl nuclear plant catastrophe. But he saw a profound symbol of God’s presence in the persistence of the church.

“He thought (Assumption) was so holy and spiritual, he wanted to make it special,” said the Rev. John Fields, spokesman for the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, explaining how the isolated church earned its designation as a pilgrimage site.

“It’s eerie,” Fields said. “There’s no town at all but there’s a viable church, in a day and age when churches are being closed.”

The people who left Centralia behind years ago “all went off in different directions,” Hutsko said, “but the church remained the common denominator.”

Sunday is the Feast of the Dormition of the Holy Mother of God.

The holy day corresponds to what Western Catholics call the Feast of the Assumption, commemorating Mary’s bodily ascent to heaven. It is also the date of the church’s founding.

“We don’t have an idea of how many people to expect, but we’re getting a tremendous amount of media support,” Hutsko said. “We’re anticipating 300 to 400 people. It could be double that or it could be less than that, but that’s what we’re planning for.”