Visita Iglesia is a practice steeped in tradition especially in the Philippines. This is usually done during the Holy Thursday Vigil when the Holy Sacrament is transferred to the altar of repose. While not essentially part of the liturgy, this however has been widely accepted as popular piety. The custom of visiting seven churches probably originated in Rome when early pilgrims made the rounds of the churches within the walls as a form of penance. Nowadays, some devotees visit fourteen different churches to pray and contemplate on the Stations of the Cross.
Personally, I have made it a practice to tour and pray at the local church, basilica or cathedral of every place I visit. Somehow, I learn more about the place and its history as the cultural milieu tend to be reflected in these structures; but more so because I consider it my personal zone of peace: in that distinct place, on a most serene and blessed moment, to have been given the opportunity to stand in awe and wonder at the majesty of it all; where I cannot but sigh and exclaim, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” (Matthew 17:4).
So come with me on this series of virtual tours, as we go on a unique Visita Iglesia and offer our prayers to God within His lovely dwelling place in the different churches of the world.
Note: The churches or places featured in this series are not arranged in any particular order.
1 – Santo Domingo Church (Quezon City, Philippines)
The church popularly known as Santo Domingo has been designated as the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary of La Naval de Manila and is listed in the National Museum registry as a National Cultural treasure following the signing of Declaration on October 4, 2012. Santo Domingo is the parish’s patron Saint and the complex is the motherhouse in the Philippines of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans), established by Saint Dominic de Guzman. It is considered as the largest Church in Metro Manila and one of the biggest churches in Asia.
The original church was erected in Intramuros, beginning with the earliest structure built in 1587 up to the fifth one that was rebuilt in 1887 after a series of earthquakes and fires that partially destroyed it. That fifth church, a neo-Gothic inspired building was considered as the grandest of them all (see separate article in this section). Sadly it was totally lost at the advent in the Pacific of the Second World War. It was the first church ruined towards the close of 1941. The ruins were subsequently demolished and the church transferred.
The current Quezon City structure was commissioned in 1954. Jose Maria Zaragoza, then an architecture student of the University of Santo Tomas, designed the massive building.
Santo Domingo was built in the Spanish modern style and clad in reinforced concrete. It has a total floor area of 3,300 sq.m. The church serves as a living museum that displays the works of well known artists such as: National Artist Carlos “Botong” Francisco with his eight murals depicting the life and times of Santo Domingo; Vicente Garcia Llamas who painted the murals of the four Evangelists in vivid brown tones; Galo Ocampo who conceived the stained glass windows depicting the Stations of the Cross, battle of Lepanto and the battle of La Naval; Francesco Monti who created the giant bas-relief of Santo Domingo and the triple portals depicting the battle of La Naval at the church’s façade.
The image of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of La Naval is kept on the left side altar all year round, except during the October fiesta when a special canopy and platforms are built for it behind the main altar. The La Naval image has been the object of Filipino devotion that dates back to the 16th century, and the icon’s shrine in Quezon City is host to an annual feast that culminates in a procession that draws tens of thousands of devotees.
Prayer: We pray to You, almighty and eternal God, who through Jesus Christ has revealed Your glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Your mercy, that Your Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in professing Your Holy Name. Amen.
2 – Minor Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Manaoag (Manaoag, Pangasinan, Philippines)
The Augustinians built the first Chapel of Santa Monica (the original name of Manaoag) in 1600, at the site of the present Catholic cemetery. It was served by the friars from the town of Lingayen, who were succeeded by the Dominicans in 1605 and served from the town of Mangaldan. Fr. Juan de San Jacinto, OP was the very first Dominican priest to work in the Manaoag mission. In 1608 the Dominicans formally accepted the mission and Fr. Tomas Jimenez became the first resident priest. Numerous threats from the Igorot tribes of the surrounding mountains led to the transfer of the entire community to the present site on a hill. The Dominicans started to build a large church on its present site in 1701; later expansion of the church was frustrated by an earthquake in 1892.
During the tumult of the Philippine Revolution for independence from Spain, revolutionaries set fire to the church, its treasures, ornaments and records on 10 May 1898. The image narrowly escaped destruction; it was found abandoned at the back of the church. It was spirited away to Dagupan City, where it was kept from June to October 1898.
The Dominicans returned in 1901 upon the invitation of Rev. Mariano Pacis, the diocesan priest of Manaoag. Under the aegis of the Dominicans, the church that was started in 1882 was finally completed to a large extent in 1911-12. The central retablo, incorporating Baroque columns from the 18th-century altar, was completed by the famed Tampinco Atelier of Manila, while the transepts were completed in 1931-32. Spiritual administration of the shrine in perpetuity was granted by the Holy See to the Order of Preachers in 1925.
A huge crowd attended the Canonical Coronation of the image on 21 April 1926 by then-Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines Guglielmo Piani, S.D.B., as authorized by Pope Pius XI. This meant that the Catholic Church officially recognized and proclaimed that the Virgin Mary acclaimed as Our Lady of The Rosary of Manaoag had granted favors and blessings to, or formidable intercessions for her devotees through the centuries.
Among the different stories I recall about Manaoag Church and the Lady who calls were that of the townsfolk proclaiming how an old lady seems to appear during disasters or calamities to help feed the needy or tend to the sick, then disappear into the night; the following day before the early morning Mass, the sacristan would discover the muddy hem of the garment adorning the image. When we were novices, Fr. Jaime Boquiren, O.P. narrated how the Shrine survived a Japanese bombing run, after a Colonel entered the church to get the exact coordinates to give to the air raiders, but called it off upon seeing the Chrysanthemum adorning the ceiling of the center dome; the Chrysanthemum being the Imperial seal of Japan and a sacred emblem representing the authority of the Japanese emperor.
On 21 June 2011, Pope Benedict XVI canonically approved the granting of a “Special Bond of Spiritual Affinity in Perpetuity” through which the pilgrims are assured of the same blessings and entitlement to a plenary indulgence equal to that received when visiting a papal basilica in Rome. In February 2015, the Shrine of Our Lady of The Rosary of Manaoag was elevated to a minor basilica in a ceremony attended by more than 100 archbishops and bishops, leaders of church and state, and numerous devotees.
Prayer: Holy Virgin, you who knew how to look at Jesus and penetrate the most profound depth of his person: teach us to look at Him, at length and quietly, in the tabernacle where He is present. Teach us to listen in silence to the words which He speaks to us and establish an intimate dialogue with Him. Let us see the marvels which He desires to work in the depths of our souls. Teach us to appreciate His closeness to us and the immeasurable friendship He shows us. Help us to respond to His love with all the fire of our being, and like you, to immerse ourselves in a loving gaze on Him. Amen.
3 – St. James the Great Church (Alabang, Muntinlupa City, Philippines)
A popular wedding venue due to its classic appeal, charm and elegance; a hint of opulence, and an air of privacy due to its being located within the enclave that is the Ayala-Alabang Village. The modern church was built in 1991 to serve the needs of its parishioners when the village itself, due to its size and the explosive growth of its population, was declared by the archdiocese of Manila on June 15, 1990 as a parish community on its own and set it apart from its parent, St. Jerome and Sta. Susana parish and church located in Alabang Town Center.
The church’s ambience is that of an old-world Spanish mission. Dedicated to St. James the Greater (son of Zebedee and an apostle of Jesus, to distinguish him from St. James the less or the younger) as its patron, the church has a spiritual affinity to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain.
Inside, the ceiling is arched wrapped with symmetrical square designs all the way to the altar, while the sides are lined with huge doorways and hardwood oversized doors. Simple wooden pews line up down the longish aisle with geometrically-designed tiles, leading to the altar that is ornately designed in gold trimmings. Blue lighting provides a dramatic backdrop behind the altar when lit.
Perhaps the greatest attribution to St. James the Great or Santiago de Compostela is the Camino de Santiago known in English as The Way of Saint James; it is a network of pilgrims’ ways leading to the shrine where tradition has it that the remains of the Saint are buried. Many follow its routes as a form of spiritual path or retreat for their spiritual growth. It is also popular with hiking and cycling enthusiasts and organized tour groups. The Way of St. James was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during the Middle Ages, together with those to Rome and Jerusalem, and a pilgrimage route on which a plenary indulgence could be earned. Pilgrims walked the Way of St. James, often for months and sometime years at a time, to arrive at the great church in the main square of Compostela and pay homage to St. James. Many arrived with very little due to illness or robbery or both. Traditionally pilgrims lay their hands on the pillar just inside the doorway of the cathedral, and so many now have done so that it has visibly worn away the stone.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, look upon our community of faith which is the Church of your Son, Jesus Christ. Help us to witness to his love by loving all our fellow creatures without exception. Under the leadership of the Holy Father and the bishops keep us faithful to Christ’s mission of calling all men and women to your service so that there may be “one fold and one shepherd.” We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
4 – La Purisima Concepcion de la Virgen Maria Church (Baclayon, Bohol, Philippines)
The Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Baclayon is considered to be one of the oldest churches in the Philippines. It was one of the best preserved Jesuit-built churches in the region, although in the 19th century, the Augustinian Recollects added a modern façade and a number of stone buildings that now surround the church. The first Spanish missionaries in the region, Fr. Juan de Torres and Fr. Gabriel Sanchez, first settled in Baclayon in 1595. Shortly after their arrival, a visita was erected on the spot.
Although Baclayon was the first seat of the Spanish Jesuit missionaries, fear of Moro mauraders soon forced them to move their headquarters more inland to Loboc. Only in 1717 did Baclayon become a parish and construction of a new church commenced. Some 200 laborers constructed the church from coral stones, which they took from the sea, cut into square blocks and piled on top of each other. They used bamboo to move and lift the stones in position and used approximately a million egg whites added to mud to cement them together. The current building was completed in 1727. The church obtained a large bell in 1835.
Next to the church is the old convent, which also houses a small museum with centuries-old religious relics, artifacts and other antiquities, dating back to the 16th century. Included in the collection are an ivory statue of the crucified Christ looking towards heaven; a statue of the Blessed Virgin, said to be presented by Queen Catherine of Aragon; relics of St. Ignatius of Loyola; old gold embroidered ecclesiastical vestments; books with carabao skin covers and librettos of church music written in Latin on sheep skins. Here you can also find the cuadro paintings made by the Filipino painter Liberato Gatchalian in 1859.
The church was declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines and a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. One of the largest earthquakes to hit Bohol struck the island at 8:12am on October 15, 2013. The 7.2 magnitude earthquake severely damaged the building with its collapsed portico and bell tower. Reconstruction by the National Museum of the Philippines started that same year and was completed in 2017.
Prayer: O Lord, our God, You called Your people to be Your Church. As they gather together in Your Name, may they love, honor and follow Your Son to eternal life in the Kingdom He promised. Let their worship always be sincere and help them to find Your saving Love in the Church and its Sacraments. Fill with the Spirit of Christ those whom You call to live in the midst of the world and its concerns. Help them by their work on earth to build up Your eternal Kingdom. May they be effective witnesses to the Truth of the Gospel and make Your Church a living presence in the midst of the world. Increase the gifts You have given Your Church that Your faithful people may continue to grow in holiness and in imitation of Your Beloved Son. Amen.
5 – Church of Saint Vitalis and of the Guardian Angels (Cebu City, Philippines)
Commonly known as the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, the church is the ecclesiastical seat of the Archdiocese of Cebu. Cebu was established as a diocese on August 14, 1595. It was elevated as a metropolitan archdiocese on April 28, 1934 with the dioceses of Dumaguete, Maasin, Tagbilaran, and Talibon as suffragans. Before being raised as a primatial church in Cebu, the church was one of the first churches in the Philippines (besides the Basilica del Santo Niño) dedicated to St. Vitalis and built near the fort in April 1565 by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, Fray Andrés de Urdaneta, O.S.A. and Fray Diego de Herrera, O.S.A.
The architecture of the church is typical of Spanish colonial churches in the country, namely, squat and with thick walls to withstand typhoons and other natural calamities. The façade features a trefoil-shaped pediment, which is decorated with carved relieves of floral motifs, an IHS inscription and a pair of griffins. The Spanish Royal Coat of Arms is emblazoned in low relief above the main entrance, reflecting perhaps the contribution of the Spanish monarch to its construction.
During World War II, much of the cathedral was destroyed by Allied bombings of the city. Only the belfry (built in 1835), the façade, and the walls remained. It was quickly rebuilt in the 1950s under the supervision of architect Jose Ma. Zaragoza (architect of Santo Domingo church in Quezon City), during the incumbency of Archbishop Gabriel Reyes.
Prayer: We are truly connected to you Lord Jesus like the vine and its branches, we continually receive the grace and life from You alone. We especially remember this in the Holy Eucharist. Your Body is the food which nourishes our spirit and makes us live more according to Your will. We pray dear Jesus, continue to nourish us in body and spirit through the Bread of Life which you provide to us. Enliven in us this Sacrament that we may continuously live according to Your will. Amen.
6 – Basilica Minore del Santo Niño (Cebu City, Philippines)
Founded in 1565 by Fray Andrés de Urdaneta, O.S.A. and Fray Diego de Herrera, O.S.A, the church is the oldest Roman Catholic church in the country. It is built on the spot where the image of the Santo Niño de Cebú was found during the expedition of Miguel López de Legazpi. The icon, a statue of the Child Jesus, is the same one presented by Ferdinand Magellan to the chief consort of Rajah Humabon upon the royal couple’s christening on April 14, 1521. It was found by a soldier forty years later, preserved in a wooden box, after Legazpi had razed a local village. When Pope Paul VI made the church a basilica in 1965, he pointed to it as “the symbol of the birth and growth of Christianity in the Philippines.
On February 29, 1735, Father Provincial Bergaño, Governor-General Fernando Valdes, Bishop Manuel Antonio Decio y Ocampo of Cebu and Fray Juan de Albarran, O.S.A. started the foundations of the present church, using stone. Since the friars did not have the means to complete the church, they enlisted the help of the parishioners of Opon and San Nicolas to contribute materials, while the people of Talisay contributed labor. The lack of chief craftsmen and officers forced Fray Albarran to acquire some knowledge of architecture. The church was finished in 1739. On January 16, 1740, the miraculous image was enthroned in the new Augustinian church.
In the 1960s, both church and convent underwent a bigger restoration on the occasion of the Fourth Centennial of the Christianization of the country. The face lifting was made with utmost respect for the historical character of the old structure.
The 2013 Bohol earthquake affected the Basilica and destroyed most of the belfry and façade; some walls and frescoes cracked. The building, as well as the bell tower and area between the original church and pilgrim center were later restored and re-opened to the public.
The devotees keep increasing over the years and could easily fill the Basilica. To accommodate this growing number of devotees who come to attend Mass in the Basilica, a pilgrim center was built within the church compound opposite of the Basilica. Holy Mass celebrated on Fridays and other religious festivities are held here in the open-air, theater-like structure.
Prayer: May your continual pity, O Lord, cleanse and defend Your Church; may she ever be governed by Your bounty. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, world without end. Amen.
7 – Our Lady of the Assumption Church (Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur, Philippines)
The Church of Our Lady of the Assumption (Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion), commonly known as the Santa Maria Church is the parish church of the town of Santa Maria in Ilocos Sur province, Philippines. The church was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on December 11, 1993 as part of the Baroque Churches of the Philippines, a collection of four Baroque Spanish-era churches. The Santa Maria Church is an attraction to both tourists and Catholics in Ilocos Sur. It is not only reminiscent of the four centuries of Spanish domination of the area but also a unique structure with a diversified architectural design featuring bricks and mortar. It was built on top of a hill that served not only as a lookout and a citadel but as a religious center during the early administration of the region by both the Spanish friars and soldiers.
According to legend, before the Santa Maria Church was built on its present site, the Virgin Mary was enshrined at a different place called Bulala. The frequent disappearance of the Virgin Mary from her previous place of enthronement only to be found perched on a guava tree that grew where the present church is located, had led the townspeople to move the church to its present location. Construction of the present church started in 1765. In 1810, the bell tower was built and furnished with a bell the following year. During the renovation of the church complex in 1863, the protective wall around the sides of the hill was constructed. After the bell tower was remodeled the same year, its foundation must have gradually settled down making the imposing structure slightly leaning or tilting as it appears today. The convent was greatly renovated in 1895. The National Historical Commission of the Philippines installed a marker next to the door of Santa Maria Church following Executive Order number 260 on August 1, 1973, EO no. 375 on January 14, 1974 and EO no. 1515 on June 11, 1978 declaring the Santa Maria Church as a National Historical Landmark.
Many foreigners who traveled to the north and saw the church from the road were much impressed by its size and setting that they incorrectly refer to it as a cathedral. The massive and imposing structure of the Santa Maria Church is not only an interesting landmark but it is also a memorial to the intrepid Christian missionaries who sacrificed and devoted their lives to spread the Christian faith in this region, as well as to the natives who erected the great structure.
The statue of Apo Baket, whose feast day is celebrated every August 15th, is made of wood in ornate sculptural style with ivory face and hands. It is 112 centimetres (44 in) tall. Her hands are extended wide and her head is looking upward portraying her assumption into heaven. Her blue cape is decorated with silver floral designs and her white dress is embroidered with gold thread motif. She stands on a pedestal of cloud surrounded by angels’ heads. This image with her bejeweled dress was kept in an elaborate carved wooden chest believed to have been used for cargo in a galleon ship.
Unlike other town churches in the Philippines, which conform to the Spanish tradition of sitting them on the central plaza, the Church and Convent are situated on a hill surrounded by a defensive wall on all sides like a fortress. The church is reached by climbing an 85-step stairway of granite rock. The grand three-flight stairway leads to a courtyard in front of the church doorway where a sweeping view of the lower plains and the town of Santa Maria is beheld. A narrow roadway coming from the back of the church also leads up to the courtyard but only used on special occasions.
The bell tower is freestanding, constructed separate from the church and not parallel to the façade but situated about a third of the wall from the front. This design and approach probably helped to keep safe the main structure as bell towers are typically the worst hit during earthquakes, crumbling onto the buildings attached to it. The octagonal four-story tower was built wide, with each level narrowing till it reaches the top, typical of earthquake baroque church towers. The top floor is covered by a dome that is capped by a cupola. A cross above the cupola tops the structure. Blank walls are arranged alternately with open windows. Other decorative devices, like single pilasters, finials and balustrades indicate that this form is of later vintage. A clock on the third level faces the stairway for the churchgoers to see.
Prayer: You loved us, Lord Jesus until your death and Resurrection. You loved us as friends. This is far greater than anything we can ever experience. You commanded us to extend the same love to others, without conditions. Your love remains with us in the Eucharist, this love we receive in every Communion when we partake of your precious Body and sacred Blood. Teach us to show greater love for You in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Help us to receive You in a better disposition and in the state of grace. Make every moment a special one with your Divine Presence in us. Guide us as we become a living testament of love to our brothers and sisters, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
8 – Saint Augustine Church (Paoay, Ilocos Norte, Philippines)
Saint Augustine Church, commonly known as the Paoay Church, is the Roman Catholic church of the municipality of Paoay, Ilocos Norte in the Philippines. Completed in 1710, the church is famous for its distinct architecture highlighted by the enormous buttresses on the sides and back of the building. It is declared as a National Cultural Treasure by the Philippine government in 1973 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the collective group of Baroque Churches of the Philippines in 1993.
The earliest historical record of the area dates back to 1593, becoming an Augustinian independent parish in 1686. Building of the present church was started in 1694 by Augustinian friar Father Antonio Estavillo, completed in 1710 and rededicated in 1896. Some portions of the church were damaged in the 1865 and 1885 earthquake but were later restored under the initiative of former First Lady Imelda Marcos.
Paoay church is the Philippines’ primary example of a Spanish colonial earthquake baroque architecture dubbed an interpretation of the European Baroque adapted to the seismic condition of the country through the use of enormous buttresses on the sides and back of the building. The stone façade appear as massive pediment rising from the ground and is built leaning towards the front. Square pilasters and stringed cornices divide the façade vertically and horizontally respectively. Its bottom part is plain. Gothic features are also present through the use of finials while the triangular pediment shows Chinese elements and Oriental strokes. Crenellations, niches, rosettes and the Augustinian coat of arms can also be seen. Facade is made of brick on the lower level and coral stones on the upper level.
Adjacent to the façade is a three-storey coral bell tower constructed separately from the church building on the right side resembling a pagoda. It was in 1793 when the cornerstone of the bell tower was laid. It stands at some distance from the church as a protection against earthquakes. It served as an observational post for Filipino revolutionaries against the Spaniards in 1898 and by Filipino guerrillas against Japanese soldiers during World War II.
Prayer: God, help our church body to walk in a manner worthy of the calling You have given us. Help us in all our interactions with one another to have humble and gentle hearts. Grant us patience for one another, bearing with one another in love. Grant the Body of Christ unity. May we walk humbly with You, God, allowing You to show us our wrongs. Amen.
9 – Saint John the Evangelist Church (Richmond, Tasmania, Australia)
Australia’s oldest Catholic Church, St John’s Church can be traced back to Australia’s first Catholic bishop, John Bede Polding, OSB who visited Van Diemen’s Land, as Tasmania was then known, in 1835. He visited the Richmond area pledging to erect a church of behalf of the local Catholics. A local by the name of John Cassidy gave land for church building purposes.
The Church is a two-compartment building with nave, separate chancel, a sacristy against the chancel north wall and a central western tower and spire. The church is constructed from coursed sandstone and has corrugated iron roofs and a plastered interior. It was designed by the Bath architect Henry Edmund Goodridge in 1836 and opened on 31 December 1837.
By 1880 the spire was reported to have developed a dangerous lean. It was a wooden structure of indeterminate cladding. Whether it fell down or was dismantled is not known, but it was replaced in 1893 by a much shorter spire. Designed by Alexander North, the spire had bands of darker imbricate slate and four small gabled openings in the spire as part of its design. It was an intelligent match for the proportions of the tower.
In time, the spire had seriously deteriorated and it was replaced in 1972 by a copper-clad version of the original model three spires, designed by Hobart architect Rod Cooper but reduced in size to better match the tower height. It is capped by the North cross. In 1928–29 there was a major renovation of the building. Although much of this concerned the furnishings, works were carried out on the structure, including repair and re-pointing of the stonework, installation of a wooden ceiling replacing the plaster one, remediation of the chancel floor and the cutting of a door in the west wall of the sacristy replacing the original two windows.
St John’s is commonly dubbed Australia’s oldest Catholic Church, although that statement may need some qualification. The foundation stone for St Mary’s Cathedral (in Sydney) was laid in 1821 by Governor Lachlan Macquarie, but in 1865 the original chapel was ruined by fire. Tasmania’s Richmond church thus remains the oldest continuously-functioning Catholic Church in Australia.
Prayer: Father God, You desire peace and unity and encouragement for our body of believers. Help us, Lord, to pursue what makes for peace and for building one another up. To pursue the things of You will lead to peace and unity. Give us discerning hearts to know Your will and give us the courage to be obedient. Lord, we know that without You and Your Holy Spirit indwelling each of us, we cannot do any of these things. But, with You and for Your glory, grant our body peace and unity. Amen.
10 – Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (Washington, D.C., U.S.A.)
Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under her title of the Immaculate Conception, the Basilica is USA’s preeminent Marian shrine. With over 70 chapels and oratories that relate to the peoples, cultures and traditions that are the tapestry of the Catholic faith and the mosaic of the great nation, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is indeed, America’s Catholic church.
The shrine is the largest Catholic church in the United States and second largest in North America, behind the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, and the tallest habitable building in Washington, D.C. Construction of this church, notable for its Neo-Byzantine architecture, began in 1920 under Philadelphia contractor John McShain. It opened unfinished in 1959. Completion of the Trinity Dome — dedicated on December 8, 2017 — marked the completion of the building. The Shrine hosts an estimated one million pilgrims each year.
The basilica is designated both as the national and patronal Catholic Church of the United States, honoring the Virgin Mary, under the title Immaculate Conception, by which Pope Pius XI donated a mosaic of the same image in 1923. The basilica is not the cathedral church of the Archdiocese of Washington as the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle downtown has served in this capacity since the creation of the archdiocese in 1939.
The basilica does not have its own parish community, but serves the adjacent Catholic University of America which donated the land for its construction, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and hosts numerous Masses for various organizations of the Church from across the United States.
In 1792 John Carroll, the bishop of Baltimore and America’s first Roman Catholic bishop, consecrated the newly-created United States under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and her title of The Immaculate Conception. In 1847, the 7th Provincial Councils of Baltimore reiterated this episcopal choice to name the title Virgin Mary, conceived without sin as the principal patroness of the land, which Pope Pius IX formalized on February 7, 1847, but was not publicly proclaimed until July 2, 1847.
The shrine was built in the style of medieval churches, relying on masonry walls and columns in place of structural steel and reinforced concrete. It was designed to hold 10,000 worshipers and includes modern amenities such as a basement cafeteria, hidden public address speakers to carry speech at the altar to the rear of the building, air conditioning and the largest (in 1959) radiant heating slab in the world.
The basilica houses 70 chapels honoring Mary and reflecting the origins of the Catholic immigrants and religious orders whose generosity erected them. Its Greek-styled interior is crowned with numerous domes decorated in mosaics, similar to the Basilica of St. Mark in Venice, Italy, but much larger. The mosaics feature American renditions of traditional Catholic images. Artist Jan Henryk De Rosen, who presided over the shrine’s iconography committee was also responsible for much of its decor, including composing the large mosaic over the northern apse. Not widely known is the fact that among the different oratories below the main church, tucked towards the right-hand side of the crypt’s main chapel is an altar dedicated to Nuestra Senora de la Paz y Buen Viaje, more popularly known as Our Lady of Antipolo. The image is a replica of the one brought to the Philippines in 1626 by Spanish Governor General Juan Niño de Tabora who traveled from Acapulco, Mexico. This is a welcome sight to Filipino visitors and pilgrims since this stands for America’s recognition of the Filipino Catholic immigrants’ contribution to the growth of its multi-cultural society as well as one of the solid foundations that erected this magnificent structure.
The shrine hosted Popes John Paul II, who designated the National Shrine as a Minor Basilica on October 12, 1990; Benedict XVI, who bestowed the honor of a Golden Rose on the basilica on April 16, 2008; and Francis, when he celebrated Mass on the east steps for the canonization of Junípero Serra, O.F.M. on September 23, 2015.
Prayer: Lord, You have given us what seems like an impossible task: You have asked us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow You. Even when our spirits are willing, the flesh is weak. You know our hearts, Father. Help us, with Your Holy Spirit, to examine our hearts and hear from You. The longer we walk with You, the more we look like You. We desire to become more and more like You, less selfish and more selfless, willing to deny ourselves in any and all situations. You have told us that when we lose our life for Your sake, we will save it. Save us from ourselves, God. As we lift up these words for our churches, let us come before God with humility and a willingness to obey. Let us put others first and serve our brothers and sisters in Christ. May we seek God first, putting aside our own desires. May we become intercessors for our brothers and sisters in Christ. May we pray more and criticize less. May we be encouragers and uplifters. Amen.
11 – Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary Queen of the Universe (Orlando, Florida, U.S.A.)
Orlando in 1979 was a fast-emerging crossroads that became the home of the new Disney World, which is widely popular today. The complex was drawing millions of visitors each year usually on weekends, and there was a pronounced lack of appropriate venue to serve the many Catholic visitors, who, while coming to the complex to be entertained, are nevertheless hungry for an opportunity to turn their thoughts and hearts to God on Sundays. Thus evolved a unique calling for the Diocese to direct what is known as “tourist ministry”. Back then, Masses used to be celebrated at area hotels until the apostolate thrived and the Diocese needed to “open wide the doors to Christ”.
While the structure was conceptualized in 1984, it was not until 1993 that the Shrine first opened its doors. The 2,000-seat church has since then become a regional tourist attraction. It was consecrated to Mary who was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory and exalted by the Lord as Queen of the Universe.
It stands majestically in a 17-acre tract of land which only 25 years ago was a plain wasteland. It would have remained a wasteland if not for the dream of Fr. Joseph Harte. It is true that everything we now see were just mere dreams of some people who had believed firmly in their dreams. Take for example the Disneyland and of course this Basilica – both are located not far from each other in Central Florida, and both started as dreams by two men.
In 2009, it was designated as the 63rd basilica in the United States. The church does not host a parish and is entirely devoted to serving the spiritual needs of the tourists visiting Disney World and the Universal Orlando Resort as well as the Catholic workers employed by these attractions.
The Shrine consists of the main church, the Rosary Garden, an outdoor chapel, the Blessed Sacrament chapel, the Shrine museum and the gift shop.
The interior of the Basilica gives one a feeling of the immensity and the majesty of the Almighty. The stunning stained-glass windows which adorn both sides provide natural lighting to this building par excellence. It earned an Award of Merit for Excellence in Construction.
Prayer: O Christ Jesus, I acknowledge You King of the Universe. All that has been created has been made for You. Exercise upon me all Your rights. I renew my baptismal promises renouncing Satan and all his works and pomps. I promise to lead a good Christian life and to do all in my power to procure the triumph of the rights of God and Your Church. Divine Heart of Jesus, I offer You my poor actions in order to obtain that all hearts may acknowledge Your sacred royalty and that thus the reign of Your peace may be established throughout the universe. Amen.
12 – Saint Francis of Assisi Church (Apopka, Florida, U.S.A.)
A short distance from the Apopka Town Centre as you travel south along Orange Blossom Trail, you’ll see a small entrance leading to a one-story building which one can easily mistake for a cafeteria or a small school if not for the tiny cross perched atop it. St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church with its brown shingles reminds one of the color of the Franciscan friars’ habit. The simple exterior of the church building belies its amazing interior designed like a theater with its pews lined up in a semi-circle descending regularly towards the altar.
The church is dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi as its patron; he is known to many as the patron saint of animals, but he was also a man dedicated to the poor, creation, and peace.
St. Francis was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant and his wife, a devout Catholic. St. Francis grew up with a charismatic, fun-loving personality, and dreamed of accomplishing many things. But he did not like violence. During a war between Assisi and Perugia (Italy), he decided against being a soldier, and sought his purpose in life. St. Francis worked in a little Church, and after hearing a reading from the Gospel, he felt called to do three things – to be one with his heavenly Father, to work for the Church, and to become as much like Jesus as possible. He gave up his expensive clothes and possessions and began traveling around Italy, preaching the Gospel. His simplistic lifestyle made him one with the poor, so he tried to create better conditions for them. He offered them respect and dignity through kindness and compassion. He tried to be like Jesus, through poverty, humbleness, and compassion.
In addition to being the patron saint of animals, St. Francis is also the patron of ecologists and Italy. Pope Francis chose his papal name in honor of St. Francis because of his love for the poor.
Prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
13 – Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima (Lewiston, New York, U.S.A.)
The Shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima sits on a 16 acre property (65,000 sq.m.) donated in 1954 by benefactors Mr. and Mrs. Walter Ciurzak. The property even before the church was built, was known then and until now, as a place of natural beauty, inspiring people to reflect, pray or create art. The town of Lewiston is located a short drive north of the world-famous Niagara Falls, so thousands of pilgrims from around the USA and Canada that tour the falls also visit the Shrine each year.
The church was started in 1963, dedicated in 1965 and consecrated on October 5, 1974. A year later Pope Paul VI conferred the title of Basilica upon the church. The Basilica sits in a dome measuring 100 feet in diameter and 55-foot high. On top of the dome is the status of Our Lady of Fatima sculpted from Vermont granite and which overlooks the Rosary Garden, heart pool and Avenue of the Saints.
The compound also hosts the Barnabite Fathers who administer the shrine as well as their seminary.
On May 13th, 1917 in the small town of Fatima, Portugal, three shepherd children witnessed the Blessed Virgin Mary as an apparition; they then saw her again on June 13th and July 13th in the same place. The children were given specific instruction from her to do penance and Acts of Reparations. During the course of those visits, according to the eldest child, the Blessed Virgin Mary confided in them three secrets. On August 13th, the children were jailed because of their stories and prevented from going to the place they saw her each month before; in addition, their jailers insisted that the children share the secrets, but the children refused. The children were eventually released, and again saw the Blessed Virgin Mary on August 15th, and asked permission to share the secrets with the doubters. The Blessed Virgin Mary promised for her last visit, on October 13th, she would present herself; and when that time came, in front of approximately 70,000 witnesses, the Blessed Virgin Mary performed the Miracle of the Sun. In 1941 two of those secrets were revealed, after being found in a written account by one of the children; however, the surviving child declined requests to reveal the third secret, but agreed to write it down and seal it in an envelope, to be opened in 1960, when the world would better be able to receive it.
Prayer: O Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore Thee profoundly. I offer Thee the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifferences by which He is offended. By the infinite merits of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary I beg the conversion of poor sinners. Amen.
14 – Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica (Ottawa, Canada)
The site of the Notre Dame Cathedral was originally home to the small wooden St. Jacques Church built in 1832. This structure was destroyed in 1841 to make way for a larger church along neo-classical lines. With soaring arches, terraced galleries and stained-glass windows, the Notre Dame Basilica is a stunning example of Gothic Revival architecture.
The main structure was consecrated in 1846 but not actually finished until the 1880’s. In 1847, the church was designated the cathedral of Bytown. Visible from afar, its delicate twin steeples flank a gold-leafed statue of the Madonna and Child. The steeples are covered with tin, which is typical of French-Canadian churches, and house a peal of bells. The exterior is fairly reserved, but the interior is far more ornate, designed by Georges Buillon. The interior of the church is brightly painted and decorated with carved features, exquisite stained glass windows and hundreds of statues of various religious figures.
The Basilica is the oldest and largest church in Ottawa and the seat of the city’s Roman Catholic archbishop. Its twin spires and gilded Madonna are easily identifiable from nearby Parliament Hill and the surrounding area.
On August 19, 1879, the cathedral was elevated to the status of minor basilica by Pope Leo XIII. On June 8, 1886, the cathedral was elevated to the status of metropolitan church when Ottawa became an archdiocese.
In 1978, both the National Capital Commission and the City of Ottawa designated the Cathedral as heritage property. The Cathedral was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1990.
Prayer: Holy Mary, full of God’s presence during the day of your life, you accepted with full humility the Father’s will, and the devil was never capable of tying you up with his confusion. Once with your Son you interceded for our difficulties, and full of kindness and patience, you gave us example of how to untie the knots in our life. By remaining forever Our Mother, you put in order and make more clear the ties that link us to the Lord. Holy Mother, Mother of God and our Mother, to you who untie with a motherly heart the knots of our life, we pray to you to receive us in your hands and to free us of the knots and confusion with which our enemy attacks. Through your grace, your intercession and your example deliver us from all evil, Our Lady, and untie the knots that prevent us from being united with God, so that we, free from sin and error, may find Him in all things, may have our hearts placed in Him, and may serve Him always in our brothers and sisters. Amen.