Gapan Church officially proclaimed a minor basilica

Gapan Church officially proclaimed a minor basilica

Bishops arrive in procession for a Mass to celebrate the declaration of the National Shrine of La Virgen Divina Pastora in Gapan City as a minor basilica on April 26, 2024. CBCP NEWS

By Roy Lagarde

April 26, 2024

Gapan City

A centuries-old church nestled in the historic city of Gapan is the latest in the Philippines to be formally declared a minor basilica.

The National Shrine of La Virgen Divina Pastora is now the Minor Basilica of La Virgen Divina Pastora.

The Diocese of Cabanatuan celebrated the church’s new status with a Mass presided over by papal nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown on Friday, three months after it publicly announced the designation by the Vatican.

It is the sole minor basilica in Nueva Ecija province, which is divided into two dioceses, and one of only 22 churches in the country to carry such title.

“Certainly, all of these honors that have been bestowed on this church are intended to increase the pastoral functioning of the church… so that people come here and pray and receive these gifts of God blessed grace,” Brown said in his homily.

About 20 bishops and dozens of priests attended the celebration, along with more than 2,000 faithful who filled the church and its grounds despite the heat and humidity.

The shrine, known canonically as the Three Kings Parish, dates back to the 16th century when it was founded by the Augustinian missionaries.

In 1964, the image of Our Lady of La Virgen Divina Pastora, enshrined and venerated in the church, received canonical coronation.

During the Mass, the nuncio and Bishop Sofronio Bancud of Cabanatuan led the reenactment of the pontifical crowning of the image to mark its 60th anniversary.

In 1986, the parish church was declared a national shrine by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

A basilica is a church edifice singled out for honor by the pope for its historical significance and particular importance for liturgical and pastoral life.

“It is a very special and exceptional place. It’s an exceptional honor that is bestowed on certain churches around the world by the Holy Father, by the Supreme Pontiff, to indicate a special link, a special connection with the pope,” Brown said.

The process of applying for a basilica can be quite challenging, requiring the petition of the local bishop, permission from the nation’s bishops’ conference, and submitting written and photographic evidence of the church’s history and activities.

Minor basilicas also get a distinctive insignia — an umbrella striped in yellow and red signifying the papal colors; a small bell mounted on a pole and carried in procession on special occasions; and the papal cross keys.

“Let’s resolve to do that… to be the presence of God in the world like a silent bell ringing with his presence. Let’s extend his protection, his overpowering, and overshadowing protection on all those we meet, especially the poor, the weak and the vulnerable,” Brown said.

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