LAOAG CITY, Philippines – The centuries-old St. Nicholas of Tolentino Parish Church in Sinait, Ilocos Sur has been formally declared a minor basilica, the third church in the Ilocos Region to achieve the Vatican distinction.
Parishioners gathered on February 16 for a mass led by papal nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown in honor of the church’s ascension as the country’s 19th minor basilica.
The parish church is now called the “Minor Basilica of St. Nicholas de Tolentino and Santuario de Santo Cristo Milagroso.”
According to the 1989 Vatican document, Domus Ecclesiae, local churches are elevated to minor basilica status for their “antiquity, dignity, historical value, architectural and artistic worth, and significance as centers of worship,”
Basilicas are granted the privilege of displaying an “ombrellino (a red and yellow, cone-shaped canopy)” and a “tintinnabulum,” or a bell mounted on a pole that can be carried during processions. These highly-respected churches are also permitted to use the crossed “papal keys” on banners and church signboards.
Nueva Segovia Archbishop Marlo Peralta announced on May 3 last year the designation of the church as a minor basilica.
Brown said that churches with the title of minor basilica are marked by their connection to the Pope and the Church of Rome. “Spiritual blessings” from the Pope through the basilica could be gained, Peralta said last year.
In his homily, Cardinal Jose Advincula of Manila emphasized that the “gift” of being declared a minor basilica comes with mission and responsibility as he reminded Catholics to share their faith.
The church received its new status during the celebration of 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines, added Advincula.
Its declaration as a minor basilica also made it a “center of prayer and a center of charity works,” said Peralta.
“As a center of prayer, people are welcome to receive the Eucharist, pray before the image of Sto. Cristo and receive consolation for their burdens in life,” he said. “As a center for charity, it will launch programs for the poor so that those who need help can be helped.”
Considered as a heritage church and one of the oldest religious buildings in the country, the Minor Basilica of St. Nicholas de Tolentino and Santuario de Santo Cristo Milagroso was built in 1574 by Augustinian missionaries.
Devout Catholics across Ilocos region and in neighboring province of Cagayan flock to the church to seek hope and revere the image of ‘Apo Lakay,’ a 400-year-old life-size statue of the crucified Christ, which is kept inside the church.
Historical accounts show that local fishermen discovered the Apo Lakay statue in 1620 with a statue of ‘Apo Baket’, an image of blessed Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus on her arms, in two sealed boxes on the coast of Dadalaquiten, the boundary between the towns of Sinait and Badoc in Ilocos Norte province.
The crucifix was brought to the Sinait church, while the Marian statue was brought to the Badoc church, which was also declared a minor basilica in 2019. – Rappler.com
John Michael Mugas is a Luzon-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.