Catholic Church

A good voyage: How the Antipolo Cathedral became an international shrine

Patricia Kahanap

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A good voyage: How the Antipolo Cathedral became an international shrine

VIVA LA VIRGEN. Parishioners from the Vicariate of St Francis Xavier gather around the images of their patron saints and the Virgin of Antipolo during the sixth day of the novena masses on January 23 for the solemn declaration of Antipolo Cathedral as an international shrine.

The Antipolo Cathedral Facebook page

The Code of Canon Law describes a shrine as a church or any sacred place where the faithful can go on pilgrimage 'for a special reason of piety'

The 450-year-old Antipolo Cathedral was formally declared an international Catholic shrine on Friday, January 26, during a solemn Mass celebrated by Papal Nuncio Archbishop Charles John Brown.

Also known as the Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage, the cathedral is the first international Catholic shrine in the Philippines and Southeast Asia.

“We pray with our hearts filled with gratitude for everyone who will come here to this shrine to present to our Lady all of their petitions, knowing that our Lady will look at them with compassion and love,” Brown said in his homily.

According to its website, the cathedral was built on the site of the tipolo, where the image of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage was found after mysteriously disappearing multiple times.

It was declared a national shrine in January 1954, around 322 years after it finished construction.

The cathedral assumed its international title on March 25, 2023, 397 years after the image of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage departed for the Philippines from the Mexican town of Acapulco.

But how does a church become a shrine?

‘Shrine’ defined

The Code of Canon Law describes a shrine as a church or any sacred place where the faithful can go on pilgrimage “for a special reason of piety.”

What makes them different from regular parishes? Shrines, according to the ecclesiastical law, should provide more means of salvation to the people “by the diligent proclamation of the word of God, the suitable promotion of liturgical life especially through the celebration of the Eucharist and of penance, and the cultivation of approved forms of popular piety.”

They must also display votive offerings of popular art and piety, which should always be guarded.

The Antipolo Cathedral is a known pilgrimage site for many devotees praying for safe travel. The shrine is visited by millions of tourists during its annual pilgrimage season held every first Tuesday of the month, from May to July.

There are three kinds of shrines recognized by the Catholic Church: diocesan shrines, national shrines, and international shrines.

The journey

A parish that wishes to become a shrine must first file a petition with the bishop of its diocese.

Policies laid out by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) state that among other requirements, a church “must be a place of historical significance, prayer and pilgrimage” to be considered a diocesan shrine.

At least 10 years after being declared a diocesan shrine, a church may ask the CBCP to elevate its status to a national shrine. 

But there are exceptions to this rule.

The Quiapo Church in Manila is set to be declared a national shrine on Monday, January 29, just a few months after it became an archdiocesan shrine in May 2023.

CBCP secretary-general Bernardo Pantin said that the 10-year condition was put in place to allow the shrine to become popular at the national level. But the Quiapo Church, he added, “is already well known, so it was exempted from the requirement.”

Millions of devotees flock to the basilica every January 9 for the Traslacion, an event that pays homage to the image of the Black Nazarene, that is said to have healing powers. 

Lastly, a church that aspires to become an international shrine will need the approval of the Holy See.

In July 2021, the CBCP sent a letter to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the New Evangelization of the Dicastery for Evangelization, recommending that the Antipolo Cathedral be elevated to an international shrine.

“It is undeniable that the National Shrine of Our Lady is considered a prime pilgrim Church of the Philippines because of the countless devotees and pilgrims who have come and experienced the love of the Blessed Mother in their [lives] through the pastoral care of pilgrims in this Shrine,” the conference of bishops said.

Almost a year later, in June 2022, Antipolo Bishop Francisco de Leon announced that the Vatican had granted a petition to elevate the cathedral to an international shrine. 

Moving forward

In a Vatican meeting held in November 2023, Antipolo Cathedral Rector Reynante Tolentino said their church is “experiencing an increase of 1 to 2 million pilgrims per year, peaking to around 10 million pilgrims as of [2023].”

Pope Francis reminded rectors and shrine workers in the same event that “special places” such as shrines must be places of prayer that welcome pilgrims and practice sacraments with care.

Another national shrine in the Philippines, the Parish of Saint Padre Pio, is also filing a petition to become internationally recognized, according to a book published by the Archdiocese of Lipa.

The shrine, located in Batangas, houses first-class relics of its patron saint, who is known for his stigmata and gift of healing.

“This dream reflects the archdiocese’s desire to extend its influence far beyond its local and immediate surroundings and welcome people of diverse cultures and nationalities to experience the spiritual richness it offers,” part of the book said.

The Antipolo Cathedral is the 11th international cathedral worldwide and only the third in Asia, aside from the St. Thomas Syro Malabar Pilgrim Church in India and the Haemi International Catholic Martyr’s Shrine. – Rappler.com

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Patricia Kahanap

Patricia Kahanap is a digital communications specialist at Rappler.