Beautiful Churches to be visited by Pope Francis in the US

Washington, DC, USA (Tuesday, 09/22/2015, Gaudium Press) During his upcoming apostolic visit to the United States, Pope Francis will be present at four main US Catholic temples.

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National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington,
DC Photo Fr Lawrence, OP

These are the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, DC, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia. Let us have a quick look to these buildings and their art and history.

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, DC

This stunning temple is the largest in North America and one of the ten largest in the world. It has been chosen by the bishops of the United States as a national sanctuary of prayer and pilgrimage dedicated to the Patroness of the United States: Mary of the Immaculate Conception. The Basilica, built in 1846 with contributions from all the parishes in the country, shows a Romanesque-Byzantine architecture in stone and brick along an original design with over 70 chapels and oratories. The inside is all marble and mosaics.

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception was visited by Pope John Paul II in 1979 and elevated to the dignity of minor basilica in 1990 by the same Pontiff, who during his visit he highlighted how the temple, “speaks with the voice of the Americas, with the voice of all the sons and daughters of America who have come here from various countries of the Old World (…) These people, speaking different languages, coming from different backgrounds of history and traditions in their own countries, they gathered around the heart of a Mother who all had in common.” Pope Benedict visited the Basilica in 2008 and offered a golden rose to “Our Mother Mary.” The Basilica currently receives nearly one million visitors a year.

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Cathedral of St Matthew the Apostle, Washington,
DC Photo – Brian Moran

Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, DC

Built in 1893, the Cathedral church and parish is named for Saint Matthew the Apostle, the patron saint of civil servants, recognizing all those who serve in the municipal, state, and national governments and the many international organizations located in the metropolitan area. The church is the seat or cathedra of the Archbishop of Washington. As the Mother Church of the archdiocese, it plays a major role in the Catholic life of the nation’s capital.

In 1979, Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass in the Cathedral during his visit to the United States. Annually, on the Sunday before the first Monday in October when the Supreme Court of the United States begins its regular term, a special Mass is celebrated praying for the Holy Spirit to guide all those who are members of the legal profession. Known as the “Red Mass” in reference to the vestment color, the Supreme Court justices, members of Congress, the President’s Cabinet, diplomatic corps, local municipal, state and national government leaders, and sometimes the President of the United States join the celebration.

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Cathedral of St Patrick, New York City
– Photo Gildardo Sanchez

Cathedral of St. Patrick, New York City

The story of New York’s great cathedral mirrors the story of the city itself. Created to affirm the ascendance of religious freedom and tolerance, St. Patrick’s Cathedral was built in the democratic spirit, paid for not only by the contributions of thousands of poor immigrants but also by the largesse of 103 prominent citizens who pledged $1,000 each. St. Patrick’s Cathedral proves the maxim that no generation builds a cathedral. It is rather, a kind of ongoing conversation linking generations past, present and future. 

The cornerstone of St. Patrick’s Cathedral was laid in 1858 and her doors swept open in 1879. It was over 150 years ago when Archbishop John Hughes announced his inspired ambition to build the “new” St. Patrick’s Cathedral. 

In a ceremony at Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Archbishop Hughes proposed “for the glory of Almighty God, for the honor of the Blessed and Immaculate Virgin, for the exaltation of Holy Mother Church, for the dignity of our ancient and glorious Catholic name, to erect a Cathedral in the City of New York that may be worthy of our increasing numbers, intelligence, and wealth as a religious community, and at all events, worthy as a public architectural monument, of the present and prospective crowns of this metropolis of the American continent.” 

Ridiculed as “Hughes’ Folly,” as the proposed, near-wilderness site was considered too far outside the city, Archbishop Hughes, nonetheless, persisted in his daring vision of building the most beautiful Gothic Cathedral in the New World in what he believed would one day be “the heart of the city.” Neither the bloodshed of the Civil War nor the resultant lack of manpower or funds would derail the ultimate fulfillment of Hughes’ dream and architect, James Renwick’s bold plan. 

Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, Philadelphia

In June 1784 the prefect of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, Cardinal Leonardo Antonelli, issued a decree establishing the Catholic Church in the United States as a distinct administrative area. In 1789 Father John Carroll was appointed as the first Bishop of Baltimore with jurisdiction over what was then the entire United States.

On the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, June 29, 1846, Bishop Kenrick initiated the building venture, during a period of strife between Roman Catholics and Protestants in Philadelphia, and issued a pastoral letter stating that the location was highly suitable for the construction of the new cathedral as the property fronted on a large public square and the ground was sufficiently spacious for the erection a building which would become the chief church of the diocese. The twenty-five year old Philadelphia architect Napoleon LeBrun was engaged and the cornerstone, a gift of Mr. James McClarnan, was laid on September 6, 1846 in the presence of some 8,000 persons.

The Cathedral was built with only very high clerestory windows to prevent vandalism. The fact that the cathedral was designed with no windows at street level is a reminder of the “Know-Nothing” riots. The original design included light-colored tinted windows only in the clerestory so that natural light could be admitted and stained glass windows in the dome, some seventy-five to one hundred feet above street level. Legend is that the architect and construction workers threw rocks and as high as they could be thrown was were the clerestory windows were placed. Lower stained glass windows were added to the new sanctuary apse and baptistery during the 1955-1957 renovation and expansion. During the construction of the Cathedral, Bishop Kenrick, who initiated the building venture, was elevated to be the Archbishop of Baltimore in August, 1851. In leaving Philadelphia, Bishop Kenrick indicated that in spite of the honor awaiting him, an important part of his thoughts were with the unfinished Cathedral and Seminary into which he had put so much of himself. His successors Bishop Neumann and Bishop Wood continued the work.

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Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul – Photo Cathedral’s archives

Czech-born Redemptorist Father John Nepomucene Neumann was appointed the fourth Bishop of Philadelphia. One of the first tasks to which the new Bishop, John N. Neumann, addressed himself, was the completing of the Cathedral. During the week following his installation, he sent out a pastoral letter to his clergy; it included a request for them to put forth effort to aid in the completion of the Cathedral. Although Bishop Neumann was eager to have the work go forward, he was in complete accord with Bishop Kenrick’s policy of avoiding debt and of undertaking work only when the money was at hand. Unfortunately, the appeal did not succeed, for the money did not come in. Although there were many poor people in the diocese, there were also persons of wealth who could have given money, but did not.

Saint John Neumann’s successor, Bishop James Wood, a native Philadelphian entered the Catholic Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was appointed a coadjutor to Bishop Neumann in 1857, and in 1875 became the first Archbishop of Philadelphia.

This was the venue of the International Eucharistic Congress of 1976

The Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul is modeled after the Lombard Church of Saint Charles (San Carlo al Corso) in Rome.

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