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Pilgrim shrine becomes Malaysia's first minor basilica

The elevation of St. Anne's Church in Penang comes three years after it was granted the title by the Holy See
St. Anne's Catholic Church in Penang, Malaysia

St. Anne's Catholic Church in Penang, Malaysia. (Photo: St. Anne's Church)

Published: January 12, 2023 05:32 AM GMT
Updated: January 12, 2023 07:12 AM GMT

A popular 176-year-old Catholic Church and pilgrim center in Malaysia has been elevated to the status of a minor basilica three years after being granted the title by the Holy See making it the first such church in the country.

The Church of Saint Anne in Bukit Mertajam in Penang diocese was officially declared a minor basilica through a solemn declaration and Mass on Jan. 9, reported the Malay Mail.

Cardinal William Goh of Singapore who presided over the event called upon the faithful to become a means for others to see God’s face.

“Be hospitable, welcoming, inclusive. Be respectful so that people can truly encounter God's face, God's mercy, and love in and through us,” Cardinal Goh said in his homily.

The prelate said that St. Anne was “a great intercessor, a great model” for every individual.

He stressed the influence of the minor basilica among non-Catholic people in and around the region who “have turned to this shrine to ask for help in their desperation. [Which] is truly a beautiful sign of harmony.”

Archbishop Wojciech Zaluski, Apostolic Nuncio to Malaysia, Bishop Sebastian Francis of Penang, and Archbishop Julian Leow Beng Kim of Kuala Lumpur were present among other bishops and dignitaries at the Mass.

Chow Kon Yeow, chief minister of Penang, Steven Sim Deputy Finance minister, and Yeoh Soon Hin from the Malacca State Executive Council were also present.

About 2,000 clergy and congregants from Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Thailand, Pakistan, and New Zealand along with representatives from the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Taoism (MCCBCHST) also attended the ceremony.

During the ceremony, the Bible Society of Malaysia unveiled the Identity: Identified – Youth New Testament Bible specially designed for youths in collaboration with the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC).

Reverend Matthew K. Punnoose, the society's general secretary, said that the Bible aims to “help young people discern their calling in life.”

He said that the youth movement of the Bible Society themed ‘Come follow me’ was an “ongoing movement for young people to see God’s guidance and help in making good decisions about life and faith.”

Its elevation to a minor basilica permits Saint Anne’s Church to display symbols that are specific to its status.

The church is now permitted to display the ombrellino — a silk canopy that is designed with traditional papal yellow and red colored stripes.

The church also gets to display the tintinnabulum a bell that is mounted on a pole and carried along with the ombrellino on special occasions.

The logo consisting of the papal ombrellino, open Bible, papal cross keys, white lily, and its green leaves along with the words ‘Saint Anne, pray for us’ was displayed at the church.

The papal cross keys symbolize the continuous relationship between the minor basilica and the pope.

Earlier, Bishop Sebastian Francis of Penang had said that his application to elevate the church to a minor basilica was due to its ability to draw crowds from all levels of society.

"If you look at the testimonies, the church has [affected] everything under the sun, from people overcoming financial difficulties to finding jobs, finding their life partner, and having children,” the Herald Malaysia Catholic weekly reported Bishop Sebastian as saying.

He added that the church's elevation is something that’s “not about religion, it is about life. It is about spirituality. It is about blessing us.”

“That is why I decided to name St. Anne as a shrine of harmony, to instil, to ingrain and impress the bond of humanity among all of us," the prelate said.

The Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments in Rome issued a decree on Sept. 5, 2019, based on Bishop Sebastian’s request which granted the title of Minor Basilica to the Church of St. Anne.

Father Adolphe Couellan from the Paris Foreign Missions Society (MEP) established the original shrine in 1846. In 1998, a larger church was built adjacent to the original with a seating capacity of 2,200.

The annual feast of St. Anne in July draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and visitors from Malaysia and neighboring countries.

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