Shrine of Harmony is now a Minor Basilica

Solemn Declaration of the Minor Basilica of St Anne, Bukit Mertajam, January 9, 2023

Jan 20, 2023

Fr Michael Cheah reading the Decree in Latin and English while Fr Martin Arlando holds the Decree

BUKIT MERTAJAM: The Church of St Anne, also known as the Shrine of Harmony, was officially declared a Minor Basilica in a grand Eucharistic celebration on January 9. The Diocese of Penang received the decree from the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments in Rome on Sept 5, 2019 which granted the title of Minor Basilica to the parish. The delayed celebration was due to the pandemic.

The celebration saw the attendance of about 2,000 people, including clergy, religious and lay faithful from Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Thailand, Pakistan, Australia and New Zealand participating in the historic event, which marked the first of its kind in Malaysia. Also present at the Mass were Chief Minister of Penang, Chow Kon Yeow, Deputy Minister of Finance II and Member of Parliament for Bukit Mertajam, Steven Sim Chee Keong, Member of Parliament of Bagan, Lim Guan Eng and other state leaders.

The celebration began with a Praise and Worship session led by the church choir. There were also two cultural dances to signify the diversity in the Catholic community. The shofars were blown, true to Catholic tradition and Cardinal William Goh, the Archbishop of Singapore, then presided over the multi-lingual Mass with the Bishop of Penang, Rt Rev Sebastian Francis concelebrating. In his first order of business, Bishop Sebastian introduced the invited guests, by name and designation, to the congregation. Later, the Rite of the Solemn Declaration took place. Fr Michael Cheah was given the honour of reading the Decree, which he did in Latin, and then in English. Fr Michael played a monumental role in ensuring the construction of the church to what it is today.

A Minor Basilica is named as such for its historical value, antiquity, dignity, architectural and artistic work and of course, being a significant centre of worship. Among the physical signs that indicate that a church is a Minor Basilica is the ombrellino (little canopy) — a silk canopy with yellow and red stripes which are the traditional papal colours and the tintinnabulum (or bells) mounted on a pole that symbolises its link to the Pope.

The logo of the crossed keys of St Peter was also displayed on the church’s banners, furnishings and on the Seal of the minor basilica. The keys refer to the promise of Christ to Peter and symbolise the continuous relations between the Basilica and the Pope.

In his sermon, Cardinal William said that St Anne, the grandmother of Christ, is a powerful intercessor. Women in particular, both married and unmarried, come to her in their time of greatest need. Even non-Catholics seek her help and intercession in their desperation. Over the years, there have been great many testimonies of her intercession by people of all walks of life. Therefore, the church, which has become a sanctuary of peace, solace and healing for many, is truly a Shrine of Harmony.

The cardinal added that this goes to show that God has no favourites and is all inclusive, as stated in the Acts of the Apostles. So long as we fear Him and do what is right in His eyes, His favour and peace will follow us, because He loves us all and sees us all as His children. The Basilica is, and has always been, a symbol of unity that has drawn the multitudes to seek God through the intercession of St Anne. Now, we as believers, must reach out to others and promote a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus. We must give Jesus to others in a way that makes them want to know Him more and more.

Cardinal William went on to say that when Jesus was baptised, which was also the Gospel reading for the day, He knew His identity as the Son of God, and that enabled Him to embark on His earthly mission. Since we are also baptised with the same Spirit, we are also sons and daughters of the same God and we too, have our earthly missions. This means we are the face of God on earth and we should conduct our lives accordingly.

His eminence also said that the world is in its present state because many do not know who they are and that causes them to fall into the trap of the enemy very easily. Hence, those of us who have encountered the love and forgiveness of Jesus must go out and help those who are still struggling in the trap of the enemy. We should do so with great humility, hospitality and respect, just like Jesus did. Jesus also understands our human struggles because He walked on earth and had earthly experiences, the only difference is that He is sinless. Therefore, if we have, at any point, received God’s favour through the intercession of St Anne, we must strive to speak of Jesus to anyone who needs Him.

After the sermon, the Litany of Saints was sung and the Intonation of the Te Deum followed after Communion. After the final blessing, the New Youth Testament Bible, called Identity Identified, by the Bible Society of Malaysia, was launched by Bishop Sebastian.

The Bible caters to youth and has specially highlighted passages that speak directly towards dealing with challenges like suicide and addiction, issues that are constantly plaguing youths now. It is a new and trendy way to get youths to know their identity in God so they will be able to find their purpose in life.

His Excellency Archbishop Wojciech Za?uski, the Apostolic Nuncio to Malaysia, gave a brief address. He first extended the Pope’s greetings and blessings to all present. He then proceeded to give a brief history of the Major and Minor Basilicas and said that the title of minor basilica unites churches from around the world with the Vatican. His last point was about the importance of St Anne, who passed on her knowledge of motherhood to her daughter, Mary, who later became the mother of Jesus. And now, she is a mother to us all.

Bishop Sebastian spoke next. He said that the primary motive of requesting the title of Minor Basilica is to honour the pilgrims, regardless of race, religion or nationality that flock to the church because of their love and respect for St Anne and the God she worships. The church has served as a refuge and a sign of hope for all and it’s also an inclusive, creative and bridge building House of God. He thanked the Penang State Government for conferring the Penang Centennial Heritage Excellence Award 2022 to three churches – Church of the Holy Name of Jesus (Balik Pulau), Church of the Assumption (Georgetown) and the Minor Basilica of St Anne (BM).

He also thanked all those who were involved in the organising of the historic event and blessed them.

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