BUKIT MERTAJAM: The St Anne’s Church here, long a shrine for pilgrims from all over the region, will be officially proclaimed a minor basilica on Jan 9, three years after receiving the decree from Pope Francis.
The church was unable to hold a solemnising ceremony earlier due to the lockdowns arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.
On Jan 9, a special mass will be held to celebrate the elevation of its status.
The St Anne’s Church is the only church in Malaysia to be bestowed the honour. There are presently 25 minor basilicas in Southeast Asia – 21 are in the Philippines and four in Vietnam.
Basilica honours are assigned by the Pope to a certain church because of their antiquity, dignity, historical importance or their significance as centres of worship.
During the solemnisation mass, the church will have the honour of displaying the papal symbols: the “ombrellino” (little umbrella) as well as a silk canopy with yellow and red liveries marking the papal traditional colours.
The church will also display a tintinnabulum (or bells) mounted on a pole to signify its link with the Pope. The logo of the crossed keys of St Peter will be 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 symbolises the continuous relations between the Basilica and the Pope.
Penang bishop Francis Sebastian said his application to the Holy See to elevate the church was not because of its nearly two century old existence, but more for its ability to draw the crowd from all walks of life.
“The grandmother of Jesus, Saint Anne, seems to have a great appeal. It’s self propagating, we don’t advertise it. It is by word of mouth, an oral tradition where people talk about this blessed place to others.
“If you look at the testimonies, the church has had an effect on everything under the sun, from people overcoming financial difficulties to finding jobs, finding their life partner, and having children.
“My application to elevate the church to a minor basilica is not because of its huge building or antiquity. It is about the harmony that exudes from this great place.
“It’s not about religion, it’s about life. It’s about spirituality. It’s about blessing us. That is why I decided to name St Anne as the shrine of harmony, to instil, to ingrain and impress the bond of humanity among all of us,” he told FMT in an interview.
Every July, hundreds of thousands of people flock to the church for a nine-day prayer to recite the rosary, attend mass, make their confessions, and attend the candlelight procession held on the eve of the feast day.
Before Covid, over 250,000 people thronged the church grounds for the feast day of St Anne. The feast day is celebrated on the Sunday on or immediately after July 26.
Devotion to St Anne is an ancient tradition that can be traced as far back as the 6th century. In 1378, Pope John IV authorised the observation of this special day annually.
St Anne is seen as the matriarch who oversees the happiness of the family by ensuring the well-being of children, forging lasting marriages and uniting families. Many have professed that their prayers were answered and illnesses were healed after praying to her.
The church was founded in 1846 by French missionaries from the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris.
The solemnisation mass will be held at 6pm on Jan 9.