Parishioners in Brooklyn are anticipating the elevation of their Regina Pacis Church as a basilica, with the dedication set to take place on the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
“They've been admiring the beauty of this church for the longest time, and to see it recognized like this by the Vatican and by the diocese, is a cause of great joy and excitement for the people,” the church's pastor, Monsignor Ronald T. Marino told EWTN News Nov. 27.
“The people feel that after the 62 years since the church was built...this is an honor they were not expecting, to become one of the Pope's churches.”
Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Brooklyn petitioned the Congregation for Divine Worship last year to make Regina Pacis a minor basilica, “out of respect for the cultural tradition of this church, the cultural importance,” Msgr. Marino related.
“It's artistically beautiful and important, it has great significance for the Italian immigrants who built it as a vow for peace in the world, to protect their sons and daughters who were at war at the time.”
In May of 1942, the parishioners of St. Rosalia, Regina Pacis' sister church, vowed to build a shrine to Our Lay Queen of Peace for the safe return of their soldiers who were on the battlefields of World War II and for a just peace.
Within ten years of that vow, Regina Pacis was dedicated, a testament to the dedication of Italian immigrants of the time to the Blessed Virgin.
“To be able to recognize the fact that immigrants built this from their own sweat and generosity, is a major affirmation of the role immigrants have played in the diocese from the beginning,” Msgr. Marino said.
Today the basilica is home to diverse new immigrants, especially from China. The parish has Masses in English, Chinese, Italian, and Spanish.
“As part of our evangelization efforts, we've been for a couple of years reaching out to the Chinese, and the response has been tremendous, so much so that we began a Chinese mass every week...the Chinese people feel very very welcome here.”
The immigrants who built the church in 1949-51 “gave their jewelry, they gave diamonds and wedding rings and bracelets, you name it,” Msgr. Marino said.
With these precious donations, the pastor at the time made two beautiful tiaras which were made to crown the image of the Queen of Peace with the Christ child which adorns the sanctuary.
“We will put the crowns up for the basilica dedication,” said Msgr. Marino. “We usually put them up for Mothers' Day only...but the fact that in the building of the church, the people gave their very own jewelry and wedding rings, I think that's important … and a beautiful thing.”
The Chinese and Hispanic immigrants of today made their contribution to the basilica as well.
A couple weeks ago, Msgr. Marino organized a “church cleaning day” in preparation for the festivities surrounding the basilica's dedication.
“Sixty to seventy people volunteered to come,” he said, “and they cleaned the church, its a huge church, from top to bottom...it was tremendous.”
“And they did it with a lot of pride, it's their church now. I was so happy to see the Chinese and the Spanish (speakers) respond that way.”
The dedication of the basilica will be part of a pontifical Mass Dec. 8 celebrated by Bishop DiMarzio. He will bless the Papal symbols: Pope Benedict's coat of arms, which will be affixed to the church's exterior, a red and yellow silk umbrella called the “ombrellino” and a bell called the “tintinnabulum”.
The dedication will be preceded Dec. 7 by a sacred music concert and Solemn First Vespers of the Immaculate Conception.
Regina Pacis' role as a basilica means it will have more solemn celebrations of Petrine feasts such as the Chair of Peter, Ss. Peter and Paul, and the anniversary of the Pope's election. On those days, the faithful who participate in Mass at the basilica will be able to receive a plenary indulgence, under the usual conditions.
The announcement that the church is to be a basilica has been a boon to the diocese so recently struck by Hurricane Sandy.
“This Thanksgiving, the Diocese of Brooklyn, in the midst of recovering from a devastating hurricane, gives thanks to Almighty God that Regina Pacis...is recognized with this honor,” said Bishop DiMarzio.
“The fact that we're able to have three basilicas within our very historical, vibrant and diverse diocese, was really great news, especially after the last four weeks,” diocesan communications director Stefanie Gutierrez related to EWTN News Nov. 28.
Regina Pacis itself was spared destruction by Sandy, as it sits on a hill and is inland from the coast.
Gutierrez noted several parishes in the diocese remain without power or heat, and that Rockaway Beach was particularly hard hit.
At the parish's website, Msgr. Marino praised his parishioners, who donated goods and money to their neighbors in Brooklyn and Staten Island who were hard-hit by the hurricane.
“Christianity in action is the biggest form of Evangelization. In this Year of Faith, we are off to a great start thanks to the compassion and generosity of our people. May God continue to bless us with parishioners like these,” he wrote.
Regina Pacis has parishioners who were present at the church's dedication in 1951, and Msgr. Marino said they are “excited” for the church's new status and hope to attend its dedication as a basilica.