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Mass for 100th anniversary of laying of National Shrine’s foundation stone opens its centennial year

Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory gives his homily at the Sept. 20, 2020 Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception opening its centennial year and marking the 100th anniversary of the laying of its foundation stone. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception inaugurated its jubilee year on Sept. 20, 2020 during a 100th anniversary Mass to commemorate the centennial of the placing of the shrine’s foundation stone, upon which the largest Roman Catholic church in North America was built to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“Like so many great churches throughout the world, this basilica is an enduring project of countless hands and gifts,” said Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory, the principal celebrant and homilist for the liturgy. “But above all, it is the grace of God that has made such a beautiful tribute to the Blessed Mother possible.”

Archbishop Gregory said those who began the project a century ago could not have envisioned the thousands of faithful who would join the efforts throughout the decades to sustain and support the basilica.

“The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is the Gospel vineyard that the Lord has made so fruitful through the labors of thousands of people of faith,” said the archbishop, who serves as the chairman of the National Shrine’s Board of Trustees.

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, seen in this photo taken on Sept. 20, 2020, opened its centennial year celebration with a Mass that day. Since its foundation stone was laid 100 years ago in September 1920, the National Shrine has become one of the largest Catholic churches in the world and is the major site in the United States for pilgrimages honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary. in the photo below, people attend the Mass opening the basilica's 100th anniversary celebration. Attendance was limited due to COVID-19 restrictions, but the Mass was live streamed. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

Joining Archbishop Gregory in celebrating the Mass were Msgr. Walter Rossi, rector of the basilica; and the priests of the basilica – Msgr. Vito Buonanno, the director of pilgrimages; Father Raymond Lebrun, the spiritual director; and Father Michael Weston, director of liturgy and master of ceremonies.

Msgr. Rossi welcomed attendees to the Mass while recalling the historic milestone, which took place almost exactly 100 years ago to the day. “The foundation stone is the very first stone around which this shrine was built and is now part of the Oratory of Our Lady of Antipolo,” he said, referencing an oratory that Filipino Catholics sponsored to honor Mary.

In thanking all the shrine’s supporters – past and present, Msgr. Rossi, said, “Mary’s Shrine would not be here today without the faithful support of our friends for the past 100 years. With your continued support we look to the next 100 years of service to God’s people and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.”

For the Mass, Archbishop Gregory carried the pastoral staff of Bishop Thomas Shahan, the first rector of the National Shrine, a crosier which was also used by Baltimore Cardinal James Gibbons as he blessed and placed the foundation stone on Sept. 23, 1920. A chalice used during the Mass was the first chalice of the National Shrine, used 100 years ago at the foundation stone placing Mass and made from jewelry donated to the shrine from the faithful throughout the United States in 1917.

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception includes 80 chapels and oratories honoring Mary. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

Archbishop Gregory noted the many ethnic and cultural groups who established chapels within the shrine, which honor Mary and reflect their own religious devotions. “Countless prayers and contributions have sustained and advanced the building of this great basilica that venerates the Mother of God,” he said.

The National Shrine is home to more than 80 chapels and oratories that honor the Blessed Virgin Mary and represent the peoples, cultures and traditions that are the fabric and mosaic of the Catholic faith in the United States. Among those represented are African, Austrian, Chinese, Cuban, Czech, Filipino, French, German, Guamanian, Hungarian, Indian, Irish, Italian, Korean, Latin American, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Slovak, Slovenian and Vietnamese chapels or oratories honoring Mary.

People attending the Sept. 20, 2020 Mass opening the National Shrine's centennial year reflected the diversity of Catholics in the United States, as do its 80 chapels and oratories reflecting the devotions of the nation's Catholics toward Mary. Mass goers wore face masks as a required safety measure during the coronavirus pandemic. (CS photos/Mihoko Owada)

The National Shrine, said the archbishop, above all is a project that “continues to witness God’s grace and blessing for our country that thrives under Mary’s title of the Immaculate Conception.”

Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, the anniversary Mass was limited to 100 persons on a first-come, first-served basis. Pope Francis, who visited the Shrine on Sept. 23, 2015, the 95th anniversary of the placing of the foundation stone, granted a plenary indulgence – with the customary conditions of sacramental Confession, Eucharistic communion, and prayers for the intentions of the Holy Father – for the centennial jubilee that began on Sept. 20, 2020 and runs through Sept. 23, 2021.

With the gathering restrictions at the shrine, the pontiff extended the indulgence to those who “due to reasonable circumstances” are not able to be physically present, but do so by television, internet and radio and fulfill the three usual conditions.

A celebration is anticipated for the closing of the Jubilee Year, which will take place in one year, hopefully when the global pandemic is overcome, according to a National Shrine statement.

Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory celebrates the Sept. 20, 2020 Mass opening the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception's centennial year. At left, Msgr. Walter Rossi, the basilica's rector, was among the concelebrants at the Mass. In the photo below, Msgr. Rossi gives Communion to a man during the Mass. (CS photos/Mihoko Owada)

Fidelis Chendi and his wife, Diana, were among those who attended the anniversary Mass. Chendi, an architect and a native of Cameroon, was involved in the shrine’s Trinity Dome’s 2017 construction. “It was a special honor to be here and give thanks,” he said. “The shrine is the house of Mary, who is the Mother of the Church. We are so lucky to be participating.”

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is among the 10 largest churches in the world. Dedicated to the patroness of the United States, the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of the Immaculate Conception, the basilica is the nation’s preeminent Marian shrine and patronal church and has been designated a national sanctuary of prayer and pilgrimage. Among those who have visited the National Shrine during its 100-year history are Pope Francis in 2015, Pope Benedict XVI in 2008, St. Pope John Paul II in 1979 and St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta on several occasions.

The basilica's website includes a timeline of key events in its history, including the first Mass celebrated in the National Shrine’s Crypt Church in 1924, and the blessing and dedication of the National Shrine in 1959 upon the completion of the superstructure of the Great Upper Church.

People pray during the Sept. 20, 2020 Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., marking the 100th anniversary of the laying of the National Shrine's foundation stone and the opening of its centennial year. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)