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Oldest Catholic church in Alexandria gets new designation from Pope Francis

Posted on Jan 19,2018
Filed Under News , Community,

By John Domen

Founded in 1795, St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Old Town Alexandria is the oldest Catholic church in Virginia.

At nearly 225-years-old, the age of the building is even more noticeable on cold days when a draft can fill the air.

But it’s that age, and the character of a long-running congregation, that helped it receive a prestigious designation.

At the end of the 8:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday, Jan. 14, Bishop Michael Burbidge, who leads the Diocese of Arlington, asked the congregation to sit down for a moment following the final prayers of the service so he could speak a little longer.

“This church, the parish church of St. Mary in Old Town, has been given the title of a minor basilica,” Burbidge said.

There are only 84 basilicas around the country, including the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast D.C.

The next closest ones can be found in Baltimore, Norfolk, Philadelphia and Hanover, Pennsylvania.

If you thought a basilica was just a fancy name for a really big church, it turns out that’s not the case.

“The name of a basilica is not based on the size or the seating capacity,” Burbidge said. “But rather its historical significance, its sacredness, its beauty.”

“It needs to have a certain significance,” added Father Ed Hathaway, who helped lead the effort to designate St. Mary’s as a basilica. “That could be because it has the relics of a saint, it has a particularly artistic heritage, or in our case, the history is so important and vital.

“This church is the oldest [Catholic] church in the Commonwealth and was built in a time where proclaiming and living the faith was very challenging,” Burbidge said. “And yet this church stood in the midst of a community as a visible and powerful sign of God’s presence among us.”

The process of getting a church designated as a basilica is a thorough one.

The application required months of research and approval from the bishop, Hathaway said. But that’s only the first of several approvals needed before it even makes it to the pope, who has the final say.

“The naming of St. Mary’s as a basilica is great for this local parish community,” Burbidge said. “But it is an honor to the entire diocese because one of our churches is now connected in a very unique and special way with the Holy See. So the whole diocese rejoices in this announcement.”

Source Wtop

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