St. Mary of the Angels celebrated the first year of Pope Francis' designation of the Olean church as a minor basilica with a special Mass and dedications on Feb. 11.
The congregation witnessed the unveiling of a permanent display of Pope Francis' coat of arms and heard the proclamation of an additional date in the year to offer the plenary indulgence. The proclamation, in the form of a letter by Bishop Richard J. Malone, was read by pastor Father Gregory Dobson.
The coat of arms, painted on canvas by Swiatek Studios of Buffalo, was unveiled on a wall near a side altar close to the sanctuary. Ablaze in its primary colors of blue, red and gold, it serves as a permanent reminder of the basilica's unique relationship with Pope Francis, who granted the basilica's designation.
"Every Basilica should have a place of honor dedicated to the Holy Father who named it," Father Dobson said. "And so we unveil the coat of arms of Pope Francis to be here as long as this building stands; to dedicate this special space to this pope and to show our affinity and our devotion to the Holy Father. It's a very simple way for us to remember Pope Francis here forever."
Along with the unveiling of the papal coat of arms, the announcement of an additional date to offer the plenary indulgence was also announced to the congregation. Minor basilicas may only offer this special grace of mercy from the Church on particular days of the year which the Church determines. The Vatican does permit the local bishop to select an additional day of his choosing, and Bishop Malone chose Oct. 4, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi."Given the basilica's Franciscan heritage and ongoing relationship with nearby St. Bonaventure University, the Feast of St. Francis is a very fitting date to add to your calendar," the bishop wrote in his letter.
The feast day ties the basilica to the Franciscan friars who ministered to the Catholic community when it was a mission church from 1855 to 1876.
Currently, plenary indulgence days permitted by the Church for St. Mary of the Angels Basilica are Feb. 14, the basilica's anniversary day; June 29, the basilica's consecration day and Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul; and Aug. 2, the basilica's namesake feast day. The Church also permits pilgrims to choose one day of the year to come for the plenary indulgence in addition to the days granted for that particular basilica.
Father Dobson explained that during this first year as a minor basilica, much has altered the complexion of the rural parish beyond its name change and the addition of papal insignia. Of greatest impact upon the parish community of 1,400 families were the busloads of pilgrims who visited to seek the plenary indulgence, take in a scheduled tour and often join in a parish Mass. The basilica also saw a constant flow of casual visitors, from individuals to small groups, stopping in to view the art, light a candle or even join in devotions or Mass. Several more bus excursions have been booked to visit the basilica for this spring and summer. The daily flow of casual visitors can be measured in the hundreds this past year as well, parish officials say.
As a place of pilgrimage for Christians around the world, minor basilicas learn to make the constant trickle of pilgrims through its doors part of a "new norm," as Jennifer Kane, communications director for the basilica, described it.
"The pilgrims and visitors are as much a blessing for us as we hope their visit is to them," she said. The effort it takes to get to this particular basilica is made difficult with simple two-lane roads leading to this area of the state, noted Father Dobson in his homily.