The church was inaugurated in 1581, the first dedicated to the Portuguese saint in Asia. “May the shrine truly be [. . .] be the centre of constant missionary outreach,” says the Pope in a message for the occasion. Every year, some 75,000 to 100,000 pilgrims visit the site. The recognition is "first and foremost an honour, but at the same time a great responsibility,” says rector.
Pila (AsiaNews) - The San Antonio de Padua Church in Pila (picture 1), Laguna province, was declared a national shrine, the first in the Diocese of San Pablo and the 25th in the Philippines, during a solemn Mass on 23 April led by Mgr Romulo Geolina Valles, Archbishop of Davao and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), along with the local Bishop, Mgr Buenaventura Malayo Famadico.
More than 2,000 priests, nuns, government officials and worshippers took part in the ceremony (pictures 2 and 3), including Mgr Gabriele Giordano Caccia, Apostolic Nuncio in the Philippines.
During the service, the prelate read to the faithful a message from Pope Francis, in which the pontiff says he is praying that devotees "may all be renewed in your love for Christ".
Francis goes on to say, “May the shrine truly be a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey and the centre of constant missionary outreach”.
In January, Filipino bishops unanimously approved the petition to raise San Antonio de Padua Church to the rank of national shrine.
The recognition is "first and foremost an honour, but at the same time a great responsibility for devotees," said Fr Edwin Lusterio, priest in the Diocese of San Pablo and rector of the shrine for the past six years, speaking to AsiaNews. As of tomorrow, he will be replaced by Fr Emil A. Urriquia.
"The faithful are very happy and aware that from now on we will have to do more to promote devotion, catechism and the pastoral care of the poor,” Fr Lusterio explained. “This must be our contribution to the mission of the Church. The commitment must not be limited to the province of Laguna but must extend to all the parishes of the Philippines.”
Filipino devotion to the Portuguese saint began in Pila and has grown over time, fuelled by the many graces and miracles obtained through his intercession. "This is why the bishops accepted our request to make it a national shrine," the priest noted.
"Every week, we welcome between 500 and 1,000 devotees. In addition, about 2,000-3,000 people attend Mass every first Tuesday of the month. Every year, we receive between 75,000 and 100,000 visits.”
"Inspired by Saint Anthony, we try to take care of the poor at the shrine through various initiatives: scholarships for young people, visits to prisons, assistance to the elderly and social outreach.
“By tradition, Saint Anthony is the saint to whom one turns to find lost things. But here in Pila, he is above all the patron saint of people who have lost their way.”
"Faced with family, work, marital and financial problems, people come here to ask for his intercession. To those who receive a grace, we ask to leave a message and we really receive a lot of letters.”
Inaugurated in 1581, the church is the first to be dedicated to the Portuguese saint in Asia. Originally, the structure was made of wood and bamboo and was located in Pagalangan, a few kilometres west of the current site. In 1599 construction began on a stone building, which was completed in 1617.
Due to the constant sea storms that hit Pagalangan, the Spanish governor-general ordered the transfer of the church in November 1794 to Hacienda Santa Clara, now known as Pila.
Since the residents wanted to rebuild the church according to the original plan, they got together in 1804 and moved it brick by brick, stone block by stone block, from the old site to the new one. The move was completed in 1816.
(Photo credit: CbcpNews).