BUKIT MERTAJAM: The month-long feast day celebration of the Minor Basilica of St Anne reached its height yesterday as Catholics here and all over the world honoured the grandparents of Jesus Christ.
The liturgical feast days of Saint Anne and Saint Joachim were the pinnacle of the 10-day novena at the church here, despite the absence of the huge crowds who had to stay home due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Celebrating the feast day mass yesterday, Penang Bishop Datuk Seri Rt Rev Sebastian Francis paid homage to the founding missionaries of the basilica.
“We join the many, many people here in Malaysia and throughout the world and we are one with them as we honour Saints Joachim and Anne, the parents of (Mother) Mary.
“We remember the small chapels scattered all over (the country) that are also dedicated to St Anne.
“Let us enter into this universal celebration by remembering the French MEP fathers who came from Brittany in France where there is a very great devotion to St Anne.
“They brought that devotion, some 200 years ago, to Bukit Mertajam and built the original church on the hill,” Rev Sebastian added.
The bishop is residing at the 175-year-old church for the entire festival that runs until Aug 1.
For the second year running, novena and masses celebrated at the altar under the prominent multi-triangular, Minangkabau roof are being streamed online alongside a 24-hour stream of the inside of the Shrine of St Anne.
The shrine, fondly called the “Old Church”, has since been named the Shrine of Harmony, welcoming pilgrims of different nationalities and faiths who seek the intercession of Saint Anne.
Sunday marked the first international World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly for Catholics, as established by Pope Francis at the Vatican.
The day has been set for every fourth Sunday of July, the nearest date to the feasts of Saints Anne and Joachim.
Celebrating mass on Sunday, assistant parish priest Fr Louis Loi encouraged the older members of the congregation to press on through hardship.
“In this time of the pandemic, many of us – especially the elderly – are struggling.
“Pope Francis continues to say to the elderly: you have your mission, your vocation to preserve our roots, (and) our faith; to pass on your faith to the young, to share and to care for the little ones,” he said in his homily.
A statue of St Anne has been placed at the main gate of the basilica since July 1 as a welcoming symbol for the duration of the feast day festival.
Two large boxes for petitions and donations can also be found at the gate for those in the vicinity.
Aside from online events, a Prayer Hotline has been set up in which 11 clergy members, led by Bishop Sebastion, are available for seven hours daily to share five-minute prayers with the faithful.
To access the church’s online celebration, visit youtube.com/c/BasilicaofStAnneBM.