The Great American Catholic Eclipse

The Sun and the Moon appear with approximately the same size as seen from Earth. This coincidence gives a sense of wonder to people from all ages. Because of the apparent sizes of the Sun and Moon change slightly, when they align perfectly with the Earth, solar eclipses can appear as total or annular.

Between 2 and 5 solar eclipses occur every year, but only 27% of these are total eclipses. However, only very few places that fall within the narrow path of totality can witness the event, and most often the path falls on oceans and uninhabited areas. This makes the experience of total solar eclipse so rare. Total eclipses stand out as otherworldly, when darkness descend upon the path of totality rapidly. All creatures sense the fear and awe on witnessing this phenomenon. A minute or two later, the Sun reappears, reassuring all people that light will ultimately conquer, just as Christ resurrects after a brief time of death.

The United States of America is very lucky to be able to witness a total solar eclipse on 21 August 2017. The path of totality will fall on 12 states (not counting Montana and Iowa, which will be barely touched) and 20 dioceses (Portland in Oregon, Baker, Boise City, Cheyenne, Grand Island, Lincoln, Omaha, Salina, Kansas City in Kansas, Kansas City–Saint Joseph, Jefferson City, St. Louis, Springfield–Cape Girardeau, Belleville, Owensboro, Nashville, Knoxville, Charlotte, Atlanta and Charleston).

GCatholic.org, the premier website of Catholic churches, is proud to present a comprehensive list of churches in USA that can witness this total eclipse.

This list shows a total of 744 Catholic churches that fall on the path of totality. Missouri boasts 262 of these churches, Nebraska 124, South Carolina 69, Illinois 59, Tennessee 52, Oregon 51, Kansas 34, Kentucky 30, Wyoming 23, Idaho 20, North Carolina 11, and Georgia 7.

A total of 10 cathedrals are gifted with this rare opportunity to witness the total eclipse:
  1. Cathedral of St. Francis de Sales, Baker City, Oregon
  2. Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Grand Island, Nebraska
  3. Cathedral of the Risen Lord, Lincoln, Nebraska
  4. Co-Cathedral of St. Mary of the Annunciation, Cape Girardeau, Missouri
  5. Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Kansas City, Missouri
  6. Cathedral of St. Joseph, Jefferson City, Missouri
  7. Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, St. Joseph, Missouri
  8. Cathedral of St. Peter, Belleville, Illinois
  9. Cathedral of the Incarnation, Nashville, Tennessee
  10. Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Charleston, South Carolina
The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception of Conception Abbey in Missouri is the only basilica that falls within the path. The Lord certainly favours these Benedictine monks, for it lies right on the edge on the path. If you head north for 50 metres from the basilica, you will miss the total eclipse.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis has the most churches (138) that can see the total eclipse, followed by the Dioceses of Lincoln (71), Charleston (69) and Jefferson City (63).

There are other noteworthy abbeys that fall in the path of totality:
Seminaries that can see the total eclipse include:
There are several shrines in the list, including the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in Perryville, Missouri. 4 Eastern-rite churches can also witness the total eclipse.


Leap Day

The leap day, February 29, occurs once every 4 years, or more accurately, 97 times every 400 years, according to the Gregorian Calendar. The latter is named after Pope Gregory XIII who improved the calendar in 1582 when the spring equinox had shifted far from March 21 in the Julian Calendar.

There is not much special about this leap day in the Catholic Church, except that those few saints commemorated on this day in the Roman Martyrology are probably greatly rejoicing in heaven. As a general rule provided in GIRM (§355), priests can choose to celebrate the memorial of any saint of the day commemorated in this authoritative liturgical book Roman Martyrology, even if the saint is not in the General Roman Calendar or local calendar, unless other memorials or feasts impede it.

There is one interesting fact that no one else seems to know about the leap day. Statistically, the leap day is the day in the whole year when bishops were most likely to die from the year 1940 to 2015.

Rather than using 1940 as a starting date, let us start from the year 1900, with the data from the GCatholic.org, to explore the interesting statistical analysis of the date of the death of bishops.

There are a total of 9,698 Catholic bishops whose date of death is known in the years 1900 to 2015. On average, 83.6 bishops died every year during this period. There are 43 bishops who died on August 2 (feast of the Portiuncula) in these 116 years (hence 0.37 deaths/year), while 10 bishops died on February 29 in the 28 leap years (hence 0.36 deaths/year) in this period of time. On the other end, October 29 is the lucky day on which the fewest number (11) of bishops died.

In this second graph, you can see the monthly rate of death of bishops since 1900. December to March and August have the highest rate. This is probably due to the winter months and August heat in the northern hemisphere where the majority of bishops reside. June and September are the safest months for bishops.

Let us celebrate this leap day with great devotion to the Lord, and pray for our bishops, with a leap of faith!


Philadelphia: The City of Brotherly Papal Love

Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, Philadelphia

Pope Francis has arrived at the last stop of the apostolic journey on Saturday morning, in Philadelphia, the former American capital and the city of philos. In this city, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were signed. And in this city, the World Meeting of Families and the Apostolic Journey are taking place, two events that will prove to be historical in the American Church.

In this series of blog posts, I have hoped to show you the beauty of churches everywhere. The beauty does not only consist in the architectural grandeur or artistic decorations, but also in the historical significance and devotions of the people, past and present. Churches anywhere in the world fascinate me, as they are the physical and visible symbols of the intersection of liturgical, historical, architectural and ecclesiastical dimensions of the local Church. I hope that you will also grow in love with houses of God as I do.

If you are ready, sit tight, as I will bring you to important churches in the city of brotherly love.

CubaWashingtonNew York CityPhiladelphia

Philadelphia was one of the first dioceses that were created out of Baltimore in 1808. The importance of a diocese is related to the number of cardinals. Since Philadelphia’s promotion to archdiocese in 1875, it has had 9 archbishops, 5 of whom are cardinals.

The Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul was built from 1846 to 1864 on a Roman cross plan. The church was designed in the Roman-Corinthian style and modelled after the Basilica of Sts. Ambrose and Charles in Rome. A huge Renaissance vaulted dome rises 48 metres above the floor, enabling an undistracted and spacious nave. The highlight of the golden interior is the marble baldachin with a bronze dome above the altar, emphasizing the centrality of the altar and the Eucharistic sacrifice. Two large paintings are found in the transepts, depicting the Adoration of the Magi and the Ascension of the Lord.

Philadelphia is the seat of two Catholic metropolitan sees: the Latin-rite Archdiocese as well as the Ukrainian Byzantine-rite Archeparchy (“eparchy” is an Eastern-rite diocese that is outside the proper territory of the particular Eastern Church). The large number of Byzantine-rite Catholics in the area is the result of immigration of many from Austria-Hungary in the late 1870s. The Byzantine Catholics were given an Ordinariate in 1913, until 1924 when it was ritually split into two apostolic exarchates of Ruthenian and Ukrainian rites. The latter was based in Philadelphia, and was promoted to metropolia in 1958.

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is modelled upon Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, the original patriarchal cathedral of the Byzantine empire. The dome is spectacular with golden paint from the outside, but looking from the inside is a mosaic of Christ Pantocrator. The wall in the sanctuary depicts the Theotokos (Mary the God-bearer). The four major icons on the lower level of the iconostasis (wall of icons separating the nave from the sanctuary) include St. Nicholas, the Mother of God, Christ the Teacher and St. John the Baptist from left to right.

John Nepomucene Neumann was a Redemptorist priest from Bohemia (now Czech Republic) who became the Bishop of Philadelphia in 1852. The holy and frugal bishop was the first one in the country to organize a diocesan school system to care for the children. After his death in 1860, he was beatified during the Second Vatican Council and later canonized in 1977, becoming the first American male to receive this honour.

The Redemptorist Church of St. Peter the Apostle in Philadelphia, built in 1843, is also the home of the National Shrine of St. John Neumann. His body as well as a museum showcasing his life can be found on the left side of the church. In 2009, a fire broke out, burning the pulpit to dust, but the body of the saint suffered no damage. Many consider this as a miracle.

The parish of St. Rita was established in 1907 and was entrusted to the Augustinian Friars. The inspiration of St. Rita of Cascia, a 15th-century wife, mother, widow, nun and stigmatist, soon proved to be instrumental in caring for immigrant families. Many were drawn into devotion to the saint, who is the patron saint of the impossible causes, abused wives and widows.

The shrine was designated a national shrine by the American bishops in 2003 “for its outstanding ministry and its effective service to the spiritual, liturgical and devotional life of pilgrims from across the United States.” Today, the National Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia still continues to provide for many needy families.

The National Shrine of St. Katharine Drexel is located in Bensalem, 30 km away from downtown Philadelphia. It is contained inside the Motherhouse of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, which was founded by Katharine Drexel. Mother Katharine worked hard for the Black and native people who suffered from prejudice and unjust laws. She died at the age of 96 in 1955.

The remains of Mother Katharine lie under the main altar in St. Elizabeth Chapel in the motherhouse. She was raised to the altar by John Paul II in 2000, and is still the only canonized saint to have been born a United States citizen. The shrine was designated a national shrine by the USCCB in 2008.

Old St. Joseph’s Church was the first Catholic mission in Philadelphia, founded by a Jesuit in 1729. The first chapel was built in 1733, and was replaced by a bigger church in 1757.

The church is not easy to find because it is shielded from the street. This was for a practical reason to protect the church from anti-Catholic bigotry.

Olde St. Augustine’s was the first church established by the Augustinian Friars in the United States in 1801. Even George Washington contributed to the building funds of the first church. The community founded St. Augustine Academy and became a famous musical centre in the 1810s. After being burnt down by anti-Catholic riots in 1844, the church was rebuilt in 1847.

In 1976, St. Augustine’s Church was added onto the National Register of Historic Places. The church was also featured in the movie The Sixth Sense. The parish is now the home of many Filipinos.

CubaWashingtonNew York CityPhiladelphia

Photos: © 2015 Gabriel Chow
Also posted on: Salt + Light


New York City: Capital of the World

Pope Francis has left the American capital for New York City, the second stop of the apostolic journey in this country. With less than 40 hours in the metropolis, the supreme pastor will have a packed schedule: praying with the clergy and religious, visiting the diplomats, praying at Ground Zero, meeting children and families of migrants, and celebrating Mass in Madison Square Garden. After New York City, the Pope will set out for Philadelphia, the last city in the trip.

Pope John Paul II once told Cardinal John O’Connor, then Archbishop of New York, “I am only the Bishop of Rome, but you are the archbishop of the capital of the world!” This raised eyebrows among many, but it does have some truths to it. NYC is home to the United Nations Headquarters, and is arguably the world’s most important financial and cultural centre. New York City is also one of the strongholds of Catholicism, served by the Archdiocese of New York and Diocese of Brooklyn. The two dioceses are separated by the East River, and serve 10.73 million Catholics through 556 parishes.

I enjoy New York City’s numerous beautiful architectural works, and churches of all denominations fascinate me too. The city hosts the greatest number of cathedrals in the world; visiting all of the 4 Catholic cathedrals (and a former cathedral), 13 Orthodox cathedrals and 1 Episcopalian cathedral in the city was a joyful yet tiresome experience for me. In this blog post, I will recommend noteworthy Catholic churches for pilgrims to this city.

CubaWashington DCNew York CityPhiladelphia

Situated prominently in the heart of midtown Manhattan, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the exception to otherwise financial and business buildings. Shining in its pure neo-Gothic style, the white façade and interior have just been cleaned and massively restored, just in time for the papal visit. Construction of this new cathedral began in 1858, and only completed 20 years later due to the Civil War.

The spacious cathedral can accommodate 3,000 people, with its spires rising rise over 100 metres. The two pipe organs contain more than 9,000 pipes and 206 stops. Four pre-Vatican II cardinals’ red galeri (former ceremonial hats with tassels used by clergy, presently still depicted in the coat-of-arms of prelates) are proudly hung in the ceiling of the cathedral, a popular custom of cardinalatial sees.

St. Patrick’s is the only church in the Americas that has received a pope more than three times: Paul VI in 1965, John Paul II in 1979 and 1995, Benedict XVI in 2008, and Francis in 2015. It is also the first American church that a pope set foot in.

The Diocese of New York was created out of the primatial see of Baltimore in 1808, along with Bardstown, Boston and Philadelphia. New York and Cincinnati became the third and fourth metropolitan sees of U.S.A. in 1850, after Baltimore and St. Louis did. Built between 1809 to 1815, Old St. Patrick served as the seat of the Bishop of New York until 1879 when the new St. Patrick’s Cathedral was dedicated.

In 2010, the former cathedral was raised to the dignity of minor basilica, the 67th church in the country to receive the honour. Today, the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral serves people in downtown Manhattan of various cultures, offering Mass in English, Spanish and Chinese. This year, the church is also celebrating its bicentennial, with Cardinal Timothy Dolan presiding in the blessing of the newly restored basilica, to be held on November 22.

St. Peter’s Church, established in 1785, is the first parish in the New York State before the state was admitted into the United States in 1788. This present church in Greek Revival style, situated in Lower Manhattan, was rebuilt from 1836 to 1840. It was here that St. Elizabeth Ann Seton converted from the Episcopalian Church in 1805.

On 11 September 2001, located just 100 metres from the World Trade Center, the roof of the church suffered damage from the landing gear of one of the airplanes that struck the buildings. Fr. Mychal Judge, the Franciscan chaplain for FDNY (New York City Fire Department), was the first publicly identified casualty of the event when debris from the towers hit him. He preached to the firefighters the day before, saying, “No matter how big the call, no matter how small, you have no idea of what God is calling you to do, but God needs you… And this firehouse will be a great blessing to his neighborhood and to this city. Amen.”

Despite the historicity of St. Peter’s Church (as it was rebuilt in 1840), the Church of St. Joseph in Manhattan claims the title as the oldest church in New York City. As the six parish in Manhattan, its church building was constructed between 1833 to 1834, also in the neoclassical Greek Revival style.

The Dominican parish serves many students from the nearby New York University, and has been running a soup kitchen since the 1980s.

Located within 200 metres of the headquarters of the United Nations, the Church of the Holy Family is popular among diplomats and officials of the extraterritorial jurisdiction. With the modern style in mind, the church was meant for the new liturgy and a spirit of ecumenism. On 4 October 1965, the church proudly received Pope Paul VI in an ecumenical meeting. This is also the first time that a Roman Pontiff visited a non-cathedral church on the American continent.

The German Parish of St. Joseph, Yorkville, had its origin in 1873, at first served by the Jesuits. A new church was built in 1895 to accommodate the growing parish community. After Vatican II, many elaborate furnishings were unfortunately discarded, until the 1990’s when the interior was restored and refined. It received Pope Benedict XVI on 18 April 2008 for an ecumenical meeting.

Across the Brooklyn Bridge, St. James, built in 1822, was the first Catholic church on the Long Island. It became the seat of the Diocese of Brooklyn when the see was established in 1853. It lost the cathedral status in 1896 only to regain it in 1972. On 3 October 1979, Pope John Paul II visited the cathedral. Three years later, it was given the status of minor basilica and is now known as the Cathedral Basilica of St. James.

The first St. Joseph’s Church at this site was founded in 1850 to serve new immigrants in the city. It was rebuilt in 1912 in the Spanish Colonial style. When the Cathedral Basilica of St. James is too small to accommodate people for major diocesan liturgies, the Bishop of Brooklyn petitioned the Congregation for Bishops to have St. Joseph’s Church designated as a co-cathedral. The petition was granted in February 2013, and since then, St. Joseph’s Co-Cathedral is the venue for major liturgical events in the diocese.

Each diocese can only have one cathedral, the symbol of the unity of the local Church. However, for various historical or practical reasons, some dioceses may have co-cathedrals. A co-cathedral has the privilege of a cathedra (the bishop’s seat) and can host the important pontifical Masses for the bishop. While the anniversary of the dedication of the cathedral is celebrated as a feast throughout the diocese, the co-cathedral does not enjoy such. (Co-cathedrals that were once cathedrals have special privileges of indulgences too.)

Photos: © 2015 Gabriel Chow
Also posted on: Salt+Light


Washington DC: The Little Rome in America

After three days in Cuba, Pope Francis touched down at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, DC, in the United States of America, greeted by the president, dignitaries, bishops and children. This is the 10th papal visit to the country since 50 years ago. Each of John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and now Francis, has paid a visit to the American capital once.

Washington is called the Little Rome because you can find many Catholic institutions in the city: from the national Catholic university founded by the American bishops and the pope, to countless houses of various religious orders, Catholic hospitals, seminaries, and impressive churches. Washington is the only city in the Americas which can boast of three resident archbishops: the Archbishop of Washington, the Archbishop Military Ordinary, and the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States. It is also home to the headquarters of USCCB, the official assembly of all bishops in the country.

CubaWashington DC New York CityPhiladelphia 

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or simply called the “Shrine” by locals, was built to commemorate the national patron saint. America’s first bishop, John Carroll, consecrated the newly created country to the Blessed Mother under the title of the Immaculate Conception in 1792, even though the dogma of the Immaculate Conception would only be proclaimed by Pius IX later in 1854. Construction of the shrine lasted for decades, from its groundbreaking in 1920, through its dedication in 1959, to its completion in 1961.

Located in the campus of the Catholic University of America, the shrine is the largest Catholic church north of Mexico, although shy of the size of the Washington National Cathedral and the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. With a mix of neo-Romanesque and neo-Byzantine in style, the superstructure is home to more than 70 chapels dedicated to different titles of the Blessed Virgin Mary, located on the sides of the upper church and in the crypt. Beautiful mosaics are found everywhere, from the 15 mysteries of the Rosary in the apses of the crypt, to the 3 impressive domes in the upper church. Do not miss the exhibits of the stole used by Pope St. John XXIII to convoke Vatican II and the last papal tiara that Pope Blessed Paul VI gave away for the poor. The basilica is a must-see church for Catholics in North America.

Pope Francis will visit the basilica in the afternoon of 23 September 2015, and hold an outdoor mass, canonizing Junípero Serra.

Although not as famous as the “Shrine”, the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America in the same city is often overlooked as a treasure. It is equally spectacular in terms of popular devotions but differs in theme. It is a miniature version of the Holy Land.

The church contains replicas of the holy sites in the Holy Land and elsewhere, including the Grotto of Annunciation, the Bethlehem Grotto, the Altar of the Magi, the Chapel of the Transfiguration, the Holy Sepulchre, the Catacombs, to name only a few. Those who have been to the Holy Land will relive their blessed moments, and those who have not will experience such. You can find even more replicas outdoors: the Grotto of Gethsemane, the Ascension Chapel, the Tomb of Mary, the Portiuncula, Lourdes Grotto and a cloister with Our Lord’s Prayer and Hail Prayer written in dozens of languages. Catholics who visit Washington DC should not miss the monastery.

St. Matthew the Apostle was a tax collector before he followed Jesus. He is aptly considered as the patron saint of civil servants. The parish church in the heart of the American capital was established in 1840 and was dedicated to the apostle to serve the civil servants. Although the Archdiocese of Washington was only created in 1947, this church had gained the cathedral status in 1939. The state funeral of John F. Kennedy, the only Catholic American president, was held in the Cathedral of St. Matthew.

Pope Francis will be here on the morning of 23 September to pray and meet with the bishops.

St. John Paul II National Shrine, opened in 2014 on the same day of the canonization of the Polish pope, was converted from the former John Paul II Cultural Center by the Knights of Columbus. It is a place of prayer as well as an exhibit of the legacy of the great pope. It has an impressive permanent exhibition hall showcasing the different time intervals of the life of John Paul II. Mass and confessions are held daily.

For Roman Catholics, the Ukrainian National Shrine of the Holy Family in Washington, DC, gives a different taste through its architecture, liturgy and tradition. The Ukrainian Catholic Church is one of the 23 sui juris Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with Rome, and the most populous in the world. The cornerstone of the shrine was blessed by John Paul II in 1979, and the upper church was completed in 1999. During the celebration of the World Meeting of Families and the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, the national shrine is a good place to pray for our families with the Holy Family as our model.

CubaWashington DC New York CityPhiladelphia 

Photos: © 2015 Gabriel Chow
Also posted on: Salt + Light