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Shrine of St. John Paul II in Bataan: A New National Shrine

by Joel V. Ocampo

Today, January 29, 2023, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) elevated the Diocesan Shrine and Parish of Saint John Paul II, located in Barangay Culis, Municipality of Hermosa, Bataan into a national shrine.

The announcement was made while the Philippine Bishops gather for their 125th Plenary Assembly at the Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila City.

Shrines, According to Code of Canon Law

“The term shrine is understood as a church or other sacred place to which numerous members of the faithful make pilgrimage for a special reason of piety, with the approval of the local ordinary” (Can. 1230). For a shrine to be called a diocesan or archdiocesan shrine the local ordinary (bishop/archbishop) must give its approval (Can. 1232 §1).

Can. 1233 also states “Certain privileges can be granted to shrines whenever local circumstances, the large number of pilgrims, and especially the good of the faithful seem to suggest it.” The Code of Canon Law continues, “At shrines the means of salvation are to be supplied more abundantly to the faithful by the diligent proclamation of the word of God, the suitable promotion of liturgical life especially through the celebration of the Eucharist and of penance, and the cultivation of approved forms of popular piety” (Can. 1234 §1).

A Place of Historical Significance

In addition to the above requirements, for a church to be declared as a shrine, whether diocesan, national, or international, it must be a place of historical significance.

According to a document shared by Rev. Fr. Anthony R. Sibug, Rector & Parish Priest of Shrine of Saint John Paul II, the history of the shrine is as follow:

This Diocesan Shrine is a pilgrimage of compassion and a testament of mercy of Saint Pope John Paul II, who came to Morong in Bataan (on February 21, 1981) and celebrated the Holy Eucharist for the so-called boat people from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, fleeing the cruel Indochina Wars who took refuge in the province of Bataan and resided in Morong at the Philippine Refugee Processing Center.

To celebrate the immense love of the Diocese of Balanga to Saint Pope John Paul II and to perpetuate the loving hospitality of the Filipinos to our Asian neighbors, we reconstructed the papal altar and built a Diocesan Memorial Shrine in Morong. When all the refugees were resettled in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the Philippine Refugee Processing Center was turned to Bataan Technological Parks, Incorporated. With the communal collaboration and generosity of the Church, the civil, and the provincial government officials, the papal altar was reconstructed and the Diocesan Memorial Shrine was built and eventually blessed on February 21, 2011, the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the apostolic visit of Saint Pope John Paul II to our country. Plans to expand the Diocesan Memorial Shrine were then envisioned. It was to accommodate more pilgrims and even tourists. The mind of the Diocese was to make it known globally and make it a pilgrimage church for migrants and refugees. However, its construction did not materialize. The place belongs to the national government. The Diocese was not allowed to build a church on a government property. Yet we pursued our dreams and persevered with our plans. So, on that same year, the Bishop of Balanga, His Excellency Ruperto Cruz Santos, along with the presbyterial council, conceived the idea and decided that the chapel of San Vicente Ferrer in Barangay Culis, Hermosa along the provincial highway could be elevated and continue as the Diocesan Memorial Shrine of Saint Pope John Paul II. Due to the pastoral needs of the town of Hermosa and in lieu of the vision-mission of the Diocese of Balanga erecting a parish along the Roman super highway, a bigger church was urgently needed, which will be very beneficial for all. As a result, the church is the very first structure that can be seen by the travelers and pilgrims upon entering the province of Bataan. Additionally, this would also be the church that is the mark and the means of people’s safety, strength and salvation as they leave Bataan, which the refugees experienced here forty years ago. With God’s grace and His infinite guidance, amidst the perilous and problematic COVID-19 pandemic, the Diocesan Shrine was finally completed, dedicated, and consecrated on February 21, 2021 by the Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines, His Excellency Most Reverend Charles John Brown, DD. on the 40th year anniversary of the apostolic visit of Saint Pope John Paul II.

Prayer to St. John Paul II

O Holy Trinity, we thank you for having given to the Church Pope John Paul II, and for having made him shine with your fatherly tenderness, the glory of the Cross of Christ and the splendor of the Spirit of love. He, trusting completely in your infinite mercy and in the maternal intercession of Mary, has shown himself in the likeness of Jesus the Good Shepherd and has pointed out to us holiness as the path to reach eternal communion with You. Grant us, through his intercession, according to your will, the grace that we implore, in the hope that he will soon be numbered among your saints. Amen.

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