Our Lady of Peace Ivory Coast

The Universal Church: Basilica Of Our Lady Of Peace, Ivory Coast

The nation of Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), on the Gulf of Guinea, borders both Liberia and Ghana. Its population is mostly Muslim, with multiple ethnic groups; it gained independence from France in 1960.

Yamoussoukro is its capitol city, with a population of about 355,000 people. This city is home to the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace:

In this small city, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, you will find the world’s largest church by some standards: the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace.  Loosely modeled on St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, it features the largest dome in Africa and one of the largest domes built anywhere in the 20th century.  By any standard it is among the world’s biggest church buildings, a testament to Catholicism in French West Africa, and also to the ego of Felix Houphouet-Boigny, the president who virtually bankrupted the Ivory Coast while building it.  Despite the cost, the basilica has become a source of national pride for the entire country, not just Catholics.  Today it is the most popular Christian pilgrimage site in West Africa.

The basilica was consecrated by St. John Paul II in 1990, making it not only one of the largest Christian pilgrimage sites in the world but also one of the newest. Unfortunately for this relatively poor country, it cost $300 million to build, doubling the nation’s debt.

The exterior of the church boasts a glass cross atop its dome more than 500 feet in height. The basilica is so large, it can accommodate 18,000 (7,000 in pews, with standing room for the remainder.) It certainly does not reflect native architecture and art; rather, it reflects Europe: over 7,000 square feet of French-made stained glass and Gothic architecture, with marble imported from Italy. The windows tell the story of God’s salvific plan for humanity:

There are four triptychs combining (sic) great theological, philosophical and moral. In the middle of each triptych, the main window is easily recognized by its arched shape, due to the large radiant rosette which dominates … [T]he four large rosettes of the sanctuary are four cardinal virtues … Christian morality: Justice (stained glass Our Lady of Peace), [Fortitude] (the glorious Christ), Temperance (original sin), Prudence (the baptism of Jesus). The colors and patterns unique to each triptych draw from Greek philosophy to evoke the four elements of Creation: air, fire, earth and water … [T]he windows also show the theological symbolism of four triptychs: the Marian triptych, Christ the triptych, the triptych of creation, the triptych of the New Covenant.

With a very small population of Catholics in Yamoussoukro, the basilica is a point of pride for the city but is often nearly empty, save for tourists.

The basilica has aroused much international controversy, for the lavish building glittering with Italian marble sits in the middle of an impoverished African city where only a minority of homes have running water and adequate sanitation …

The church is maintained by priests of the Society of Catholic Apostolate (also known as the Pallottines), who claim St. Vincent Pallotti as their founder. The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace certainly has one of the most colorful histories of any Catholic church: a miniature St. Peter’s in Africa, with stunning art and architecture, a financial burden for this mostly Muslim nation.

Notre-Dame Basilica

The Universal Church: Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal

The city of Montreal is the best of both worlds: formed in the rich history of  Europe and North America. Notre-Dame Basilica stands as a monument to this heritage, but also as living testimony to the Catholic heritage of this beautiful city.

The original church was constructed between 1672 and 1683, while the current basilica was built between 1824 and 1829. Its Gothic Revival style was the first of its kind for Canada, and at the time it was built, the basilica was the largest church of any denomination in all of North America. (Today, it can hold 4,000 worshipers.) The basilica houses the Chapel of Notre-Dame du Sacré-Cœur (Our Lady of the Sacred Heart), used for smaller congregations, weddings and funerals. However, in 1978, the chapel suffered severe fire damage.

Reconstruction was undertaken by the architectural firm of Jodin, Lamarre, Pratte and Associates, whose plan suggested rebuilding the first two levels to be identical to the original chapel, with skilled carpenters, sculptors and woodworkers using traditional methods. The vault was built in a modern style allowing for natural lighting. The new chapel was opened in 1982.

The basilica’s main mission is to spread the Gospel. Aside from celebrating Mass and offering the sacraments, the basilica’s art is a feast for eyes and souls. The basilica “preaches” through the art of its side altars, high altar, its stained glass and its pulpit.

The pulpit is one of the Basilica’s greatest ornaments. In earlier times, the priest would mount the steps to deliver his sermon. From his position above the congregation, his voice could be heard throughout the church, without electronic amplification. The architect Victor Bourgeau (1809–1888) designed this pulpit during the renovations of the 1870s. The renowned sculptor Louis-Philippe Hébert (1850–1917) created the ornamentation, particularly the two ground-level figures of the Old Testament prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah. As with the altarpiece, the pulpit signifies that the Old Testament of the Bible is the basis of Christian faith.

Above, on the skirting of the pulpit, is a series of smaller statures representing Christ seated and teaching, Saints Peter and Paul, and other religious themes.

Beneath the canopy appears the dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit, leading the faithful to be receptive and obedient to God’s inspiration, and guiding through their life of faith.

On the canopy four Church Fathers appear: two from the West: Saint Augustine (4th century) and Saint Leo the Great (pope, 6th century) – and two from the East: Saint Basil the Great (4th century) and Saint John Chrysostom (4th century). These confirm the Church’s traditional fidelity to its origins

Completing the pulpit’s symbolism is a statue representing Faith as a young woman holding a cross in one hand and a chalice (the Mass) in the other.

This amazing basilica is truly one of the treasures of the universal church.

Oura Church

The Universal Church: Oura Church of Nagasaki

The history of Catholicism in Japan is riddled with martyrdom and tragedy. The Japanese knew virtually nothing of the Christian faith prior to 1549, when St. Francis Xavier entered this island nation. Missionary activity in Japan flourished for a time: it is estimated that more than 300,000 Japanese became Catholic in the years that followed.

However, the government of Japan officially banned the faith in 1587, fearing it would lead to European military strength. This began a time of massive persecution. Martyrdom was the fate of many priests and laity, although some Japanese were able to continue to practice of the Catholic faith underground.

In the city of Nagasaki, Fr. Bernard Petitjean built the Oura Church to minister to Catholics, both new converts and those who had lived their faith underground. The Oura Church was blessed in 1865, in honor of 26 martyrs who were crucified in the era of persecution. Pope Pius XI eventually named Fr. Petitjean vicar apostolic, and the Oura Church became the cathedral.

Unfortunately, the Japanese government remained hostile to the Catholic faith, and persecution continued. Over 3400 Japanese Catholics were imprisoned, and the government carried out a vicious campaign to force them to deny their faith. More than 600 died in prison. In 1872, the Japanese officially dropped its policy of persecution of Christians, as the government was eager to open trade with European countries. This allowed the Catholics to worship openly.

Upon returning to their lands, they found everything gone—their farming equipment, boats, furniture—with their once-neat rice paddies overtaken by wilderness.

By 1895 the Urakami Catholics had saved enough to build a stone and brick cathedral under the direction of their amateur architect priest [Fr. Petitjean]. It was a colossal effort, all done by poor people who had to learn everything, from the making of cement to the sculpture of statues. The project was stopped several times as money ran out. Finally, twenty-two years after the first foundation stones were dragged up the hill, the cathedral was completed. The year was 1917. It was 230 feet long, accommodating five thousand worshippers—the largest cathedral in the Far East, with two bell towers more than one hundred feet high. It was named St. Mary’s Cathedral.

While the Oura Church still stands as the oldest Catholic church in Japan, St. Mary’s Cathedral was destroyed by the atomic bomb dropped in that city by Allied Forces in 1945. The cathedral was rebuilt in 1959.

Today, less than 1% of the Japanese population are Catholic, and the faith still struggles to gain acceptance, as it is viewed as a “Western” religion, and its practices and theology considered foreign. The Oura Church has been designated a National Heritage site by the Japanese government and remains a popular place for visitors, both Japanese and foreign. It has survived persecution, an atomic bomb and natural disasters – it truly is a church whose foundation was built on the blood of martyrs.


The Nicene Creed: “I Believe”

Credo: Latin for “I believe.” The Nicene Creed is an integral part of the Mass, and serves as a “mini-catechism” of our beliefs. But what exactly is a “creed” and why is it so important to our Faith?

Theologian Scott Hahn explains:

A creed is an authoritative summary of Christianity’s basic beliefs. In the articles of the creed, we profess our faith in mysteries—doctrines that could never be known apart from divine revelation: that God is a Trinity of persons, that God the Son took flesh and was born of a virgin, and so on … A creed is not the totality of Christian faith. It’s a summary that stands for everything that is taught by the Catholic Church, which is itself one of the mysteries we proclaim in the creed. A creed is a symbol of something larger—and, ultimately, of Someone we love, Someone who loves us and makes us who we are, by means of creeds and other graces.

There are a number of creeds that the Church recognizes, but the Nicene Creed (used at the Mass) and the Apostles’ Creed (prayed during the Rosary) are the two primary creeds. The Nicene Creed dates back to 325 A.D. (isn’t that amazing?), from the Council of Nicaea. Just as bishops and cardinals are called to meet in our times (think of Vatican II), the early Church fathers met to discuss articles of faith and make decisions for the universal Church.

The Council of Nicaea was particularly important. There were those in the Church who claimed that Jesus was divine, but not human. This became known as the Arian heresy: Jesus was divine but only appeared to be human, an idea promulgated by Arius, a Christian leader in Egypt. The Nicene Council declared this a heresy, that is, a teaching that was contrary to the Faith. In order to make firm the truth that Jesus was true God and true Man, the Church Fathers created the Nicene Creed. In this way, even illiterate people would know the Church teaching. While the creed did not become part of the Mass until the 6th century, it was taught universally after the Council of Nicaea.

The Nicene Creed expressed what the early leaders of the Church found to be Biblical, traditional and orthodox in their Christian faith – a faith in Jesus Christ that we continue to proclaim 1,700 years later.” Again, Scott Hahn:

The Creed is the capstone of the Liturgy of the Word, a summation of the mighty works of God, past, present and future. We have heard the Law and the prophets and sung the praises of the Psalms. We have received the Gospel as truly as St. Peter’s congregation did on that first Pentecost. Now, as we recite the Creed, we say our “yes,” our Credo, like the first believers in Jerusalem.

It’s significant that, in our liturgy, the Creed follows after the Bible readings, since the Creed is a summary of the history of salvation.

Every time we pray this Creed, we not only state the basis of our faith, we unite ourselves with the entire Church. We also renew to ourselves and to God our baptismal promises. The Nicene Creed is both ancient and new. This creed reminds us, and all the Church, of what we believe. We join our “I believe” with the voices of all the faithful around the world in prayer.


I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.