The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception exists today because of the generosity of American Catholics, the prayers of the faithful, and the hard work of the artisans and laborers who built it. This work, which began nearly 100 years ago by our ancestors, is an authentic reflection of the diversity of cultures and ethnicities represented throughout the United States. The National Shrine truly exemplifies the universality of the American Catholic Church while echoing its unity and inclusiveness. The many chapels and oratories personify the cultural diversity of the United States and embrace our common Catholic faith – in particular, a devotion to the Blessed Mother under the title of Immaculate Conception.
This recurring theme of American Catholic heritage is manifested in the more than 80 unique chapels and oratories throughout the Basilica, all of which feature cultural representations of Our Lady from every corner of the globe and represent the history of the multi-ethnic communities that comprise the universal Church. Among the many nationalities enshrined in the chapels are African, Austrian, Chinese, Cuban, Czech, Filipino, French, German, Guamanian, Hungarian, Indian, Irish, Italian, Korean, Latin American, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Slovak, Slovenian, and Vietnamese.
Every stone and artistic nuance of the Basilica proclaims our nation’s relationship with Mary, a spiritual bond formalized in 1847 when Pope Pius IX proclaimed Mary as “Patroness of the United States” under her title of the Immaculate Conception.
Pope John Paul II, the first reigning Pope to visit the National Shrine, beautifully proclaimed the magnitude of the cultural and ethnic heritage embodied in America’s Catholic Church during his visit:
“This Shrine speaks to us with the voice of all America, with the voice of all the sons and daughters of America, who have come here from the various countries of the Old World. When they came, they brought with them in their hearts the same love for the Mother of God that was characteristic of their ancestors and of themselves in their native lands. These people, speaking different languages, coming from different backgrounds of history and traditions in their own countries, came together around the heart of a Mother they all had in common. While their faith in Christ made all of them aware of being one People of God, this awareness became all the more vivid through the presence of the Mother in the work of Christ and the Church.” – October 7, 1979
The National Shrine conveys a remarkable story of the faith, devotion, struggles and triumphs of our nation’s immigrant heritage and tells the story of the Catholic Church’s emergence and evolution in this country, especially of the many hard-working men and women who, through much sacrifice, laid the foundations of their communities and ensured the expansion of the faith in the United States. Pope Benedict XVI summed it up well:
“…I commend the Church in your country most particularly to the maternal care and intercession of Mary Immaculate, Patroness of the United States. May she who carried within her womb the hope of all nations intercede for the people of this country, so that all may be made new in Jesus Christ her Son.” – April 16, 2008
A century in the making, Mary’s Shrine embodies the faith and heritage of generations of American Catholics who came before, and still offers the faithful of today and tomorrow the opportunity to be a part of this living legacy.
On his historic visit to the National Shrine, Pope Francis blessed the preliminary segment of mosaic for the Trinity Dome, which, once ornamented, will be the crowning jewel of America’s Catholic Church. The entire mosaic will feature the Most Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of the Immaculate Conception, a procession of saints, and the four evangelists, encircled by the Nicene Creed. Blessing the piece of mosaic containing the first and last words of the Nicene Creed, Pope Francis prayed:
“As your faithful people look upon these images and of our Profession of Faith, may they come to share in the fullness of Life you promise to those who are faithful.” – September 23, 2015