Pope Francis has granted the title of minor basilica to the National Shrine of La Virgen Divina Pastora in the northern city of Gapan, the oldest church in the Diocese of Cabanatuan.
The pope elevated the shrine to what is now the 22nd minor basilica in the Philippines. It is also the first in the entire province of Nueva Ecija, which has two ecclesial territories, including the Diocese of San Jose.
“We rejoice heartily because this special blessing was granted to us while the diocese is celebrating the 60th anniversary of its foundation,” Bishop Sofronio Bancud of Cabanatuan said Monday.
“A minor basilica is a church that has a particular bond with the pope and the church of Rome, and is considered as an exemplar in liturgical and pastoral action in the diocese,” he said.
The celebration of the centuries-old church’s new title will be held on April 26 this year, with a Mass to be presided over by Archbishop Charles Brown, apostolic nuncio to the Philippines.
The event will also coincide with the 60th anniversary of the canonical coronation of the image of La Virgen Divina Pastora, and the 38th anniversary of the church’s declaration as a national shrine.
Bancud has directed the new basilica’s rector, Fr. Aldrin Domingo, to ensure that the faithful “are properly catechized and the church specially prepared for this very important occasion”.
The shrine, known canonically as the Three Kings Parish, was founded by the Augustinian missionaries in 1595.
As of the 16th-century Augustinian chronicle, it is recorded that in the early 1700s, an Augustinian friar brought a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary from Spain to Gapan.
The friars named the titular “Virgen Divina Pastora” because the surroundings of Gapan were largely a grazing ground for different animals like carabao, sheep, cows, horses, and many others.
They initiated the devotion to the Virgin Divina Pastora, which rapidly spread throughout Gapan and other areas outside the province.
“May La Virgen Divina Pastora continues to guide us and lead us to Jesus, the Good Shepherd,” Bancud said.