.- A historic Florida parish dedicated to the Virgin Mary as “Star of the Sea” has been granted the status of a basilica by Pope Benedict XVI, a move celebrated at its official dedication on May 31.
As he expressed gratitude to the Pope, Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski told a 1,200-strong congregation that the church's new designation signifies “the special bond that joins this local Church to the successor of St. Peter.”
The Keys of St. Peter, and other papal symbols, will now serve as identifying visual marks of the historic Florida church. Archbishop Wenski said this honor signified the unity of the worldwide Catholic Church, which “is realized 'cum Petro' and 'sub Petro': with Peter and under Peter.”
As he celebrated Mass on the Feast of the Visitation of Mary, the archbishop reflected on the history of the new basilica, which is South Florida's oldest Catholic parish. Constructed in 1851, it was rebuilt after a fire in 1901.
“In Key West, generations of Catholics instructed in the faith by the good priests and holy nuns who served here, heroically braved isolation, storms and disease by entrusting themselves to Mary and her maternal protection,” Archbishop Wenski recalled.
He cited the words of an inscribed plaque recovered in the 1901 fire, which described the parish and its faith as “a star of hope and comfort in times of despair and sorrow and a star of joy to those who have lived in its teachings.”
Along with the papal keys and the Pope's traditional umbrella symbol (the “ombrellino”) the basilica's new coat of arms incorporates Key West's own symbol – a conch shell – as well as a star representing Mary as the patroness of the church. It also bears the Latin words “Spe Salvi,” “Saved in Hope.”
St. Mary Star of the Sea is now the fifth basilica in the state of Florida, and the 73rd in the U.S. The honor involved an intricate vetting process – involving 120 questions posed and answered in Latin, as well as proof of the church's historical importance, spiritual qualities and architectural merit.
Archbishop Wenski, the first native Floridian to become a bishop in the state, began working toward St. Mary's designation as a basilica shortly after his 2010 installation as the Archbishop of Miami. During Thursday's dedication, he described the church as “a beacon of faith, hope and love” for the area.
“It stands as an invitation written in brick and mortar to all who visit this community – an invitation to trust in God and to imitate Mary in what she herself said: 'Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.'”