What makes the National Shrine “America’s Catholic Church”?

In honor of our centennial, we’ve asked the faithful to share their favorite memories of the National Shrine and what it has meant to them. Whether serving as a sanctuary of prayer and pilgrimage or a place of celebration for major events such as papal visits and the first canonization on American soil, the National Shrine holds a special place in the hearts of American Catholics.

Enriching the Lives of Students

For both high school and college students, the Basilica has served as a place of refuge and peace throughout the years. Amidst the stress of exams and demanding coursework, many students retreat to the Basilica for prayer and contemplation:

“As a music major, my life was often hectic, and I found that going to reflect in some of my favorite chapels in between classes helped me re-center. I think the Basilica reaches college students particularly because it transports them to a place of serenity and peace amidst the constant stress of college life.” – Sophia

“Our high school, Holy Angels Academy in Buffalo, hosted a bus trip in 1973. We visited the Shrine and had a wonderful tour of it as a group. I would love to visit again sometime soon.” – Mary O.

“As a CUA student, the Shrine was always there. I love the memories made working in the gift shop, but my favorite moments are finding a quiet moment in the chaos of college life and D.C. The Crypt Church was my favorite spot to pray, think, and read.” – Beth B.

Great Upper Church SanctuaryInspiring through Majestic Art

The art of the Basilica inspires and expresses the reality of God in a tangible way to pilgrims from near and far. From the reflective quietude of the Crypt Church to the breathtaking splendor of the Great Upper Church, the sacred art and spaces of the Basilica uplift the soul and direct the gaze heavenward.

“The magnificent interior [is my favorite part of the Basilica]! Incredibly beautiful. Heaven on earth. Been visiting the Shrine since the Upper Church opened in late 1950’s. Attended first Easter Mass there. Now I can only visit via my iPad or PC from New Jersey. On my first visit, was struck by the red mosaic dome behind main altar depicting Jesus as judge and the Greek letters for Alpha & Omega on either lower side.” – Marion C.

“As a 3-year-old in 1968, I didn’t pay much attention to the Mass but rather spent my time marveling at the polished pews, the marble floors, and the gleaming mosaics. As a 55-year-old, I still get distracted by those things, but I can now manage to follow along during Mass.

And even though I belong to a parish church, I’ve always considered the Shrine as my home church. It’s where my parents would bring me as a child and where I would bring my parents when they became old and frail.” – Shirley

“Seeing the splendor of the Basilica, from the great Trinity Dome to the smallest details of the ‘Christ in Majesty’ mosaic, from the awe of a packed Mass in the Upper Church to the most intimate sacred silence of an overnight Holy Hour in the Crypt Church, the Shrine breathes with life as “a hymn in stone” to enfold the faithful in the tender care of the Blessed Mother.” – Tom W.

Great Upper Church Moeller organGlorifying God through Sacred Music

Sacred music at the National Shrine strives to transform hearts and minds through the power and beauty of music in the Roman Catholic Liturgy. Whether we are hosting musicians from around the world or our own organists and choir, glorifying God through music is an integral part of worship at the Shrine.

“I sang [at the Basilica] during a convention of Pueri Cantores in the early ‘70s and visit whenever I’m in D.C. It’s amazing.” – Tim K.

Providing Peace and Restoration

In the midst of life’s struggles and uncertainties, the National Shrine has offered a tranquil place of respite for the faithful throughout its history. Through prayer and the sacraments, Catholics from America and beyond are given the opportunity to grow in faith and draw closer to Christ.

“The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception has been and remains a huge part of my life. A refuge, a safe haven, a place that I can be silent and listen to God speak to me. Often, I feel an urge to stay longer, even though I must be on my way home. The many chapels of the Basilica have given me time to reflect on all the peoples of the world that honor Mary as well.” – Pat M.

 “My wife and I have been going to the Shrine for over 50 years! I am comforted by the quiet, reverent atmosphere there.” – Bob B.

Trinity Dome Dedication
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For Moments Small and Great

The Basilica has been the site of many special events, from high school graduations and papal visits, to the completion of the Trinity Dome, and we’re so grateful for all who have joined us in celebration.

“We’ve had more blessed times at the Shrine than we can count. A beautiful place for prayer and pilgrimage, and simply walking the grounds. In particular we were there at the time of the Pope’s visit in 2015, though unable to attend the canonization Mass itself. We were at the first Mass in the upper church using the papal altar. And we were blessed to be present at the dedication of the Trinity Dome on December 8, 2017. Hope to return soon!” – Christopher C.

Above all, the Basilica is committed to leading its visitors to encounter Christ through the Word, the Sacraments, popular devotions, and His Blessed Mother. As Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport so eloquently articulated during the 2017 dedication of the Rosary Walk and Garden:

As beautiful as this Shrine is, it will not last forever. But its sacred purpose does. May it stand in our midst as a sacred reminder for all who are searching for meaning in life. All who are struggling in pain. For all who are looking for an answer to the question, “What is it that you seek in life?” That they will find, in this Shrine, the Answer. And the Answer is Christ. May its beauty give hope to the confused. May they find consolation if their hearts are struggling. And may you and I visit often to be encouraged in our pursuit of holiness all the days of our lives. May it stand this day and for generations to come as a sign of hope that the world can find a way to peace, to happiness, and joy. And that road will always and forever lead to Jesus, the Lord, the Savior, and the Christ, Son of Mary and our Redeemer and King… Amen.

The Beauty of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel
A Conversation with the Ambassador to the Holy See, Callista Gingrich