Famed Church Gets Incredible Honor From Pope Benedict XVI

NEW YORK (CBS 2/WCBS 880) — This Sunday a local parish church will officially be elevated as the New York Archdiocese’s first basilica. The Catholic Church will honor St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in a special ceremony.

Its new status also designates the historic church as the pope’s home parish in the archdiocese.

The plain exterior of the historic cathedral on Mulberry Street belies its ornate interior and rich past.

“The elevation of a church to the status of basilica is an expression of its history, its role in the community,” Monsignor Donald Sakano told CBS 2’s Don Dahler.

On Sunday, Archbishop Timothy Dolan will inaugurate Old St. Patrick’s in Little Italy as the archdiocese’s first basilica. The honor comes directly from Pope Benedict XVI, who selected the church for elevation back in March.

“It is the pope’s church outside of Rome. When he comes to New York this is a church that he’d think of coming to to pray,” Monsignor Sakano said.

Since 1809 Old St. Patrick’s has been a spiritual center for New York Catholics, reports WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb. The church’s gothic arches soar. Monsignor Sakano said their heights and the church’s stained glass windows create a prayerful atmosphere.

“Because the lines are vertical … so a gothic church almost has a finger pointing up to heaven,” Sakano told Lamb.

WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reports on the history of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral

“The first American cardinal received his red hat in this building,” Sakano said.

Parishioners attending Friday’s noon mass were thrilled their parish will be recognized.

“I’m honored that the church is becoming a basilica,” Susan Martini said.

“I love to come here and feel in the presence of God. I just love it here,” Gussie DeFranco said.

From the ancient burial crypt below to the brick wall that surrounds it the church is filled with reminders of the past.

“There were attempts to burn the church actually, and so a wall was built around the perimeter of our church which stands today,” Monsignor Sakano said.

Director Martin Scorsese was a parishioner and once served as an altar boy at the church. Several Hollywood films, including “Gangs of New York” and “The Godfather” featured the church wall and interior of the church.

Now, basilica status will be the foundation of the parish’s future.

“It’s not just being a museum of the past but being a place where people can encounter the holy and integrate that within their own lives,” Monsignor Sakano said.

“It means so much to us as Catholic community. I don’t think we could be any more grateful. It’s just a beautiful blessing,” parishioner Patricia Cusumano said.