The attraction and significance of shrines

The attraction and significance of shrines

Recently, two historic events took place for the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines. Last Jan. 26, the Antipolo Cathedral was formally declared the first international shrine in the country, and last Jan. 29, the Minor Basilica of Jesus Nazareno was declared a national shrine.

The former is dedicated to the Lady of Peace and Good Voyage, and the latter is dedicated to the Suffering Christ. Both events were well-attended by church and government leaders and devotees. Since the beginning of Christianity, shrines were established to provide dedicated spaces and grounds for religious practices, such as prayer, meditation, and rituals.

They are believed to possess an intrinsic vitality that exerts a specific attraction not only for believers and visitors but also for the territory that surrounds them (Rech, G. 2023). In studying the distinction between being religious and being spiritual, the American sociologist of religion, Robert Wuthnow, observes two types of spirituality (Wuthnow, R. 1998).


On the one hand, habitation or dwelling is spiritual, where believers connect with the sacred through established places of worship such as churches, temples, mosques, or shrines. This perspective resonates with church law mandating shrines to provide more means of salvation to the people by the diligent proclamation of the word of God, the suitable promotion of liturgical life, primarily through the celebration of the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, and the cultivation of approved forms of piety.


The spirituality of seeking, on the other hand, leads individuals to go beyond established religious places and explore multiple spiritual channels and practices. The sacred is found, albeit momentarily, at times unexpectedly, within the flux of daily activities, for example, walking in the forest, swimming in a river, or viewing the sun setting over the horizon. As one author put it: They can silence the restlessness of the heart. This perspective holds, as the French Jesuit, scientist, paleontologist, and theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin put it: “Nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see” (De Chardin, P. T., 2015). In other words, everything is sacred to the ones who can distinguish that portion of the chosen being, which is subject to Christ’s drawing power in the process of consummation. These two approaches are not mutually exclusive; some individuals may find a balance between dwelling and seeking. They may appreciate the stability and sense of belonging from dwelling while incorporating seeking elements for continuous growth.

While Catholic shrines easily attract local devotees from all social classes, the extent to which they have been involved in social services, poverty alleviation, and community programs is not well understood. In a society like ours, where poverty and hunger are persistent and prevalent, the shrines have become a habitus of social charity and justice. Some shrines provide people with low incomes access to health medical care. Others have hostels for pilgrims coming from distant places. Still others have a well-managed scholarship program for poor but deserving students. They also have quick responses to calamities such as fire, earthquakes, floods, and landslides.

Indeed, shrines can and must still play a more significant role in strengthening communities, protecting the environment, establishing community-based drug intervention for drug users, rehabilitating persons deprived of liberty, and supporting laborers in their struggle for just wages. The opportunities seem endless. There is also a call to speak on issues besetting Filipino society like graft and corruption, injustice to the indigenous people who are driven out of their ancestral lands, and other sectors who are most vulnerable to abuse, such as women, children, and persons with disabilities. Thus, while serving as touchstones for theology and pastoral activity, shrines can and must evolve from a place for prayer to a place of warmth and welcome for fellow pilgrims seeking an encounter with the immanent and transcendent Great Other.

Orlando B. Cantillon is the current parish priest and rector of the Archdiocesan Shrine of St. Anne in Sta. Ana, Taguig. He worked as a missionary in East Timor and Indonesia but is now working in the Diocese of Pasig as vicar general and manager of a church-based cooperative. Noel Asiones holds a Ph.D. in theology and a master’s degree in social psychology. As a student of public theology, he seeks to preserve theology’s critical function vis-à-vis religion and society.

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TAGS: Catholic, Catholic Church, church, opinion

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