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'Cathedral of the Plains' celebrated as first minor basilica in Kansas
Catholic News Service photo
St. Fidelis Church in Victoria, Kan., in the Salina Diocese, has been named a minor basilica by Vatican. The church was built in the early 1900s, replacing a small wooden structure that served as the parish's first church.
Catholic News Service photo
St. Fidelis Church in Victoria, Kan., in the Salina Diocese, has been named a minor basilica by Vatican. The church was built in the early 1900s, replacing a small wooden structure that served as the parish's first church.
Catholic News Service

VICTORIA, Kan. — The naming of St. Fidelis Church as a minor basilica links it to Rome's four historic churches and helps the faithful come in contact with the divine, Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of Salina told nearly 900 worshippers at a Mass celebrating the church's new status.

Having a minor basilica, the first in Kansas, demonstrates "how badly our world today needs such places that we might once again come into contact with our God," he said during the June 7 liturgy.

The diocese learned in early March that the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments had approved its application to name the historic northern Kansas church, known as the "Cathedral of the Plains," a minor basilica.

A church designated as a minor basilica must be a center of active and pastoral liturgy with a vibrant Catholic community and may have unique historical, artistic or religious importance.

Bishop Weisenburger said it takes some knowledge of the four major basilicas -- St. John Lateran, St. Paul Outside the Walls and St. Mary Major, all in Rome, and St. Peter's in the Vatican -- to fully appreciate the designation.

Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in 313 and gave part of the Lateran palace in Rome to the Catholic Church. It served as the residence of popes for the next 1,500 years. The emperor then built the St. Paul basilica. St. Mary Major is the principle church in Rome named for the mother of Jesus. St. Peter's Basilica, the most famous today, wasn't built until the 16th century, the bishop noted.

"The four great mother churches are places of universal pilgrimage," he said.
"As we link this holy church to those churches, we come to see that right here in this very little community of Victoria with a very big church that our roots sink deeply into that Gospel that was lived in those places and resulted in such faith. You could say we're linked together in a unique way. We're linked to the faith they embodied and spread," he said.

Victoria was founded in 1873 by English farmers. German Catholics from the Volga River region of Russia began arriving in 1876.

Several churches preceded the massive St. Fidelis Church. The current church was dedicated in 1911, seven years after plans for it were announced. Its 141-foot twin towers are easily seen from nearby Interstate 70. About 16,000 people visit it each year.

Some criticize the building of expensive churches, saying the money should be spent on the poor instead. It isn't an 'either-or' situation, Bishop Weisenburger said.

"The Catholic approach is always 'both-and.' It's not either charity or beauty; it's always both Gospel charity and the beauty of these places that move our hearts," he explained.

"Over the centuries the Catholic Church has been responsible for more good and decency and help than will ever be realized," the bishop continued. "The constant media focus on our failings must not blind us to the enormous good we have done through the ages and do today. We have done Christ's work, and under the influence of his spirit, we will do it until the end of time."

Such good works often are inspired by faith borne or encountered in places like St. Fidelis, he said.

The building of the Victoria church exemplifies the people's faith, he added, because they didn't construct it after they themselves had built fine homes or had successful livelihoods.

"No, for the most part, the building of this grand church came before their own personal well-being, and it came before because their faith in Jesus and love for his church made a demand upon them.. They had to give expression to their faith, and from that perspective, this incredible edifice is a reflection not only of the beauty of their God but likewise and equally a reflection of the beauty of their faith," Bishop Weisenburger said.

"And so, let us rejoice and be thankful. And let us resolve to be good stewards not simply of the building but of the gift of faith that has been bequeathed us. Let us rejoice today in this wonderful church. Let us rejoice today in what our ancestors did. Let us rejoice today in what we are called to do in their name. Let us rejoice in this great Basilica of St. Fidelis."

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