Church and Churches
Dedication of St. John Lateran Basilica

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

As a pilgrim in Rome a few years ago, it seemed I spent much of the time visiting churches, tombs, and sculptures. There are four churches that are a must for pilgrims. One has to go to St. Peter's and get blessed by the Holy Father. Then one goes to the cathedral of Rome which is the Church of St. John Lateran. One also drops by the basilica dedicated to the blessed Mother, St. Mary Maggiore and finally go outside of the walls of old Rome to visit the Basilica of St. Paul, which marks the place where he was beheaded.

Action starter: From the church to the world. From the world to the church.

The oldest among all these is that of St. John Lateran. It is called the mother of all churches. The original basilica was built on a land given by the Lateran family to Emperor Contantine in the 4th century. This is the cathedral of the Holy Father as Bishop of Rome and today we celebrate its fiesta. Whereas St. Peter's Basilica symbolizes the Holy Father's headship of the universal church, St. John Lateran points to his being the shepherd of Rome. Today Catholics all over the world unite themselves with the Holy Father, Bishop of Rome.

Today's celebration is more than just recalling the dedication of a religious edifice. It is a remembering of the Church as a people in communion with God and with one another. The church is the community of disciples. It is the Mystical Body of Christ. It is the fellowship of believers.

The physical marker which is the place of worship comes to be because in the first place there are people who are united by baptism and their belief in Jesus as God's gift. This people becomes truly visible as a community when they celebrate together the Eucharistic meal. Nourished by the eucharist, they are inspired to proclaim and share this gift of salvation and new life in Christ to others.

Wherever communities of believers gather, eventually there is a longing to build a church. After more than thirty years of priestly ministry, I can point to beautiful chapels and churchers where once I said mass on makeshift altars. I remember a missionary priest who said mass in a barrio and at the homily said, “I look down, I see the ground. I look around, I see the trees. I look up, I see the sky. Where is your church?” There is a beautiful church there now, with a shiny floor, sturdy walls, and a roof with a ceiling. How many beautiful basilicas and cathedrals were products of years of people's toils?

Let me cite some interesting trivia. Some of the old churches in the Philippines were built by parishioners who contributed free labor from time to time. Our great grandparents had to save the egg whites that were used to bind the stones and mortars of churches in the Spanish period. Some of our churches were buildt with bricks that were used as ballasts by Spanish galleons coming from China. Oftentimes these old churches served as centers of refuge and fortresses whenever the pirates come to raid.

The Church which is God's people built the churches. Wherever there are churches, God's people are nourished, reconciled, and strengthened. In some places there are people with no churches while in other places there are churches with no people. I have visited some churches in my travels abroad that have been turned inrto museums. I have also celebrated masses in bank lobbies and vacant offices for Filipino Catholics working in a foreign land.

Since the church is made up of human beings, there are instances where divisions may occur. One fellow piest tells the story about one of his barrio chapels. The fiesta was coming and so the community decided to spruce up the chapel by installing a new statue of the patron saint in place of the chipped old one. The donor of the original statue was offended. Since he also donated the chapel land, he told the community that they better look for a new place too.

The Church is made of people who are human, all too human. This people is claimed by Christ as His own flock. Because the Lord has given us His Spirit as animator, this church continues to grow, spread and proclaim life in God's kingdom.. When there is division, we seek reconcilitation. When we forget what being church is and what churches are for, Jesus cleanses the temple by sending us prophets and teachers.

When we are so caught up in human activities that we forget God, let the church remind us to pray and worship. When we are so caught up in religious activities that we forget to promote human dignity and life, let the church remind us of our social responsibility.