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Baltimore basilica opening celebrates historic treasure

BALTIMORE, Md. (The Catholic Review) - Everyone shivering in the cold outside of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore, on the brisk morning of Nov. 4 was linked in some way to the grand church as it reopened its tall wooden doors after a massive, two-plus year renovation.

An expected crowd of 2,000 was seated on white chairs within the basilica’s black fence and along Cathedral Street as the U.S. Army fife and drum corps played and remarks and greetings boomed over the microphone to parishioners, tour guides, volunteers, politicians, priests, sisters, architects, construction company representatives, the press and scores of others who were invited to the reopening. Some were drawn to the event simply by their faith. Angela Thrasher and her husband Tom attended the opening after following the renovation’s progress through the news and wanted to see the results firsthand. “We came to the very last Mass before the basilica closed,” said Mrs. Thrasher, who attends Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, Homeland, and St. Joseph, Cockeysville,Md. “I said a prayer to God because I was in ill health back then. I said if I’m healthy, that we would be coming back to the opening and here I am, feeling terrific.” From the Thrashers’ first row street seats was a view of a seemingly perfect structure decorated in red, white and blue swags and two American flags to which the couple paid respect by singing “The National Anthem,” “America the Beautiful,” and “God Bless America” along with basilica parishioner and opera singer Beverly Williams and the Basilica of the Assumption Choir. Between songs, basilica rector Msgr. James V. Hobbs said an invocation, and speakers included Newsweek magazine editor Jon Meacham; Basilica of the Assumption Historic Trust members; Allen Weinstein, archivist of the U.S.; Alan M. Hantman, architect of the U.S. Capitol; Farar Page Elliott, curator and chief of history and preservation, U.S. Congress; George Weigel, senior fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center; and other notables. Cardinal William H. Keeler, who spoke last, received a standing ovation from onlookers as he made his way to the podium. “We in Baltimore have the blessing of a special treasure in our care,” said the cardinal. “We realize we are temporarily guardians of it.” He thanked “those who have toiled here the past two-and¬a-half years” to make the basilica beautiful. Three horse-drawn carriages clip-clopped toward the church carrying “travelers of time” gathered to show their links to the “exquisitely restored church” announced executive director of the Basilica of the Assumption Historic Trust, Mark J. Potter. Individuals dressed in full period costume emerged waving from the carriages to line up in front of the basilica’s gates. Archbishop John Carroll’s character officially opened the doors to the basilica as bells tolled and a cannon salute from Fort McHenry sounded. “I think we’re all excited that we can come back home,” commented Mary Dzurinko, a 10-year parishioner. “It’s an honor. We don’t own it; everyone in the nation owns it.”

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Republished by Catholic Online with permission of The Catholic Review, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Md. (www.catholicreview.org).

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