CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) – Pope Benedict XVI has declared a special designation on one of Chattanooga's oldest churches.

Bishop Richard F. Stika announced Thursday that Sts. Peter and Paul Church has been designated a minor basilica by the Pope, as of May 3.

According to the Knoxville Diocese, there are less than 70 Catholic churches in the United States designated as a basilica.

"Just as the U.S. government has honored Sts. Peter and Paul Church by putting it on the National Register of Historic Places, now Pope Benedict XVI has honored it by making it a minor basilica," said Bishop Stika.

Minor, or lesser, basilicas are significant churches in Rome and elsewhere in the world that meet certain criteria and are given special ecclesiastical privileges. Minor basilicas are traditionally named because of their antiquity, dignity, historical value, architectural and artistic worth, and/or significance as centers of worship. A basilica must "stand out as a center of active and pastoral liturgy," according to the 1989 Vatican document Domus ecclesiae.

 "This not only recognizes the building for its historical significance but also honors the faith of the people of East Tennessee, of Chattanooga, and of the South. Sts. Peter and Paul is the mother church in that part of the diocese, and it has been a house of prayer for more than 120 years," Bishop Stika said.

Three physical signs indicate that a church is a lesser basilica. The first is the presence of the conopaeum—a silk canopy designed with stripes of yellow and red, traditional papal colors. The second is the tintinnabulum, or bell. It is mounted on a pole and carried processionally, along with the conopaeum, at the head of the clergy on special occasions. Third, minor basilicas have the right to display the papal symbol—crossed keys—on banners, on furnishings, and on the seal of the basilica.

"I'm very grateful to Father Schmidt for his great love of this parish," the bishop said, noting that he will appoint the pastor as rector of the basilica, "which is a special honor in the church."

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