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Nearly 3,000 on hand for Year of Faith service at Olympic Center


LAKE PLACID –– Voices and music filled the Olympic Center on Sunday during the north country’s largest Mass in more than 40 years.

More than 2,800 people crowded into the Olympic Center to participate in the Diocese of Ogdensburg Solemn Mass in celebration of the Year of Faith, over which Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the U.S., presided.

“Archbishop Vigano, welcome to our beautiful Diocese of Ogdensburg,” Bishop Terry R. LaValley said. “Welcome to God’s country.”

Archbishop Vigano’s Italian accent echoed through the arena as he led the crowd of nearly 3,000 people through the 2:30 p.m. Mass.

Jackie M. Kelly, conference center coordinator for the New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority, said the authority was expecting 2,000 people, but about 2,800 showed up.

She said ORDA wasn’t planning to open up some of the bleacher seats in the balcony, but had to use them. It also gave up reserved seating for the Knights of Columbus and had to bring in more chairs.

“We have people from all eight counties represented,” she said. “I think there’s 16 or 17 buses, plus people from the Akwesasne Nation, so it’s reaching everywhere.”

Ms. Kelly said the Diocese of Ogdensburg encompasses a quarter of the state geographically and consists of about 150,000 Catholics.

Sunday’s Mass, to which the entire diocese was invited, was to be the north country’s climax celebration of the Year of Faith.

“I pray that this year has sharpened our senses for the supernatural,” Bishop LaValley said.

The Rev. Bryan D. Stitt, Malone, is the vocations director of the diocese and was master of ceremonies during the Mass.

“It’s a reminder that the church is universal,” he said. “It’s intergenerational. The beauty of all coming together as one is a sign of great hope.”

Father Stitt said meeting Archbishop Vigano was an amazing experience for him.

“His presence brings Pope Francis to us,” he said. “It’s not just about 2013. It’s about 2000 years of history and the great future.”

Lonel Woods, a voice professor from Crane School of Music, Potsdam, was the director of the 300-member choir that sang throughout the Mass and stood out in the balcony with matching white shirts.

“Getting this massive group of people together in the spirit of God is just great,” he said. “There’s nothing like it because you don’t often have this opportunity.”

Mr. Woods said the choir practiced separately in different locations across the state. Each location had two to four rehearsals.

“Today’s rehearsal was the first time we had all of the voices together,” he said. “I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but surprisingly, everybody’s clearly practiced on their own. It clearly meant something to them, because everybody’s here.”

The newly established Joyful Youth Choir, made up of junior high and high school students from five local parishes, sang two songs as people were still trying to find seats.

The group of 17 singers and its director, Dennis O. Frisbie, church organist at Peru Community Church, started practicing in April, meeting once a week.

“They were asked by the bishop himself to perform for this,” Mr. Frisbie said. “When he said they’re performing it gave me goose bumps and the kids were all pumped.”

Catholics from all over Northern New York were able to participate in the Mass in different ways.

Harold A. Caldwell, St. Regis Mohawk Tribe member, was one of seven people asked to read an intercession during the Mass.

“It’s an honor to be here and especially to be asked to participate in the Mass,” he said.

Frances A. Defazio, Canton, sang in the choir and said attending the Mass made her feel closer to God.

“I’ve had a rough year this past year,” she said. “I lost my husband in February and I’m getting back to the church on a regular basis. So this is my way to give back and to give thanks.”

Seminarian Matthew S. Conger, 21, Ogdensburg, who is studying for the priesthood at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, Pa., participated in the Mass and said the experience was one he’ll never forget.

“To be able to serve with the whole community and the whole diocese is pretty awesome,” he said.

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