LAKE PLACID - Throngs of Catholics from all corners of the North Country came together here Sunday for a special Mass led by Pope Francis' personal representative to the United States.
Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the apostolic nuncio to the U.S., was welcomed to the Diocese of Ogdensburg by Bishop Terry LaValley and a crowd of more than 2,100 parishioners who packed the Olympic Center's 1932 Rink-Jack Shea Arena.
"Archbishop, we feel so honored and are truly grateful that you are here," LaValley said. "The Catholic church in the United States has a humble servant of God as its papal nuncio. Thank you for your ministry with us and for us.
Members of a 300-person choir drawn from churches across the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg sing during Sunday’s Solemn Mass in the Lake Placid Olympic Center’s 1932 rink.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
"We know we are not easy to get to," LaValley added, drawing laughs from the crowd, "but you found us, and through your holy and gentle presence, we know of Pope Francis' deep care and loving concern for all of us."
A nuncio is essentially a Vatican diplomat with the rank of ambassador. Vigano has a dual role. He's responsible for diplomatic relations with the U.S. government and serves as the pope's representative to the American church, which includes the search for and vetting of candidates to become bishops. Vigano was appointed to the position in October 2011 by Pope Benedict XVI and has continued in the same capacity under Pope Francis.
"The nuncio has responsibility for the church throughout the country, so to have him here in the diocese for this celebration is a particular privilege for the people of the diocese," said Robert Main Jr. of Malone, a Franklin County and state Supreme Court judge who was part of the committee that organized Sunday's event.
The Solemn Mass was part of the diocesan celebration of the Year of Faith, which was launched by Pope Benedict in October 2012 as a way to reinvigorate the faith of Catholics around the world. Each diocese has marked the year with a variety of celebrations and activities.
"This Solemn Mass is the culminating event of the year as we approach the end of the Year of Faith and the New Evangelization, the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world in a new modern era," Main said. "It's an opportunity for all of the faithful in the diocese to gather in a central location, which is why it's in Lake Placid rather than in Ogdensburg, where the cathedral is."
The hockey rink was filled to capacity with Catholic parishioners, many of whom traveled to Lake Placid together by bus. Gary and Carol Paschal of Indian Lake came with a busload of 50 people from Indian Lake, Speculator and Wells.
"It's an important celebration with some very important people coming, and I've never been to anything this big before," Carol Paschal said before the Mass. "I want to hear Bishop LaValley. He has a lot to say that's relevant, and I'm hoping everybody will listen."
During his sermon, LaValley called on North Country Catholics to "tend to our faith" and go out and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.
"If we are not daily tending to our soul, if we are not probing spiritually, our faith will die," the bishop said. "Pope Francis encourages you and me to move beyond a dull or mechanical way of living our faith, and instead open the doors of our hearts, our lives, our parishes, going out in search of others so as to bring them the light and joy of our faith in Christ."
LaValley also channeled the biggest moment in Lake Placid's history, the "Miracle on Ice," when the upstart U.S. Olympic hockey team defeated the heavily favored Soviet Union in the adjacent Herb Brooks Arena during the 1980 Winter Olympics. The bishop noted that that "miracle" happened 33 years ago.
"When our savior was about 33 years old, he performed the miracle of all miracles at that last and holiest of suppers, when he gave his body and blood to his closet friends and told them to go out and do likewise in memory of him," LaValley said. "This is the summit. This is the identifying, the mystical moment, that we as Catholic Christians treasure and embrace."
Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall, who sat in the front row with other dignitaries during the Mass, said he was grateful the diocese chose his community to host Sunday's event, noting that it came on a warm, picture-perfect fall day.
"This could be any place in the diocese, and to pick Lake Placid with all of the setting that we're in this weekend, it couldn't be any better," he said. "Somebody up above is looking down, along with the pope."
Contact Chris Knight at 8891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.