LAKE PLACID — Lake Placid’s Olympic Center was transformed into a house of worship Sunday as the Diocese of Ogdensburg welcomed Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, apostolic nuncio to the United States.
More than 1,000 people from across the region gathered at the Olympic Arena for a diocesan solemn mass at which Pope Francis’ personal representative to the country was the principal celebrant.
“This is the first time this particular nuncio has been here, so it’s special,” the event’s chancellor, communications director and planner Sister Jennifer Votraw of Watertown’s Sisters of Saint Joseph, told the Press-Republican before the service.
The mass was to celebrate the conclusion of the Year of Faith, which was called for byPope Benedict XVI with the purpose of encouraging Christians to rediscover their faith with renewed enthusiasm.
The voices of 300 choir members from throughout the diocese sang out as members of the diocese’s Knights of Columbus and Catholic Daughters, as well as priests and deacons, altar servers, elected officials, ministers of other faiths and Bishop Terry LaValley led Viganò down the center of the arena to an altar lined with yellow mums.
Also performing at the service were the Potsdam Brass Quintet and a youth choir comprising teens from Clinton County.
“Archbishop, we feel so honored and are truly grateful that you are here,” LaValley said in front of the crowd at the start of the service. “The Catholic Church in the United States has a humble servant of God as its papal nuncio ... we know that we are not easy to get to, but you found us, and through your holy and gentle presence, we know of Pope Francis’s deep care and loving concern for all of us.”
He welcomed Viganò to the diocese, eliciting cheers and applause from the audience when he told the archbishop, “welcome to God’s country.”
In his homily, LaValley reminded attendees that 33 years ago at the Olympic Center, the “miracle on ice” took place when the young U.S. hockey team triumphed over the heavily-favored veteran Russian team.
“When our savior was about 33 years old, he performed the miracle of all miracles — that last and holiest of suppers when he gave his body and blood to his closest friends and told them to go out and do likewise in memory of him,” the bishop said.
He also told the audience that an “absolute and unconditional readiness to change” should be the basis of one’s spiritual life.
“I must have a glowing desire to become a new person in Christ, a passionate will to give myself over to Christ,” LaValley said.
In many ways, he continued, today’s world requires little personal involvement or passion from within.
“Society operates as if God does not exist — religion is relegated to only the private sphere,” LaValley said. “My friends, if our faith does not engage us, it is lifeless. If we are not daily tending to our soul, if we are not growing spiritually, our faith will die.”
The Church community, he added, must believe with passion and conviction, share its experiences with God and encourage others to do likewise.
“My sisters and brothers, this Year of Faith has provided you and me with the renewed vigor, the earnest desire to deepen our encounter with Jesus Christ, seeking to reflect that relationship in our lives outside the church building, to the poor, the vulnerable, the hurting.”
Later in the service, Viganò delivered the Eucharistic Prayer, as well as the solemn blessing at the close of the Mass.
The archbishop thanked LaValley for inviting him to such a beautiful part of the county and for showing him Whiteface Mountain.
Pope Francis, he noted, even spoke of Whiteface Mountain Sunday morning.
“But more than that, he spoke of our faces,” Viganò said. “He said that our faces should be bright like the face of Jesus because our dignity comes because we have been created in an image and likeness of God.”
It is important, he continued, to be in contemplation with the face of Jesus all of the time.
“If we lose our face ... we are not able to recognize the face of Jesus in our brothers and sisters,” he said.
The archbishop added that, by visiting the North Country, he had now seen the “bright face of the church in Ogdensburg.”
“You’re giving new courage,” he told the crowd.
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