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Thousands of Catholics converge on Lake Placid

September 26, 2016
By CHRIS KNIGHT - Senior Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Catholic faithful from the North Country and beyond traveled here by the busload Sunday for a major summit hosted by the Diocese of Ogdensburg.

"Inspire: Called to Love" featured a series of talks and a Mass that brought together roughly 3,500 people in the Olympic Center's 1980 Rink Herb Brooks Arena.

"I'm just super-excited to be surrounded by other Catholics living their faith," said Virginia Sutherland of Fort Ann. "It's just so encouraging when you can experience that."

Article Photos

Terrence Prendergast, the archbishop of Ottawa, shows two nuns something on his smartphone at Sunday’s “Inspire: Called to Love” summit at the Lake Placid Olympic Center.
(News photo — Chris Knight)

The summit is part of an "envisioning process" the diocese launched four years ago to chart a course for Catholics in the North Country. One of the three priorities that came out of that process was to create a "culture of vocations."

"This vocations summit will celebrate the universal call to holiness and its manifestation in the vocations of Christian marriage and family life, the single state, the consecrated religious life, and the ordained priesthood and diaconate," reads a post about the summit on the diocesan website.

The event began with opening remarks by Bishop Terry LaValley of the Diocese of Ogdensburg, who welcomed the crowd by drawing on the history of the arena as the site of the "Miracle on Ice" victory by the U.S. hockey team in the 1980 Winter Olympics.

"In this historic arena, we come together this day to celebrate our faith in the unlikely, the improbable that is the truly miraculous encounter of our God with every human person down through the ages to his son Jesus Christ," LaValley said. "We gather today to celebrate and to proclaim that good news."

Following LaValley's remarks, Terrence Prendergast, the archbishop of Ottawa, led the crowd in a morning prayer service. Bishop Christopher Coyne of the Diocese of Burlington, Vermont, the Rev. Paul-Andre Durocher, Archbishop of Gatineau, Quebec, and Archbishop Brendan O'Brien of Kingston, Ontario, were among other top Catholic leaders in attendance Sunday.

The keynote speech was delivered by Robert Barron, an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles and an acclaimed author, speaker and theologian. He's the founder of the global media ministry Word on Fire, which uses Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other media to draw people into the Catholic faith.

"He's kind of a rock star in the church," said Linda Zuber of Chittenango, near Syracuse. "He's just phenomenal. I watch him online and read his books and watch his videos. It's good evangelization."

During his 50-minute speech, Barron decried the fact that so many Catholics no longer attend Mass, calling it "one of the central tragedies of our time.

"That we're staying away from the Mass in such great numbers on such a regular basis, it's bad for us spiritually, yes, but more importantly it's bad for the world," Barron said. "Our mission is not to just to cultivate our own private spirituality. Our mission is on behalf of the world."

Barron encouraged the crowd, whether they are priests or lay people, to go "on the march" and proclaim the word of Jesus Christ.

"I understand that the etiquette of a modern society is very much to cultivate religion as a private matter," he said. "The etiquette is, 'Keep it to yourself.' Well, that's just not biblical, is it?

"Kings go on the march, announcing to anyone who will listen, the lordship of Jesus Christ. This is called evangelization. As (Pope) John Paul II, Benedict XVI and now Francis are calling us to this new evangelization, what they're calling for is a boldly public declaration of the lordship of Jesus. In that, we find our own participation in the kingly office of Christ, and thereby find our holiness."

Barron's message was received by James Conlen of Watervleit, near Albany, who approached the bishop after his remarks, got his autograph and shook his hand.

"Bishop Barron has had such an influence on the way my faith has grown, through YouTube videos he publishes, to learning about his Word on Fire on the internet," Conlen said. "I follow him on Twitter. I listen to the homily on his podcast every week."

Conlen said he's ready to go on the march.

"I tell anybody I can - friends, family - that have their struggles, just go to church for four weeks," he said. "At the end of four weeks, if your life hasn't changed, if it's not been enriched, then please tell me I'm crazy. But I'm optimistic you'll be sucked in. It's going to give you a thirst that you're only going to get if you go to Mass again."

A trio of breakout sessions with other speakers were held after lunch, and the day concluded with a Mass that featured a 200-plus-person chorus, made up of church chorus members from across the diocese. The event, including lunch, was free of charge in an effort to encourage more people to attend.

"It's really exciting to see all these people together, sharing one vision and one faith," said the Rev. Patrick Ratigan, pastor of St. Bernard's Church in Saranac Lake.

A total of 3,825 people registered for the summit, but there were some empty seats in the arena.

"People are dispersed a bit, and we probably had a few cancellations, but I still think it's a wonderful crowd," said Patrick Murnane of Plattsburgh, part of a 13-member committee that worked for the past two years to organize the summit. "People are really delighted to be here, and everyone's been wonderful. There's just a great spirit."



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