ROCHESTER — "This is fabulous," Father Kevin McKenna exclaimed, spreading his arms wide as he watched congregants for the 5 p.m. Mass quickly fill up Sacred Heart Cathedral where he serves as pastor.
Many wore red on May 23 to signify Pentecost Sunday. The liturgy also included another key commemoration — the conclusion of Spirit Alive!, the Diocese of Rochester’s three-year spiritual renewal.
Sacred Heart was the third and final venue for regional celebrations that took place the weekend of May 22-23. Bishop Matthew H. Clark served as presider at the cathedral as well as two other churches: St. Frances de Sales in Geneva earlier on May 23, and Church of St. Mary Our Mother in Horseheads on the evening of May 22. At each place numerous priests and deacons from their respective regions joined Bishop Clark on the altar, and lay delegates from individual parishes made up large portions of the congregations.
Father Richard Fragomeni of the Diocese of Albany, a renowned homilist, author and speaker, preached at all three regional Masses. At Sacred Heart Cathedral he emphasized repeatedly from the pulpit that "this is the day the Lord has made," imploring those in attendance to respond, "Let us rejoice and be glad." Father Fragomeni added that it’s vital to continue living joyfully in the Holy Spirit, despite being part of a world that influences us to do otherwise.
"We can end up closing our hearts off to the Spirit and find ourselves in a world that is maddened by the mistakes of humanity," Father Fragomeni remarked, citing such factors as war, violence, racism, bigotry, abortion, marginalization of the elderly and destruction of the environment. "When we end up closing our hearts to the Lord God, we end up confused, don’t we?"
However, "this is the day the Lord has made in the Diocese of Rochester, where the fire of the Spirit begins a whole new era," Father Fragomeni said as a flame burned next to him. Noting how Jesus’ disciples spoke in numerous native languages at the first Pentecost, he said the hope remains today that all nations will eventually unite in peace and "enemies will begin to speak to one another" with Catholics leading by example.
"We become a sacrament for what humanity can be," Father Fragomeni said, adding that Spirit Alive! has helped fuel our inner fire through its many initiatives cultivated by diocesan leadership "that wants to get through to us at all costs."
The spiritual renewal was the first of its kind in the Diocese of Rochester. It began during Lent 2008 and involved three movements: the first, a commitment to deepening our relationships with Jesus and a rejuvenation of all Catholics; the second, growing in our knowledge of and appreciation for the Scriptures during the Advent 2008 and Pentecost 2009 seasons, highlighted by Bible studies and reflection questions in parish bulletins based on weekly readings; and finally, discernment of and committing to a life of discipleship and stewardship during Advent 2009 and Pentecost 2010.
Included in the renewal’s highlights were regional healing services, targeting in particular those who have drifted away from the church; "Catholic Call-Ins" to help answer people’s questions about the faith on such topics as marriage, annulment, who has the right to receive Eucharist, church doctrine, mortal sin and Sunday Mass obligation; and a DVD retreat with Bishop Clark that has been used by numerous groups and individuals throughout the diocese for discussion and reflection. The spiritual renewal’s Web site, www.rochesterspiritalive.org, continues to offer suggestions for integrating Spirit Alive! into daily life.
Maribeth Mancini, chair of the spiritual renewal and director of the diocesan Department of Evangelization and Catechesis, rated Spirit Alive! as a rousing success across the 12-county diocese.
"It’s been a wonderful celebration," she said.