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Debate among Catholics over when the Third Millennium begins was put to rest by Bishop Henry J. Mansell of the Buffalo Catholic Diocese Thursday.

"For Catholics in Western New York, the (first year of the) Third Millennium will begin on Christmas Day 1999 and end on the Feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 7, 2001," Bishop Mansell declared while unveiling plans for a yearlong celebration of the event at the Catholic Center on Main Street.

Across the eight-county diocese, banners -- declaring "We are Catholic. Let it show. Open wide the doors to Christ" -- are being flown from Catholic churches, schools and agencies.

Stressing that the yearlong special events should be "a religious experience," Bishop Mansell pointed out the Year 2000 "is also the jubilee anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ" and urged everyone "to work for greater charity, justice and peace."

To set the stage for 2000, the diocese's Millennium Committee has planned several events to be held in St. Joseph's Cathedral on Franklin Street.

These include:

October: Each Tuesday and Thursday at 8 a.m. through April 2000, there will be a lecture and seminar series featuring millennium themes; noon to 1:30 p.m. through June 2000, lecture series in St. Joseph's House and beginning Oct. 20 in the Lady Chapel of the cathedral, a poetry series beginning at 7:30 p.m. and running every other week through Dec. 1.

November: Opera Sacra (Children's Opera produced by the Rev. Jack Ledwon) Nov. 6, 8 p.m. and Nov. 7, 5 p.m.

December: Lessons and Carols, directed by Cathedral Music Director Mark W. DiGiampola, Dec. 13, 7 p.m.

Five churches are "pilgrimage" churches where Mass and other special events can be planned.

The churches are St. Joseph Cathedral, Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna, Basilica Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Youngstown, Infant Jesus Shrine in North Tonawanda and St. Adalbert Basilica at 212 Stanislaus St.

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