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Marine Midland Arena will be transformed into a 20,000-seat cathedral next week when the Buffalo Catholic Diocese offers a Mass and conducts "the largest church social ever" to celebrate its 150th anniversary.

The Mass will be the highlight of an all-day Festival of Faith for Catholics of all ages and ethnic backgrounds from every corner of the eight-county diocese. The celebration Oct. 25 is more than the Mass, as displays, exhibits and ethnic foods will be offered in the arena before and after the Mass.

The activities planned before and after the Mass will turn the occasion into "the largest church social ever," Bishop Henry J. Mansell said.

"This is the once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet Catholics from all parts of the diocese and celebrate the joy, the goodness and the diversity of being Catholic," Bishop Mansell said during a news conference Tuesday in the arena as he invited "everyone" in the diocese to be part of the celebration.

The doors will open at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 25 and remain open until 4 p.m. to give everyone plenty of time to enjoy the day's activities. Tickets, available at every parish, are required for the noon Mass.

The Mass is expected to be one of the largest gatherings for a liturgy in the history of the diocese, but it won't be the largest.

Diocesan records indicate that 40,000 people attended an outdoor Mass in 1947 in Civic Stadium, later renamed War Memorial Stadium, at Jefferson Avenue and Best Street. That Mass was celebrated during an International Eucharistic Congress hosted by the Buffalo Diocese in conjunction with its 100th anniversary.

Bishop Mansell will be the main celebrant and homilist for the sesquicentennial Mass. He will be joined at the altar by Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Grosz, Bishop Emeritus Edward D. Head and Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Bernard J. McLaughlin.

As many as 300 priests will concelebrate the Mass and help distribute Communion.

Bishop Mansell promised that the music for the liturgy "will be truly unforgettable."

It will be provided by a 350-voice diocesan choir consisting of singers from throughout the diocese and a 57-piece orchestra.

Entertainment before and after the Mass will be provided by several high school bands and chorales, the St. Bonaventure mascot and Canisius College golden griffin, magician Peter Cumbo, the Polish Heritage Dancers, Rochez Academy of Irish Dance and others.

During the news conference Tuesday, Bishop Mansell unveiled an artist's depiction showing how the arena will be decorated to provide an appropriate setting for the Mass.

The centerpiece will be a 97-by-30-foot cross-shaped platform on the arena floor that will hold the altar and lecterns. Four 40-by-20-foot banners with figures depicting life at various stages -- in the womb, youth, adulthood and maturity -- will hang above the platform.

The sesquicentennial theme, "Celebrating God's Life in Us," provided a basis for planning the celebration, noted Michael Pitek, president of the Performance Group, the firm planning the celebration. The formal portion of the program will begin in the arena at 11 a.m. with four processions built on the themes of heart, mind, body and soul.

During the Mass, one of the Scripture readings will be read in eight languages to demonstrate the ethnic diversity of the diocese. A second Scripture selection will be presented as a dramatic reading by 10 Niagara University students.

Displays and exhibits in the arena's pavilion area also will be grouped in keeping with the heart, mind, body and soul ideas to represent the way the Catholic Church strives to help people.

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