No one is calling it that, but Saturday undoubtedly will be "Catholic Day" in downtown Buffalo as thousands of the faithful gather in Marine Midland Arena to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.
A Mass, beginning at noon, will be the centerpiece of the celebration. Displays and entertainment also are among the activities, starting at 9:30 a.m. and continuing until 4 p.m. Arena concession stands will sell coffee and pastries before the Mass and ethnic foods and snacks afterward.
To ensure that the gathering is colorful, event planners are inviting everyone attending to wear clothing reflecting their ethnic heritage or a special connection with the diocese and its organizations. For instance, parochial school students and Scouts are encouraged to wear uniforms.
While parishes have been the official outlets for free tickets for weeks now, free tickets also will be available at the door Saturday morning, according to Monsignor David M. Lee, diocesan communications director.
With a 97-by-30-foot, cross-shaped platform taking up part of the arena's floor-seating area, there still will be room for nearly 19,000 people in a facility that usually is filled with hockey fans or concertgoers. This includes spaces for 600 wheelchairs throughout the arena.
"We are hoping for a good crowd," said Monsignor Lee.
Bishop Henry J. Mansell will be principal celebrant of the Mass. He will be joined by 300 priests. When it is time for Communion, more than 100 priests and deacons will fan outward and upward to distribute consecrated hosts to the throng.
Music for the liturgy will be provided by a 350-voice diocesan choir and 57-piece orchestra.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime event, especially for families and children," said Michael P. Pitek III, president of the Performance Group, which helped the diocese arrange the celebration.
Event planners said there are about 2,200 parking spaces available in lots and a ramp near the arena. Buses will be able to park in the Sports Service lot near the arena and along South Park Avenue.
To accommodate people who prefer to ride Metro Rail, extra cars will be added to the regular Saturday trains both inbound and outbound during peak times, according to NFTA spokesman Daryl E. Rasuli.
"People should be aware there is a stop at Arena Station, 100 feet from the arena," Rasuli said.
The Mass will be preceded at 11:15 a.m. by four processions dealing with the themes of heart, mind, body and soul. Exhibits will be grouped on the same basis to reflect the various ways the diocese and its institutions serve the people of the eight-county diocese.
Before and after the Mass, there will be entertainment at various times in various places by a dozen acts, including magician Peter Cumbo, the St. Francis High School Concert Band, Mount St. Mary's High School Chorale, the Sacred Heart Academy Chamber Singers, the Sacred Heart Academy Chamber Orchestra and the Holy Angels Academy Choir.
Also on the program are the St. Bonaventure and Canisius College mascots, the Polish Heritage Dancers, Rochez Academy of Irish Dance, the Ossei-Anto Family and Phoenix, a troop of clowns, mimes and jugglers.