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Those who think Catholic Masses should be solemn and somber would have encountered a surprise had they walked into the main hall of the Buffalo Convention Center Saturday afternoon.

About 2,700 Catholics, taking part in a daylong event called FIRE Rally 2000, turned the place into a high-voltage religious revival meeting.

They sang gospel songs in soulful, spirited voices, hands waving in the air. They broke into applause several times during a Mass celebrated by Bishop Henry J. Mansell.

"This is a day for all of us to share our faith -- young and old, men and women," said one of the participants, Linda Lewis of Buffalo. "This is a rally to show people what we're all about."

Referred to some as a "Billy Graham crusade for Catholics," the FIRE Rally stands for Faith, Intercession, Repentance and Evangelization. The rally, put on by a crew of traveling Catholic evangelists, has hit 41 states and 31 countries since 1983.

The rally in Buffalo was the 119th event of its kind and the first in this city. Of the 2,700 people who attended, organizers said 500 were teens. Those in attendance came from the eight counties of Western New York, Pennsylvania, Canada, Syracuse and Albany.

"The reason for this rally is to help people develop a closer walk with the Lord," said the Rev. Richard DiGiulio, director of charismatic renewal and pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Buffalo. "It is for inspiration and enlightenment and to bring people to the realization of faith in their lives."

DiGiulio said the Buffalo Diocese is planning other such events in the future, including some geared to young people.

"We came here because we have to be confirmed in November, and this was an option rather than an overnight retreat," said Jennifer Lenk, 16, of Cheektowaga.

"We came here to get a little more understanding of the faith," said Laura Mayle, 16, also from Cheektowaga.

Both girls said that they were having a lot of fun and that the rally was much more enjoyable than they expected.

The Rev. Dave Pivonka, a Franciscan friar from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, gave a presentation on the lives of modern teenagers. He asked the adults to give some understanding to young people trying to make their way in the world.

"Adults, please don't freak out because of their blue hair color and piercings," Pivonka said. "Teens are searching for something to fill their emptiness. Give them a chance. Let them be themselves and don't make them something they aren't. They are the future of the church and should not be looked down upon by anyone."

The music featured the Voices of Mercy from the St. Luke's music ministry, a large gospel choir and some members of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

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