May 8, 2009

175th Anniversary Mass

‘A message of hope’: History celebrated, future mission embraced at 175th anniversary Mass

A portion of the entrance procession, made up of priests, bishops and members of the Knights of Columbus, fills the length of Lucas Oil Stadium at the start of the 175th anniversary Mass on May 3. (Photo by Brandon A. Evans)

A portion of the entrance procession, made up of priests, bishops and members of the Knights of Columbus, fills the length of Lucas Oil Stadium at the start of the 175th anniversary Mass on May 3. (Photo by Brandon A. Evans)

By Sean Gallagher and John Shaughnessy

Singing from the heart, Diana Torres let her voice resound with the nearly 25,000 other worshippers who came to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on May 3 to thank God for the blessings he has bestowed upon the Church in central and southern Indiana for 175 years.

As she joined in the singing of “Come and See the Many Wonders”—the special hymn for the 175th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis—Torres felt a surge of joy as her voice blended in harmony with an archdiocesan-wide gathering that represented generations of faith-filled people who have immigrated to Indiana from around the world.

Torres also felt another rush of emotion later in the Mass when she saw men and women wearing the garb of their homelands proclaim readings and prayers in 10 languages: English, French, German, Igbo, Italian, Korean, Latin, Latvian, Spanish and Vietnamese.

“It’s amazing to see this many people in one area for God,” said Torres, a member of St. Anthony Parish in Indianapolis, who came to the anniversary celebration as a confirmation sponsor for her niece, Jazmine Rodriguez, one of the more than 2,800 youths and adults who were confirmed during the Mass.

“You don’t realize how many Catholics and how many different cultures there are. It means unity, family and community. There are no barriers here.”

Torres’ words echoed the song of celebration that marked the nearly 2½-hour-long anniversary Mass, which reflected the stunning transformation that has been created in the archdiocese since the Servant of God Bishop Simon Bruté arrived in Vincennes in 1834.

At the time, Indiana was a rugged, undeveloped land on the American frontier with 25,000 Catholics—the same number that participated in the May 3 Mass. They were mainly from northern Europe, and spread across the whole state and the eastern third of Illinois.

Today, there are 225,000 Catholics in just central and southern Indiana, a land filled with large cities, small towns and farming communities.

But no matter what setting in which the Church finds itself, the message it proclaims remains the same.

“Sisters and brothers, for 175 years in our part of the world, the message of Christ, the Good Shepherd, has been a message of hope,” said Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein at the start of his homily at the Mass.

That hope was embodied during the Mass in the celebration of the sacrament of confirmation and in other ways. About 200 couples were honored for 50 or more years of married life. And religious jubilarians were praised for their many decades of faithful ministry and consecrated life.

In comments after Communion, Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago said the Church’s history was ultimately a “history of holiness.”

He noted that this history in the archdiocese is highlighted in Bishop Bruté and St. Theodora Guérin, Indiana’s first saint, both immigrants who were formed in the faith in homelands far away.

Cardinal George then turned his focus to the future, challenging those who had just been confirmed to become saints “so that in the next 100 years, the Church will recognize how the Holy Spirit has transformed the people of Indiana … through the work of the Church here.”

Cardinal George’s challenge echoed the words of Archbishop Buechlein in his homily.

“In imitation of the Good Shepherd, now it is our turn to be pioneers in the spiritual growth and hope and compassion our Church promises to all peoples of central and southern Indiana,” Archbishop Buechlein said. “Dear candidates for confirmation, you are a witness and a pledge of the hope Christ offers.”

At the start of the Mass, Archbishop Buechlein invited the confirmation candidates to consider a special way to carry on their mission.

“On this Good Shepherd Sunday, Vocations Sunday, pray that the Holy Spirit will inspire our youth to join us as priests, deacons and religious in the beautiful vocation that is ours,” he said.

The opening procession of the Mass that stretched from one end of the floor of Lucas Oil Stadium to the other included scores of religious, deacons, priests, and 18 bishops and two Benedictine archabbots.

They were joined by boys and girls dressed in white from across the archdiocese who recently received their first Communion. Representatives from several Catholic fraternal organizations in the archdiocese also processed.

The procession also reflected an ecumenical spirit. Representatives of various Christian communities and

non-Christian faiths participated, offering a sign of how the Church in Indiana has sought good relations with people of all faiths since its beginnings.

The liturgy’s cultural diversity impressed K. P. Singh, an immigrant from India and a member of the Sikh Satsang of Indianapolis.

“Just imagine how many nationalities, how many ethnic groups, how many languages, how many lineages and heritages were represented here under this one roof,” Singh said. “A little slice of all of humanity was under this roof. How beautiful was that?”

Rev. Rick Spleth, the regional minister in Indiana for the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ joined other Christian ministers at the anniversary Mass.

“I was honored to be included in this celebration,” he said. “And I celebrate this great milestone with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis that is on the way, we know and we pray, for even more significant things in the future.”

The future of the Church and the archdiocese resides in the commitment of its young people to the faith—a future that glowed with promise as teenager after teenager stepped forward at the anniversary Mass to receive the sacrament of confirmation.

“This means I’m now an adult in the Church’s life,” said Meghan Sandlin, 16, a member of American Martyrs Parish in Scottsburg. “I’ll strive to be more Christ-like.”

Meghan’s words reflected key lyrics in the anniversary hymn composed by Benedictine Father Harry Hagan of Saint Meinrad Archabbey: “Go and live as Christ’s disciples. Go and be his face and hands. And proclaim in every parish that God’s love is Christ’s command. Raise a song of glad thanksgiving. Let it ring that all may hear. For the Father, Son and Spirit have blessed us through these years.”

The spirit of the anniversary celebration touched people in many ways.

“The Holy Spirit is present among us,” said Marty Schmidt, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Terre Haute.

Schmidt spent the better part of the weekend in Indianapolis. He attended the Mass for Vocations on May 1 at St. John the Evangelist Church in downtown Indianapolis, and returned on May 3 to take part in the 175th anniversary Mass.

“My brother and cousin are being confirmed today as part of the celebration,” he said.

Schmidt, 30, who is discerning a possible vocation to the priesthood, said he couldn’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime celebration.

Osi Okonkwo added his own lyrical view of a memorable day.

“It’s definitely a special day,” said Okonkwo, a member of St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis. “There’s definitely a steadfastness here, not only in the archdiocese, but in the children being confirmed. It’s a blessing every time we have an opportunity to gather as Christians. It’s a special day to be part of the Body of Christ.” †


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