AURIESVILLE -- As Father Bob Longobucco stood before a crowd of more than 3,000 parishioners from the 14 counties that make up the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese, he renewed the promises he first made when he became a priest in 1998.
"I think it was important to be reminded that the promises we made aren't for ourselves, they're for others," he said. "I think the fact that we did it front of our people is the most important thing. These are the people we live our lives for. This is why we became ordained."
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville on Saturday to say Mass at the "The Hearts Aflame Eucharistic Congress," a meeting of priests, deacons, religious order members and lay Catholics.
The last Eucharistic Congress was held in 1938. This year's event took place against the backdrop of the on-going sex abuse scandal, which has recently reached up to the Vatican, where Pope Francis has been accused of not taking action after being made aware of allegations against a high ranking Cardinal.
Scharfenberger gave a short speech touching upon the themes of sacrifice and martyrdom before saying Mass Saturday. He talked about the ability of some North American martyrs to embrace their religious faith even in the face of death.
"The ability of somebody even to stand there without crying, without shouting, without screaming, to allow themselves to be literally immolated. I won't go further into it graphically, you can read about all of the gory details, but what is here is a tremendous desire to be able to communicate with something much stronger than anything we know as human beings of mere flesh and blood, a belief that somehow there is a power, a force – there is something vitally alive, that somehow can be seen in someone who faces death bravely without crying out," he said.
One of the highlights of the Mass was when Scharfenberger led the 75 active and retired priests and 30 deacons to renew their promises to the church. This was also the only time Scharfenberger overtly spoke of some of the key ideas involved in the sex-abuse scandal.
"I promise always to live my commitment to remain celibate and to live a chaste life as an enduring sign of my love of Christ the lord and his holy people. In particular, I promise always to have and to seek only appropriate, wholesome and chaste relationships ... most especially with the young and the vulnerable, and to avoid and renounce at all costs any attitudes, behaviors, strategies or actions that could lead to sin or endanger of any of God's people," Scharfenberger said.
John D. Czelusniak, of Amsterdam, said the Eucharistic Congress Saturday reminded him of when he was young in the 1950s and the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville used to pack in thousands of people for weekend Masses. He said it didn't bother him that more information about the scandal wasn't discussed at the event.
"Today was about spirituality, so it was good that the bishop didn't talk about it, I guess," he said.
Johnstown resident Christopher Lasnick, who wore his Knights of Columbus regalia, including cape and emblem, said he was surprised that Scharfenberger didn't speak directly to the issue of child-sex abuse.
"I thought he would, but I guess this wasn't the time or the place. His talk was very interesting though," he said.
Adriana Vicinanzo, a junior at Amsterdam High School, said she was glad the scandal was left out of the event.
"I'm here to get a better connection with God, because lately I've felt kind of disconnected, with school starting and having a busy schedule. ... I know there's a lot of drama with bishops and everything, but it shows that priests are still good."
Father Matt Wetsel, of the Trinity Church in Johnstown and the Church of the Holy Spirit in Gloversville, said his parishes have about 400 active families, quite a few less than the churches had in decades past. At one time there were three Catholic parishes in Johnstown and two in Gloversville.
Wetsel said he was ordained in 2010, and throughout his priesthood he's seen an increasing willingness of the Catholic Church to increase transparency regarding the priest child sex abuse issue.
"For priests ordained within the last 10 to 20 years, our role, I believe, is to continue to provide the sacraments, but also to recognize that we have a share in the disappointments and the failures of the church in the past, and not dismiss what priests have done in the past, but to be able to acknowledge that as brother priests, when one of us suffers or does something that causes innocent people to suffer – we share in that too," he said. "So, it's up to priests, no matter what generation, to be able to be there for the people and acknowledge when our priests have failed."