OMAHA — The CHI Health Center Omaha was the place to be for members of the Catholic faith from Northeast Nebraska and the Omaha area on Saturday.
The Archdiocese of Omaha hosted what Archbishop George Lucas characterized as a "once in a generation" event with ArchOmaha Unite in downtown Omaha.
About 15,000 people from throughout the archdiocese, which encompasses 23 counties from Sarpy County northeastward, were registered for the event.
Sheryl Cahoy, stewardship coordinator for Sacred Heart Parish in Norfolk, said about 400 parishioners registered for tickets. Some of those traveled via bus from Norfolk the day of the event, while others traveled on their own to Omaha.
"It's hard to know how many (of those 400) came as we did have some who turned tickets in," she said.
Calvin Mueller of Norfolk, the rural coordinator for the archdiocese's office of evangelization and catechesis, said he was awestruck by the archbishop's vision for ArchOmaha Unite coming to fruition. Mueller said planning for Saturday's event began about three years ago.
"To see the our diocese be able to come to this arena because it's the only place big enough to hold us, and to see people from the rural part of our diocese travel so far to come together was incredibly encouraging," he said. "It's encouraging because it's the deepest desire of every heart to know Christ and His Church and as a body we were able to come together and celebrate that truth.”
It was a tribute to the Church's Pentecost feast day, when the apostles and Mary, the mother of Jesus, gathered in an upper room shortly after Jesus ascended from earth to heaven. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the group and they were commissioned to spread the message of Jesus. In the same way, attendees at Unite were urged to do the same in their own daily lives.
"When Pentecost took place nearly 2,000 years ago, it was a group of people who came together in anticipation for what is to come," Mueller said. "I hope that today could provide that opportunity for us, to meet the Holy Spirit in a powerful way and be emboldened and empowered to witness Christ like never before."
Mueller, who is a native of Crofton, joined the Rev. Scott Hastings, archdiocese vicar for clergy and judicial vicar, as emcees for the morning's main event inside the arena. Between the two, they hosted three different panel discussions, one each on the three-part archdiocese vision, "encountering Jesus, equipping disciples, living mercy," with the overall theme of the archdiocese being united as "one church." Also, Mueller hosted Lucas on stage for a brief interview.
Those panel discussions involved people from throughout the archdiocese, which Lucas said is one of the highlights of his work.
"I'm really blessed as I travel around the archdiocese to meet so many wonderful people like the ones you met this morning," he said. "You got a little glimpse of what I get to experience every day, people who have encountered the Lord and want to share their faith. I meet people who are devoted to their families, love their communities, and some who are struggling as we know it in various ways."
There were activities for kids from preschool through teenagers during the main event for adults, a separate Latino Unite, and a Pentecost vigil Mass in which most, if not all, of the priests and deacons of the archdiocese were in attendance. There were no Masses in the entire archdiocese on Saturday except for the large Mass held during Unite, not even weddings or funerals.
Award-winning comedian Jim Gaffigan performed in the afternoon, and in the evening, a musical performance of Cross and Light, which is based on the life of Jesus from Palm Sunday through Pentecost took the stage.