Lou Ann Hutchinson, 71, sat attentively in a wheelchair Sunday afternoon in Alltech Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park to celebrate with several thousand other Catholics the 25th anniversary Mass of the Diocese of Lexington.
"I'm a lifelong Catholic," said the Georgetown resident. "This is where I wanted to come for Mass today because I came to the Mass when the diocese was first formed and went to the one for the 10th anniversary. I hope to be here for the next anniversary that comes along."
What Hutchinson saw was a mixture of pomp and pageantry and devotion to the world's largest Christian church, with 1.2 billion members worldwide.
In the arena, various choirs from the 50-county Lexington diocese, which covers Central and Eastern Kentucky, sang praises to "the Father everlasting" with accompanying musical instruments.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Young and old representatives from the 63 parishes and missions in the diocese carried colorful banners into the arena. They were followed by priests and deacons of the diocese and Bishop Ronald W. Gainer.
Gainer, who became the second bishop of Lexington in February 2003, said the anniversary coincided with the "Year of Faith" declared last October by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
"We have a multitude of reasons to rejoice in God's goodness to us throughout this anniversary year, this year of faith," he said.
The Diocese of Lexington was established in 1988 by Pope John Paul II. It was formed from six counties of the Archdiocese of Louisville and 44 counties of the Diocese of Covington.
The Lexington diocese is considered small. Its membership of 45,591 represents about 3 percent of the area's population.
In an interview, Gainer said diocese membership has remained steady. It was about 3,000 higher when he took over, he said, but some parishes had inflated membership numbers.
Gainer said he believes the number of actual Catholics in the diocese has "dramatically increased" with more Hispanics in the area.
"We know there are more than 40,000 Hispanics in our area," he said. "Many of them by background are Catholics, though many have not registered as members with the diocese."
The commemorative booklet at Sunday's special Mass had songs written in English and Spanish. The readings also were in both languages.
Gainer said he considers the diocese "a mission church"
"We minister to the urban and rural poor and homeless," he said. "Many of our churches have food banks, clothing stores and household good stores. We have a charitable outreach to the needy, whether they are Catholic or not."
Gainer said he also is pleased that the diocese, despite its small size, has a reputation for turning out many seminarians for the priesthood and maintains five schools in Lexington.
Diocese members Sharon Pritchard of Ashland and Lynne Sako of Versailles, who sang in Sunday's primary choir, said Gainer deserves much kudos for the diocese's accomplishments.
"He brings out the celebration in our faith," said Sako.
Father Robert Nieberding, a retired priest who lives in Lexington, said the 25th anniversary Mass put together by Bishop Gainer "makes people feel that we are all one in one effort to honor God."
Gainer said his prayer for the diocese is simple but all-important.
"I want us to remain focused on Jesus Christ," he said. "We should not get distracted by a lot of other issues. Jesus said for us to go and make disciples.
"But first, we have to be compelling witnesses for Him."