MADAWASKA, Maine — United by a common language, culture and faith, more than 5,000 people are expected to gather for an outdoor Mass in Madawaska officiated by an international group of bishops on Acadia Day during the upcoming World Acadian Congress.
In fact, organizers of the spiritual service are confident the presence of an archbishop, three bishops and an 80-member international choir will attract Catholics and non-Catholics alike for the Aug. 15 Mass.
“This Mass is such an appropriate way to start Aug. 15 off with a bang,” George Dumond, co-chairman of the Maine organizing committee, said during a press event earlier this week. “Even if you are an atheist, you don’t want to miss it.”
Only held every five years, the World Acadian Congress will be Aug. 8-24 this year and will be hosted by two countries for the first time.
Activities will take place within what is being called “Acadia of the Lands and Forest” encompassing the St. John Valley of Maine and New Brunswick and the Temiscouata region of Quebec.
More than 60,000 people are expected to visit the area over the two weeks of the congress.
“All the areas of the congress — economic, youth and culture — are worthy and I am glad we have them,” said the Rev. Jacques LaPointe, coordinator of the congress’ Maine spiritual committee. “But the spiritual component is the one that will make the difference.”
Religious-themed events are planned over the entire two weeks and include a colloquium for clergy, spiritual meditations, exhibits in local churches, concerts and readings.
“The Mass on Aug. 15 is the epicenter of the whole thing,” LaPointe said. “We are demonstrating a sense of a new and modern church that looks forward and is open to Catholics and lay people alike.”
The Catholic Church remains a major presence in the spiritual life of Acadians around the world, according to LaPointe, and historically played a part in why they were deported by the British between 1755 and 1785.
“In some ways our persecution began due to our faith,” he said. “This Mass, my dear friends, is essential to show the rest of Acadia where our priorities lie [and] that our faith is our strength.”
According to organizers, the Mass will be officiated by the archbishop of Quebec and one bishop each from Maine, New Brunswick and Quebec.
Local clergy also will be in attendance dressed, ideally according to LaPointe, in specially designed Acadian themed “chasubles,” or vestments.
The colors and themes of Acadia have been incorporated into other religious components of the congress, including a quilt three years in the making formed out of hundreds of stoles — colorful bands of cloth worn by priests during the mass.
“The stoles are from churches in Maine, New Brunswick and Quebec,” LaPointe said. “They have been sewn together to show together we form a unified church.”
Religious documents, books, photographs and objects have been collected for exhibits around the region in a self-guided “visite de l’eglise” or church tour, LaPointe said.
“The spiritual component is so important to the World Acadian Congress,” said Linda Cyr, committee treasurer. “We Acadians are united by our faith.”