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First Niagara Center was transformed into a cathedral Friday as congregants from more than 100 local churches gathered to celebrate Good Friday.

The ecumenical event, called “Good Friday Together,” filled about two-thirds of the 20,000-seat arena. The event offered congregations an opportunity to ignore denominational differences and locations to focus on their shared belief while reflecting on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“It's a chance for the church, all of those who believe and follow Jesus Christ, to gather together and remember what Good Friday means,” said John Cook, a staffer at The Chapel at CrossPoint, who was the coordinator for the event.

Cook, who serves as worshipping creative arts director for the Getzville church, said four local pastors dreamed up the idea of getting worshippers from different congregations across the region to come together.

“We're trying to bring down barriers and ... instead of saying, 'What denomination are you from?' and all those little things, if you believe in Jesus Christ, we can work together. If you believe that he's the one and only way to heaven, then we can work together. What a great chance for us to all gather together in one place and celebrate who he is and what he did for us on this day, Good Friday,” Cook added.

Danelle Kanavel of West Seneca who attends Life Church Buffalo in West Seneca, attended the event with her son, Anthony, 13, and two daughters, Deanna, 12, and Ashlee, 15.

“Every church here is here because Jesus died on the cross. It doesn't matter if you're Baptist, nondenominational, Catholic, this is same thing. So I think it's really important to kind of celebrate what we're all the same about instead celebrating our difference,” Kanavel said.

“We got here a little bit early and watched it fill up. I mean, obviously, I've seen many faces, different colors, age groups that aren't of my church. I'm here in jeans and a T-shirt and I see other people in beautiful Sunday dress and with beautiful hats on. It's amazing to see so many different people coming together. I would love to see on holiday events and do it for Christmas and do it for Easter. This is really neat to be a part of,” she added.

Ken Houston, who served as master of ceremonies for the free, two-hour service, called attention to the diversity.

“This has never been done before in the Western New York region, and for that, we say, thank God,”

“You know something? If you look around, different nationalities, different religious organizations. Could it be a glimpse of heaven?” Houston said.

The event featured several speakers, including the Rev. Darius Pridgen, pastor of True Bethel Baptist Church; Jill Kelly of Hunter's Hope; Tommy Reid, pastor of The Tabernacle; Jerry Gillis, pastor of The Chapel; Pat Jones, pastor of Eastern Hills Wesleyan Church; Marty Macdonald, pastor of City Church; Roderick Hennings, pastor of Zion Dominion Global Ministries; and Angel Gauthier of Prince of Peace Church.

During another service, about 35 people attended the 3 p.m. Stations of the Cross Mass on Good Friday in St. Joseph's Cathedral on Franklin Street in downtown Buffalo.

Rev. Monsignor James F. Campbell spoke about the emphasis on renewed life during Eastertime.

“The emphasis is on the risen Christ,” Campbell said.

Some Christians “have a sentence they use,” he added. “It's not Happy Easter. It's He is risen. And the response is He is truly risen. We, too, will rise because we follow him.”

Some of the people who attended the service identified with the theme of renewal, especially with the election of Pope Francis.

Theresa Doub, a Baltimore resident who was visiting her son, William, who is a graduate student of philosophy at the University at Buffalo, spoke about the continuity in the messages of recent popes.

“With Pope John Paul, we had a pope telling us what to do. Pope Benedict was an academic who told us why we should. Pope Francis is telling us, 'Now go out and do it,'” she said. “That's a spirit I embrace.”

“I think that's kind of what Easter is all about: Christ dies and comes back to life, and that is mirrored in the new pope,” William said.

“He's humble, and this causes us to ... humble ourselves every day,” he said.



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