A year of celebration will culminate in a week of prayers and a closing liturgy celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Show Me Center.
Bishop John Leibrecht, bishop of the diocese for more than 20 years, will preside.
The Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese stretches across the southernmost 39 counties of Missouri. Until Pope Pius XII established the diocese in 1956, the eastern counties of southern Missouri had been part of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, and the western counties were part of the Diocese of Kansas City.
Approximately 2,500 people are expected at the Show Me Center, said Recy Moore, director of communications for the diocese in Springfield.
"Most area priests from the diocese will participate as co-celebrants," Moore said.
Retired priests -- including some who have been in the diocese since its inception -- choir members, as well as bishops from other dioceses are expected. The Diocese of St. Joseph was established at the same time, Moore said, and many of the bishops from there will come to share the celebration.
Following the event at the Show Me Center, Bishop Leibrecht has called for Catholics to pray a different prayer each day until Oct. 1 when another celebratory Mass will be celebrated in Springfield, wrapping up the year-long observance of the anniversary. Throughout the week, prayers will be offered for the universal church for the spread of faith, for unity among all Christians and charity among people of all faiths, for faithfulness to one's vocation, for the sick, for the poor, for public leaders and for peace and justice throughout the world.
In 1956, the new diocese had a total population of 855,148, yet only 3.3 percent -- 28,687 people -- were Catholic. Under the direction of Bishop Charles Helmsing, a conscious effort was made to develop spiritual growth. Lay organizations within the church were developed and their attention was directed to the problems of the area: feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and reaching the young people, according to a book compiled for the anniversary, "The Catholic Church in Southern Missouri."
"We have seen tremendous growth," Moore said. "When Bishop Leibrecht came here, the Catholic population was rather small, but it is definitely growing. The continued growth has meant a lot of diversity."
In addition to communities made up of German and Polish immigrants, Moore said, other cultures have settled in the area and have joined with the older groups to create a unity within the faith.
In the 1970s, Moore said, a group of Vietnamese priests fled their home country and settled in Carthage, Mo. Hispanic communities are now settling in.
"The different communities will continue growing as well as the natural-born Americans," Moore said. "Diversity will grow and enrich the diocese. All are working together for the community of faith and our belief in the Catholic Church. It's amazing to see how well it all blends together."
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