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Catholic Faithful Flock To St. Patrick's Cathedral For Christmas Eve Mass Services

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Thousands of Roman Catholics headed to St. Patrick's Cathedral Thursday night to partake in Christmas Eve one of several masses.

As CBS2's Brian Conybeare reported, St. Patrick's welcomed the Catholic faithful late Thursday with a festive wreath above the open cathedral doors.

The 5:30 p.m. children's Christmas mass actually draws more people than the traditional midnight mass on Christmas Eve. For this year's children's mass, worshippers were packed in the pews and standing in the aisles.

Some even had to retreat outdoors for a seat.

"There was no room at the inn, and then we were standing in the back for a long, time but my mom is older and she couldn't stay any longer, so we came outside," said MaryBeth Ludt of Lexington, Kentucky.

Dianne Tolentino of Manhasset drove in with her family specifically for the children's mass.

"We tried to, but it was a little too crowded and we were a little late, so, but it's good enough that we're here," she said.

For the Ryan family of Yonkers, the children's mass was the beginning of what they planned to turn into an annual holiday tradition.

"Being an Irish Catholic New Yorker who was raised in New York City, what better way to spend Christmas Eve than to come to St. Patricks' Cathedral?" Ryan said. "We're all having children now, and it's important for the kids to experience New York City," Ryan said. "This is one of the greatest times to be in New York City -- the greatest times of the year. Christmas in New York City -- Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral -- just wanted them to experience that."

And the crowds were so big that Manhattan native Ray Razzaque and his friends arrived nearly six hours before midnight to make sure they got a seat.

"It's 70 degrees in New York City -- why not? You don't get times like this in a lifetime," Razzaque said. "Of course it's worth the wait."

Later in the night, midnight mass drew its own teeming crowd. Jim Sullivan took a train down from Carmel for the occasion.

"Christmas is very important to me," he said.

It is so important, in fact, that Sullivan got in four hours ahead of time and was first in line for the midnight mass.

"I'm grateful to have been," he said. "This is actually my second year in a row that I've been able to win the lottery."

Norma Pagan and her friends from Washington Heights put in their ticket request for midnight mass back in July.

"We turned it into a tradition," Pagan said.

And Pagan and her friends did not seem to mind the tight security outside St. Patrick's. Heavily-armed counterterrorism officers were patrolling, as was the NYPD Bomb Squad and their bomb-sniffing dogs.

They even closed the cathedral doors, cleared everyone out and did a sweep of the building.

"Their presence makes me feel secure," Pagan said.

Elenita D'Aloia of the Bronx said midnight mass at St. Patrick's has been on her bucket list.

"My son is serving – he's an altar server, so I want to see him serve the mass," she said.

With her son serving on the altar with Cardinal Dolan, D'Aloia said she wouldn't miss the mass for the world.

"It's here with the cardinal, and it's just the Christmas carols and everything else just brings the spirit of Christmas into your heart," she said.

Cardinal Dolan was to welcome two refugee families at midnight mass. One is a Muslim family from the Ivory Coast in West Africa who fled to the U.S. to escape political persecution, while the other includes two teenage brothers from El Salvador who fled rampant gang violence there – and are now reunited with family in New York.

A mass was also to be celebrated late Thursday at the historic St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre, Long Island. The mass was to be broadcast starting at 11:30 p.m. on TV 10/55.

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