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3/2/2017 9:00:00 AM
Shrine will host popular Amsterdam light show
Anyone who lives in the Amsterdam area, says Julie Baaki, will remember "cars lined up for a country mile" to drive through "Light Up the Sky for the Marching Rams," an annual light show sponsored by Amsterdam resident Linda Selbert.

Like Albany's Capital Holiday Lights in Washington Park, the display included huge arrangements of Christmas lights and wooden cutouts of popular holiday figures, from a gingerbread village to characters from Charles Schulz' "Peanuts" gang and the Disney movie "Frozen." Visitors could drive through the display while listening to holiday music.

Every year, Light Up the Sky had a particular theme, and more set pieces were added. Amsterdam High School students built about 650 pieces and manned the event at the Selbert estate, dressing as holiday characters.

The massive Christmastime event was a fundraiser for Amster­dam High's Marching Rams band ensemble, taking in about $20,000 annually -- until last Christmas, when Mrs. Selbert said that organizing it was getting to be too much for her, and she was ending it after 18 years.

Mrs. Baaki is a member of The Friends of Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine, Inc., the foundation created to oversee the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville after the Jesuit religious order said in 2015 that it could no longer staff the shrine.

When she heard that the light show would be sold, she saw an opportunity.

"Someone said there had been a light show at the shrine years ago," she told The Evangelist. "The grounds were wired already."

In addition, Mrs. Baaki's two oldest children, Christian and Isabella, are respectively in 10th and eighth grade at Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons School in Schenectady -- which is known for its theater department. ND-BG is also the closest Catholic school to the shrine.

Mrs. Baaki called ND-BG and asked, "Would you want this as your fundraiser?"

With a "yes" from the school, she approached the other members of The Friends of Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine. Many made personal donations toward purchasing the light show. Mrs. Selbert, glad that the show wouldn't have to be broken up and sold as separate pieces, gave the group a good deal. (The amount remains undisclosed.)

The Friends of Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine intend to rechristen the light show "Light Up the Night with the Knights," a reference to ND-BG's Golden Knights athletic teams. As in the past, students will build set pieces and volunteer at the display; other Amsterdam residents have agreed to help, too.

Mrs. Baaki is enthusiastic about the prospect. Already, she said, "there's a huge Nativity, trains, an angel set...." She hopes to get the display up and running for the next holiday season, envisioning it as running from Thanksgiving through Christmas.

The shrine committee plans to keep the cost of visiting the light show at $5 per carload. One change, though, will be the "definitely more Christian" theme. A lot of details have yet to be worked out, but Mrs. Baaki said ideas being floated include a live Nativity in the shrine's Visitors' Center.

Anything that gets more people to come to Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine is a plus, she said -- especially in the winter. Since the shrine's buildings are unheated except for the Visitors' Center, few pilgrims make their way there in the colder months.

"Christmas is obviously one of the most special feast days for us as Christians," she added. "To have the light show, and the joy that it spreads," will be a boon for the shrine, for ND-BG and for Amsterdam: "This local community has done so much for the shrine, and was devastated that [the light show] was coming to an end. And this is a beautiful way to help out one of our Catholic schools."

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