Sunday, September 26, 2010

Our Visit to Auriesville

The discovery that part of the grounds of Our Lady of the Martyr's shrine had been sold off to become a Buddhist temple certainly put a damper on our visit, but we managed to find spiritual sustenance nonetheless, thanks be to God!

We were able to attend Mass on the grounds--just my wife and I and a devout priest in the Jesuit mortuary chapel. The priest then asked if we wanted to venerate the relics of the Martyrs and Blessed Kateri, and we of course said, "yes!" To do this, he had to retrieve them from the Coliseum Church, so we said we would meet him there. At right is a photo of one of the four altars in the center of the Coliseum.

While we were waiting for him, we heard the most beautiful Latin choral music coming from the church, so we went in. As it turned out, a choir from the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest was practicing for a solemn high Mass which was to take place the next day. Here is a sample of what they sounded like:

Father soon emerged with the relics for us to venerate, and we did so along with a few other pilgrims. This was easily the high point of our trip.

We then toured the other buildings on the site of the shrine--many of which are sadly in need of repair or a fresh coat of paint. We were also eaten alive by mosquitos, but we chose to offer that small torment up for the poor souls, recalling how the early Jesuit missionaries themselves often complained of the horrible swarms of "biting flies."

Afterwards, I spoke with one of the young men in the choir and he told me that the Mass was to be the climax of The Pilgrimage for Restoration, an annual march from Lake George, NY to Auriesville, NY over the course of three days. Just for the record--that's 65 miles through the Adirondacks in three days. Now that is what I call a pilgrimage! The purpose of the pilgrimage, according to their website, is as follows:
What is the Pilgrimage for Restoration?
In its fifteenth year, the annual pilgrimage is a spiritual journey of the faithful to the place where Saints Isaac Jogues, René Goupil and John LaLande were martyred 368 years ago. It is conducted in honor of Christ Our King, for the restoration of new Christendom, and in reparation for sins against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Invoking the intercession of America's saints and martyrs, we desire that the Catholic Faith restore every dimension of our lives: our hearts, families, workplaces, parishes, neighborhoods, cities, dioceses, the American nations.

The pilgrimage is an exercise of penance and prayer, of contradiction and restoration, having both a personal and social character. Modeled on the annual Pentecost pilgrimage to Notre-Dame de Chartres, France, we embrace the traditional doctrine & practice of Holy Church, with all its demands.

A special intention of the pilgrimage is the restoration of the Catholic family, civil society and the Latin-Roman litugical tradition. We hope thereby to show our attachment to the Church's Tradition and the riches it contains, not with the intention of reverting to some by-gone era, but rather of drawing benefits from the ancient sources and putting them to work in the world today.
Hmmmm. Compared to this, our own little pilgrimage--driving to the shrine in a comfortable car and staying in a fancy bed-and-breakfast--seems just a bit luxurious. Given the desperate need for Catholic restoration in the United States, I suddenly want to do this. Perhaps next year...

The greatest irony of our experience at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Martyrs is the disturbing confirmation that as the fire of Faith and tradition seems to be going out among the older generation, at the same time that it is flaring to new life among the young. While the younger generation is focused on singing, sacrificing, and restoring, the old guard (that is, those running the Jesuit order and the Albany diocese) seems to be trying to sell off their patrimony to the highest bidder as fast as they possibly can.

Isn't this the opposite of conventional wisdom?

I would like to say a sincere "thank you" to those wonderful young people who made the pilgrimage and sang in the choir. Your sacrifice and the use of your talents to praise and serve our Lord were an inspiration to us.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Buddhist Temple at Auriesville?

I have a long-standing devotion to the Jesuit Martyrs of North America thanks to a study I did of the early history of the French settlement of Canada. So a trip to Auriesville was long overdue.

Auriesville is the nearest town to Our Lady of the Martyrs Shrine which is built on the site of the Mohawk town of Ossernenon. It was here that saints René Goupil, Isaac Jogues, and Jean Lalande were martyred. Ossernenon was also the site of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha's birth.

Because of its association with three saints and a blessed, the shrine is holy ground. Thus, it was with some shock that one of the first things we discovered upon arrival was that one of the most prominent buildings on the grounds, the Jesuit retreat house, was being reconstructed--apparently into a Buddhist temple.

A mere stone's thrown from the Jesuit cemetery at the shrine, where hundreds of Jesuits, including Avery Cardinal Dulles, are laid to rest, the former retreat house still has a statue of Jesus in front of it and crosses on the facade. It is not even 1,000 feet from the mortuary chapel where we heard Mass that morning, and considering its proximity and size, it is an obvious place for pilgrims to want to check out. So naturally we did.

Given the state of relative dilapidation of the rest of the buildings on the grounds of the shrine, I was happy--at first--to see this building being renovated. Then, I noticed the Chinese lion sculptures, still in their packaging. Around the back, was a sign (see below) that identified the place as "Western Supreme Buddha Temple." A the bottom, it said, "Welcome all pilgrims to our Buddhism worship." I couldn't believe my eyes.

There is absolutely no signage at the front of the building marking it as in any way separate from the Jesuit Martyrs shrine. Having blundered back there, we were soon confronted by several friendly but obviously suspicious Chinese women with shaved heads--Buddhist nuns, I assume. They politely asked us what we wanted. We showed them the map of the grounds we had received that showed their building as part of the shrine. They informed us that was no longer the case--that they had purchased the building five years ago. They then pointed us toward the exit with a smile. Apparently not all pilgrims were particularly welcome after all.

What is one to say about this? I am still flabbergasted.

I did some further research into the group of Buddhists who purchased the building. They are called The World Peace and Healing Organization (WPHO). According to their mission statement:
World Peace and Health Organization is a non-profit organization. Its main goal is to serve the societies, help governments and associations to promote plans for the enhancement of their citizens' health quality. At the same time it also promotes world peace and offers advice for the stability of societies.
Let me just say that my beef is not particularly with the Buddhists, though they probably should have exercised better discretion in seeking to purchase Catholic holy sites. As non-Christian religions go, Buddhism is among the most innocuous. In many respects, it is quite similar to Christianity and its moral code is generally laudable.

The fault for this travesty lies solely with whoever approved the sale of this piece of Our Lady of the Martyrs shrine. This is among the holiest sites in North America and to have it parceled off and sold is an absolute disgrace.

Of course, I wanted to know who was responsible for this outrage and how it was allowed to happen and the trail was not difficult to uncover. Apparently, WPHO has been buying up properties all over the region. As recently as July, the Albany diocese sold off two vacant churches to this same group for a grand total of $250,000.

It appears that when the sale of the Jesuit Retreat House was originally made, the World Peace and Healing Association was operating under a different name: The American Sports Committee. There was nothing about Buddhism in the original articles describing the sale, such as this one in the Evangelist, the newspaper of the Albany Diocese. The article says:
Father Murray believes the American Sports Committee will use the building as "a kind of nutrition and wellness center."
Well, given the sign in the back of the building, this claim was either a convenient head-fake on the part of the buyers, or an outright lie on the part of the diocese.

Here's an article from the Times Union of Albany written at the time of the sale. Apparently the ones who vetted potential buyers were....drumroll please...the NY Jesuits and the Diocese of Albany. Not surprising in the least, of course. And the real kick in the knickers comes at the end:
Prospective buyers had to first be cleared by the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese and the New York Province of the Society of Jesuits, Modrys said, adding, "We didn't want anyone to occupy the property who would run an operation that would be contrary to Catholic principles."
OK, so how is it not contrary to Catholic principles to have a Buddhist temple operating on the site of a Catholic holy place?

UPDATE: August 23, 2017: 

Apparently, the new neighbors of the Auriesville shrine—now officially called Holy Mountain Buddha Land—have proved aggressive, intransigent and welched on their obligations, surprising to absolutely no one. Here is an excerpt from the above article from Spectrum News which provides some additional details:
The rift between the faiths began with an amicable agreement in 2006 when the Buddhists purchased an old Jesuit retreat house less than 300 yards from the shrine. As part of a three-way sale agreement, the Catholics had agreed to let the WHPO use a shrine driveway to access the property, for five years or until they could build their own road. The shrine would also provide treated well-water to the temple for five years at $6,000 per year, while it was under construction and until it could develop its own infrastructure.
Caruso, who was not working for the shrine at the time of the agreement, says the WHPO never paid the water bill, and temple pilgrims were still using the shrine’s driveway. By 2013, the priest in charge of the shrine had taken all he could. The shrine shut off water to the temple and blocked the roadway, later tearing it out completely. The white fence was built on shrine property in 2014, along the dividing line between the properties.
This Google screen capture gives a good sense of how the temple is situated with reference to the Jesuit Martyrs shrine:

Click to see the proximity of "Buddha Land" to the Jesuit Martyrs shrine.
It seems that the relationship between this group and the local government hasn't been particularly harmonious either. A 2015 article in the Daily Gazette details how the World Peace and Healing Organization purchased dozens of properties in the area but, being unable to rehabilitate them, found that they were subject to property taxes and code violations. As a result:
A year after WPHO bought the properties, 37 parcels were sold for $1 apiece to Sunlight Recycling Co., an LLC that listed an abandoned Amsterdam building as its address. Shi said he did not have much contact with the owner and said the company is based in China or Vietnam and was looking to rip the pipes and wiring out of the houses to sell as scrap. More than two years later, these homes remain boarded-up eyesores.
It's not unlikely that the Buddhist group got in over its head, and did not appreciate the "intricacies" of dealing with small town big-wigs. Regardless, their aggressive acquisition of property, particularly land that has spiritual significance to Catholics, was clearly a mistake and was made under questionable pretenses.

Here is a snippet from their website announcing the "Advent of Holy Mountain Buddha Land":
"The birth of Holy Mountain Buddha Land will bring luck to all those with good affinity who were born in this complicated era and glory to all the Buddha’s children who are in this cause. Guided by Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi’s philosophy – World Peace, Human Health and Religious Harmony, Holy Mountain Buddha Land designates Guang Huan Mi Zong Mahayana teachings as its religion; it will unite all virtuous religions, facilitate diplomacy and promote Nine Vehicle Great Perfection Esoteric Dharma, for purifying the world."
Remember, when the sale of this land was originally proposed, the new owners were supposed to be a "nutrition and wellness center."

Remind me, again, who thought this was a good idea?