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?


Valatius said...

I am also very curious about this group, and was very interested in your positing. Being in the area, I visited the Shrine and took a look at the Retreat House. It was pretty much deserted except for a couple of people who did not speak English. The group moved into Amsterdam in August in a big way, purchasing two Catholic churches, 48 houses and an summer camp north of town. I'd appreciate it if you keep me posted on anything you learn about current activities at the former Retreat House.

Stacia Marie said...

how like the modern church! I know my local bishop would rather sell a vacant church to pagans, or let it fall down rather than sell it to the SSPX.

Bill said...

Maybe it's time for Catholic ecumenists to read or reread Pope Pius XI's 1928 Encyclical "Mortalium Animos," where he condemns today's religiously indifferent ecumenism. Maybe they'll rationalize the sale with an excuse about Modernist "living tradition."

Father Edmund Castronovo said...

Not to outdo this outrage, but just
to add more fuel to the fire. I too
have had strong devotion to the NA
Martyrs since my childhood. I grew
up in the general vicinity of their
shrine, and visited often.
A number of years ago, another priest
and myself decided to make a pilgrimage there on a Sunday afternoon. When we arrived at the
Shrine, there were hardly any other
people to be seen, but there were
two tour buses in the parking lot.
As my friend and I visited the
various shrines on the grounds, we
noticed several dark-skinned people, all dressed in the whitest of white garb. They all had what looked like towels hanging from their belts.
Then we heard "chanting" and bells
ringing, and we determined this was
coming from the "Martyrs' Chapel" which is an open-air pavilion on the grounds. We made our way over, where we saw a group of these
white-clad people, chanting, swaying and almost in a hypnotic
daze. My friend and I made our way
from behind the leader of this bizarre ritual, who was standing
with a ciborium in his hand, and
ringing a handbell as he chanted,
danced and convulsed. The people
around in front of him were also
doing this.
We could not see what, if anything,
was in the ciborium, but he did not distribute anything from it,
either. He just held it.
My friend and I quietly slipped out
the side door of the chapel. As we
did, one of the men from that group
approached and asked if I would bless his idols, which he had in his hand. They looked like little
troll dolls. I asked him what was
going on in there, and he told me
that they were Haitians from NYC,
and that their religion was "almost
like yours": a blend of Catholicism, Pentecostalism and
their native religion. Of course,
I would not bless his images. I was so infuriated that the very
evil the Martyrs died trying to stamp out, was now being conducted
right in their very own shrine!!!!
I could not find a SJ to ask him
about this travesty and sacrilege,
but someone must have allowed them
use of the shrine's facilities.
God have mercy on us.
Fr E Castronovo
Our Lady of Good Counsel Ch
Verona, NY 13478

J Jarvis said...

Father Edmund, after reading your comment, I have to convey my outrage at the practices at this "Holy Ground" as well. My sister is a member of the St. Pius X society. Her parish is located in Nicholville, NY. Last week, their group was there for their annual pilgrimage. For years, the St. Pius X Society has been allowed to visit the Shrine for their pilgrimage, but banned from holding mass or prayers, or spending the night anywhere on the grounds. This year, they parked in the lot, took the shuttle 10 miles out where they begin their walk and were met by the sheriff's department. They were told they had to go back and remove their cars from the Shrine parking lot or they would be towed. The group moved their cars to the nearby boat landing lot, went back to the check point, finished the pilgrimage. They then prayed for and thanked Fr. Belgrade for the blessing of his persecution. Really, a buddhist temple is allowed and blended whatever groups are welcome, and traditional Catholics are harassed? And we wonder why our Church is failing in this country.

Mark T said...

My ordained monk name is Victory of the First Vehicle

Buddhism if practiced correctly is in harmony with every religion. There are many ways to understand this organization. The main drive is in harmony with the Catholic Church, to reduce suffering and save lives.

All the properties purchased from the Catholic Church were bought to help the church regain its financial footing. The properties in Amsterdam were purchased from the City for the same reason. Now both the Jesuits and the City of Amsterdam are trying to blame these helpers for the Church's and the City's problems that have nothing to do with these Buddhist helpers.

No religion owns God. All of the teachings of Jesus are in perfect alignment with Buddhism. Some of Jesus's followers have strayed from Jesus's message and therefore stand in contrast to Buddhist practices. As a result, the Jesus statue with the mercy heart will never be removed from the property.

These grounds were a health city of the Mohawk before it became a Jesuit Shrine. These grounds being used by different traditions that respect the divine is tradition.

The retreat house was unused for 20 years before being sold to the Buddhists due to being infested with ghosts that the Catholic Church could not effectively deal with. The Buddhists came in and settled the issue, impressing the Bishop leading to the sale of the other 2 churches and a summer camp from the church.

If you can stop hating to express your love, come see how this practice can be understood from the western perspective at www.

Be well...

bea ross-mulford said...

I applaud your response!

bea ross-mulford said...

I applaud your response!

Florentius said...

Mark T -- Thank you for your response. I am happy to leave it there as it is outstanding evidence of the kind of Catholic the previous Bishop of Albany was--a man who turned a thriving diocese into a disaster area and who deigned to sell off a piece of the holiest ground in North America to a strange religious group.

As for your misunderstanding of Christian doctrine, if you don't believe that Jesus is God, that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, that He was crucified, died and rose again from the dead, and now sits at the right hand of God the Father, then you can not claim to know and reverence Jesus, because that is what He taught and did. Either Jesus is God, or he is a liar, or a madman. If you can not say, "Jesus is Lord!" then, you must believe he is one of the other two.

You also greatly misunderstand the drive of the Catholic Church which believes, as Jesus taught, that a man who saves his life with lose it, and that suffering is redemptive. Catholicism is the only Faith that adequately answers the question "why is there evil in the world?" Buddhism can not do that.

I pray earnestly along with Saint Isaac Jogues, Saint Rene Goupil, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, that all adherents of Buddhism will come to know, love and honor Jesus, and truly say with one accord, Jesus is Lord!

Mark T said...

Floeryius - I encourage you to read the writings of Saint Maximus the confessor on the dual nature of Jesus. Further I encourage you to read the writings of Saint Augustine on the connection to God within oneself. Finally, i encourage you to pray that the hatred you demonstrate will be purged from your heart so you can know God's love. Be well...

Florentius said...

Mark T: You misread my zeal for Christ for hatred. Is it hatred to wish that all may be one in Christ as Our Lord himself wished? That is not hatred, but love, my friend.

As I said originally, I see Buddhism as being but a half-step from Christianity in many respects. As with the more noble aspects of ancient Greco-Roman neo-Platonism, we see Buddhism as a faith tradition that paved the way for Christianity in the hearts the people of Asia. In my opinion, that is why you find Christianity growing and thriving in China, Korea and Japan in our day, despite often harsh persecution.

May Almighty God give you peace.

Aekatrina said...

I love Aurisville myself and do not live far from it. Only realized the temple was being built a year ago though. could not see it that well unless you come from the driveway that is farther down road on RTE 5S. Guess now the Buddhist are building their own road as the Priest of Aurisville made it clear they could not continue to share, and so sings were placed up by the Buddhist, actually reprimanding the whole thing.

Aurisville is Holy Ground and the fact of the historical nature and birth place of Kateri now a saint in the Catholic church.

Of course the Catholic church is working on 'ecumenism' and joining with other faiths and denominations, and I know Popes have met with Buddhist and others before, to speak on things as such and to pray etc. So am shocked when I heard that Pope Francis would 'not come because of the temple being next door,' but to be honest it is not so close as you think. You can hardly see it when on site. When on Aurisville site, I mean. The Holy vibe of the Holy ground of Aurisville, is still felt when there. The temple has not bothered it, but they have not finished building and have a long way to go. The Catholics truly need him to visit as we did have so many, many people come for the canonization of Kateri, and again it could be packed with people, who would 'return' seeing that there is 'not anything to be afraid about.' * Also, that the Pope agrees with this.* Our Lord is still Lord and is with us! The Shrine 'needs more people to come and give donations and love the Shrine just as it used to be, as we do not need to loose our Holy place. ' It would be nice to have more Priests around again and to have more services provided, the need to have it is a necessity, I feel. Then a place built for Priests to stay again. We need growth once more!

Evidently, the reason to buy the property was' not disclosed to the priest.' I do understand in purchasing realty and selling , one is 'not to discriminate' and so a person cannot really stop someone from buying land you are selling? As though, it is Holy Ground, and means so much to so many, perhaps something would have been able to change, not sure? But normally you cannot discriminate when it comes to buying and selling, Perhaps no one else would have purchased it, but only God knows for sure? We all have 'choice' and the choice to sell and purchase has been made. We must now have faith in our Lord for all to work for the good of all.

Stuart Chessman said...

We visited the shrine recently and posted photos on our website: The Buddhist temple grounds are within yards of the spot where St. Rene Goupil was martyred.

David Bains said...

Thanks for this post on how the Buddhist monastery came to be located at the site. I saw them both on a Google map and was wondering.

Buzzy said...

Your response is beautiful. It is a shame that some would blame the Buddhists for the problems of the houses. When they purchased the buildings, they were already dilapidated, and coincidentally were burglarized for their copper piping after they were purchased.

This is not how people who bring money to your local economy should be treated. Visit them yourself. They are good people.