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?

1 Comments:

Blogger 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.

10/25/2010 11:47:00 AM  

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