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.
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.|
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?