Frequently Asked Questions
The following interview with Executive Director Laurence D. Behr addresses many frequently asked questions. This interview was broadcast worldwide by EWTN Global Catholic Radio.
Question 1: Larry, tell us about the project, where did it come from? Most people don’t wake up one day and decide, “You know, we should build a 700 ft. arch and pro-life shrine.”
Answer 1: Well, I did, more or less! Last September before going to bed one night, I read an article entitled “The Pastoral Importance of Shrines.” It was about how shrines, and especially Marian shrines, each have their own special message for the faithful, and are important for promoting conversions and such. The next morning I had a dream– I have always been up front about this originating with a dream– of a church in a beautiful green setting, with a golden statue of St. Mary set in a niche in front. As I approached walking on a stone path, I met a woman who said to me, “This is the shrine of the Golden Arch of St. Mary.” I saw a golden statuary grouping of the Holy Family, and I woke up. I said to myself, “Why a golden arch for St. Mary? Who has ever heard of an arch for St. Mary?” I thought, “Well, she’s the Gate of Heaven because Christ entered the world through her, and an arch is a gate.” I asked myself what sort of an arch would be a fitting tribute to Our Lady? I thought of the Gateway Arch as an example of a grand monumental arch. Next question – well, where could we put an arch like that around here? And I just took off from there. I began investigating the Gateway Arch, talking to architects, including an architect who was involved in that project which was completed over 30 years ago, and gathering facts. I decided within my own mind, we can do this here, and started telling others about it. People started to get very excited about it. We’re proposing to build the world’s tallest monument, you understand that, Greg?
Question 2: Why “Arch of Triumph”? You began after a time to think of it as a triumphal arch.
Answer 2: Because that’s what it will be. Even the Gateway Arch is a triumphal arch, honoring the westward expansion of America. The Romans “invented” the triumphal arch, which to my knowledge is the only architectural construct that the world uses to commemorate triumphal events. At Fatima, Portugal, on July 13, 1917, Mary prophesied the turmoil and wars of the past century, and also the ultimate triumph of her Immaculate Heart. We wish to hail that event and commemorate it in a fitting way with the world’s tallest monument as a tribute to Our Lady, and to the Triumph of her Immaculate Heart. It also will proclaim her exemplary virtues of purity of heart, of faithfulness and obedience to God, to a world fallen far from the true faith, and literally wallowing in a swamp of impurity.
Question 3: There may be people unfamiliar with the messages of Fatima, Larry, would you care to flesh that out for us?
Answer 3: Well, at Fatima, Portugal, Our Lady appeared to three children on the 13th of six consecutive months, starting May 13, 1917. She delivered several messages to Sister Lucia, then a young girl, who still lives today. She asked for conversion and repentance, and warned that, if there were not a changing of people’s hearts, there would be a second and greater war. Of course, this was while WWI was raging. She warned that Russia would spread its errors throughout the world. Now, this was prior to the Bolshevik Revolution in October 1917, and Russia was not yet a communist country. She predicted that unless the world repents there would be the annihilation of certain nations, and asked that the Holy Father consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart in union with the bishops of the world. On July 13, she said that, in the end, after the turmoil that lay ahead of the world, her Immaculate Heart would triumph and the world would know a certain era of peace.
Question 4: How will the Arch reflect that? I mean, what’s the vision for the Arch in terms of its ability to bring people closer to God?
Answer 4: Let me first mention another message from Fatima. Mary told Lucia, “God desires to establish in the world, devotion to my Immaculate Heart.” The Arch of Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary will tell the whole world, continuously, about the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Most of the people of the world, do not yet know about the Immaculate Heart of Mary. They will know, because of this project. This project will therefore help perform a great deal of the unfinished work of establishing devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in the world. And I must tell you, Greg, that Protestant people, people who by their background are unfamiliar with Marian devotion and are skeptical about it, are responding to this project because there is just so much goodness in it. A tribute to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary has deep resonance with anyone who is Christian already, and I believe it will resonate also with people who are unchurched and are searching and longing, as so many are in our world today, because we have fallen so far away from the truth.
Question 5: There is a second part to the project that we haven’t touched upon yet, the International Shrine of the Holy Innocents. Combine the two notions for us, how do they come together?
Answer 5: As you mentioned, Greg, I am president of Western New York Lawyers for Life, and in that capacity a pro-life activist for many years. That first morning, as soon as I thought of a monumental arch for Mary, I immediately placed in my mind below the Arch, a Shrine of the Holy Innocents. I wasn’t calling it international at the time, but it will be. I felt that, if we are drawing the attention of the whole world to this project, then we must also draw attention to the scourge of abortion. After all, we know and as our beloved Pope has affirmed, the pro-life movement is the greatest civil rights cause of our time. Mary is the Patroness of the Unborn. She appeared, as we know, as Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1531 in Mexico City, and brought an end to the Aztec practice of human sacrifice, including infant sacrifice, by causing many millions of conversions among Indians. For that reason, we recognize Mary as the Patroness of the International Pro-life Movement in Her personage Our Lady of Guadalupe. We propose to put a large image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the International Shrine of the Holy Innocents. It will be visible from the Canadian shore and also will have international significance because Our Lady of Guadalupe is beloved throughout Latin America. And then, of course, to draw worldwide attention to it, we’ll have the tallest monument in the world.
Question 6: I was in the Gateway Arch when it was like 98 degrees outside and the Arch was about 15 degrees hotter than that. But, it was worth every degree, let me tell you, because it was such an impressive, just such an awesome experience.
Answer 6: Well, we expect that this will be even more impressive than the Gateway Arch. In the Arch of Triumph there will be sacred music playing, there will be beautiful sacred art. We expect to have three chapels in the Arch. In the northern base, a Chapel of the Sacred Heart; in the southern base, a Chapel of the Immaculate Heart; and in the peak, above a public observation area, a Chapel of the Triumph, representing the triumphal union of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. It will be an uplifting spiritual experience, that even “unspiritual” people will find inspiring. And, for you, Greg, we will have air conditioning.
Question 7: Why Buffalo? I’m sure that’s something you’ve heard quite a bit, I mean, why would we build it here? What’s the Marian connection? You know, why couldn’t you build it somewhere else?
Answer 7: Well, Greg, I’m here in Buffalo and this is where this idea originated. Buffalo, though, is very suited as a location for a multiplicity of reasons. Greg, when God sets about to do something, anyone who is at all familiar with the ways of God knows, He prepares the territory and He prepares history for what He is intending to insert into history. Buffalo is prepared for this in so many ways. It’s a predominantly Catholic city, nearly 60 per cent. It’s a city that is in decline, that has had past greatness and is really eager for something wonderful to happen here, something that would help to turn our spirits around as well as help the local economy. Not that we are interested in that aspect ourselves, but nonetheless, there has to be an economic base for something as great as this to happen, and the economic interest here in Buffalo is great. Buffalo has been the “Queen City” since the 1800s when it was called the Queen City of the Great Lakes, because of her dominance in the Midwest flour trade. For that reason, there is a sculpture above the front door of Buffalo’s City Hall which is based on Michelangelo’s painting of the prophet Isaiah, except it’s a woman, a powerful Queen, personifying the Queen City. She is seated on a throne with her finger in a Bible and, like Mary when she appeared to St. Catherine Laboure, her foot is crushing the head of a serpent. Now, 70 years ago when that City Hall was built and that sculpture was put up there, I don’t know if anybody noticed that, but here we have an emblem of the New Eve, the woman crushing the head of a serpent, the Lady of the Miraculous Medal, on our City Hall. And so, there are a number of things apparently making Buffalo the place for this to happen. Geographically it’s a great location as far as population centers are concerned–we’re in the densest population center in the country, just about. There are just so many things that have come together here.
Question 8: Can you put the project in relation to some of the other great Marian centers that we have here, the most obvious being The National Shrine of Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Buffalo’s suburb, Lackawanna, and also beautiful but not quite as renowned as Our Lady of Victory, The National Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Fatima – our other national shrine right up near Niagara Falls, in Lewiston, NY.
Answer 8: Well, that’s right, you’ve already answered your question to an extent. Buffalo-born Venerable Father Nelson Baker, whom we hope and pray will be canonized soon, after a lifetime dedicated to building up his Our Lady of Victory orphanage, caring for orphans– really one of our country’s great pro-lifers– and building Our Lady of Victory Hospital, at the age of 80 years old decided to build a great shrine for Our Lady. He asked the members of the Association of Our Lady of Victory across the country — he’d been publishing a newsletter for many years — he wrote to them asking them to “send $10 to buy a block of marble for Our Lady.” Within a few years, he had this glorious basilica built which would cost tens of millions of dollars to build today. We take, obviously, great inspiration from what he did, and would note for those who are interested in donating, that $10 in 1921 was like $100 to us today. And we do believe that in following his example, and we hope with his intercession, that we will get this done.
Question 9: I want to talk about that just for a minute. You don’t see a $100,000,000 coming out of Western New York, do you?
Answer 9: Even if that were possible, I would not want that. I think the people of WNY should take a special interest because we will be the caretakers of this great tribute to Our Lady and to the sanctity of life. However, I want this great shrine to belong to all the children of Mary everywhere. I want all the children of Mary to send, if they can only afford a dollar, to send just a dollar so that they can say, I helped to make this great tribute to Our Blessed Mother. So I wouldn’t want it to be “ours” here exclusively in any sense. I have believed from the start that there are certainly a million people in this country and Canada who will believe in this as strongly as we do — and I think many more than that – and who would give $100 in a heartbeat, to see it happen. Some will give more, others can’t give that much, but both the desire and the means will be there for this.
Question 10: There are also a couple of points that have been raised that you haven’t made any effort to shy away from really. With regard to raising this kind of money – and we are talking about a sum probably in the ballpark of $100,000,000 to build the shrine – what about other uses? I mean couldn’t we do a lot more good with that $100,000,000?
Answer 10: Well, some people may say that, and we have been attacked in the Buffalo News by letter writers on that. For some, I have to question, do they really care about these other, supposedly better uses for the money—the poor, education, etc.–or are they just trying to find fault with us? Some are clearly “pro-choice,” so of course they use anything to attack us. People who don’t believe in building shrines, who don’t believe even in building churches, have always voiced criticisms like this. They don’t bat an eye when they see $10,000 or $20,000 go up in July 4th fireworks display as we did last night here. They don’t ask couldn’t that money have been better spent because they are pleased by that. A hundred million spent on a stadium complex would make them happy. Well, this pleases the Christians of the world and the Catholics of the world. On the other hand, its important to appreciate that charity comes through faith and a strong belief in God. The pre-Christian world was not charitable. Judas criticized Mary Magdalene for using a costly ointment to anoint the feet of Christ, and he said, “Couldn’t this ointment have been sold and the money given to the poor?” And that’s just what these people are doing today. Jesus rebuked Judas (a) because He knew Judas really didn’t care about the poor and (b) because Jesus understood the priorities — the proper priorities — of life. First, have faith in God, and love for God. Then, you’ll be free to love your fellow man. You will be set free by your love for God because without that, people cannot help but be self-centered and when you’re self-centered, your money stays in your pocket or it is spent on your own pleasures. Building great shrines builds people’s faith and, in the long run, builds charity. Remember too, that God instructed the Israelites, first in the desert, and later in the reign of Solomon, to build beautiful temples that cost a much larger share of their national wealth, than our shrine here will. God, and His Blessed Mother, deserve all the best of our talents and resources, bottom line.
Question 11: Let me ask kind of the other side to that then. Is this something that Mary would want to honor her? I mean, why does God need another shrine?
Answer 11: Of course, this again is something that people say, even some of them faithful people, who for whatever reasons, aren’t draw to this type of endeavor. We’ll never satisfy everybody. We’ll never satisfy the unbelievers. We’ll never satisfy those who think they believe, yet find no problem with killing the unborn if it suits the convenience of the mother. These people will never be satisfied. And, some Catholics just will not take to projects like this. Would Mary want a shrine like this, a monument like this, dedicated to her honor? Well, we believe that Mary has a voice. We believe that Mary has appeared numerous times in recent history and has spoken to faithful people. Never once has she said all those shrines, all those great churches, cathedrals, basilicas dedicated to me, all over the world, do not please me. She actually requested the building of shrines at Fatima and Lourdes. So, we don’t find Mary objecting to the building of great monuments to honor her because she knows it’s God’s will, and that these monuments express people’s faith and build people’s faith, and inspire them and fortify them for the difficult tasks of living. There is also this, that Mary said, at Fatima, “God wishes to establish in the world, devotion to my Immaculate Heart.” So, I think the more accurate question is, would Jesus want a monument like this built to honor His Blessed Mother? I think the answer to that is yes, or we wouldn’t be doing this, obviously.
Question 12: What happens if you start to raise the money and the project isn’t going to happen?
Answer 12: Well, you’re saying, what if we obtain substantial funds, but then it looks like we can’t finish? I don’t think we’re going to see that happen, but the court does get involved whenever a non-profit corporation — and that’s what we are, a non-profit corporation–dissolves, for whatever reason, and there are funds remaining in the treasury. The law controls and the court will require that it be either returned to identifiable donors or dedicated to a use which is consistent with the goals and purposes of the corporation. So, remaining money would either go back to donors, what was left, or it would be donated to some other Marian shrine, or to Catholic pro-life organizations, or a combination of such.
Question 13: If you could say one thing – here’s my Barbara Walters’ question, I guess – if you could say one thing to the people who are doubting this project for whatever reason – maybe they just don’t believe that it can happen, maybe they think it’s a bad idea, maybe they doubt you personally, whatever the objection, what’s the one thing you would say to somebody who has doubts in this project?
Answer 13: Just to keep it in prayer. Pray for us, too, because this is an awesome undertaking. If you feel doubts about what we are doing, pray for clarification for yourself. I’m not criticizing anyone who has doubts. I believe every doubt has an answer. I’ll be happy to discuss with anybody their doubts and, in fact, I’ve been maintaining a very lively email correspondence and I think making some converts along the way.