A Man on A Mission in the Queen City of the Great Lakes


(This article is reprinted with permission from the National Catholic Register.)

A Moral Crime Against Humanity

The image, modeled after Michelangelo's painting of the Prophet Isaiah, reflects Buffalo's nickname “Queen City of the Great Lakes,” earned by its early dominance in the Midwest flour trade. For Behr, however, the image can also represent the Mother of God.

Last June 23, the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Behr, president of Western New York Lawyers for Life, announced the creation of a non-profit association formed to build a $100 million pro-life shrine and towering gold arch dedicated to Mary, the Mother of Christ, adjacent to downtown Buffalo on the Lake Erie shoreline.

The project, featuring a 700-foot-tall ascendable arch topped by a golden cross, overshadowing a shrine, would be known as “The Arch of the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the International Shrine of the Holy Innocents.” When the organization's plans succeed, the Arch will replace the St. Louis Gateway Arch as the world's tallest monument.

Franciscan Father James Goode, president of the National Black Catholic Apostolate for Life, is an Arch of Triumph advisory board member.

“The purpose of the Arch of Triumph and the Shrine of the Holy Innocents is to tell our story of God's love,” he said. “We want to tell the world about our devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and her Son Jesus Christ. We wish to tell the world by deed and example that we affirm that all human life is a unique gift from God.”

The project has already won support from many national Catholic pro-life leaders, including Fr. Thomas Euteneuer (HLI), Fr. Matthew Habiger OSB, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus (First Things), and Fr. Robert Fox (Fatima Family Messenger).

“We need to stir the attention of the public to pro-life issues whether they want to hear about them or not,” commented Fr. Frank Pavone, co-founder of Priests for Life, adding, “A sign as public and visible as the proposed arch and shrine will certainly serve this purpose.”

The project has even drawn support from unlikely places. Buffalo evangelical writer, Rick Kern, noted that while many local Protestants have difficulty with the project's “glorification of Mary,” he described it as “rich with meaning and symbolism” and asserted that it “cannot help but capture the imagination of anyone who takes a second look at it.”

“[A] memorial to victims of abortion runs counter across pro-choice philosophy like nails across a chalkboard,” Kern wrote in the July 29 issue of The Word. “Memorials by nature exist for people as opposed to formless blobs of fetal tissue. Consequently, this memorial in a way revives the status of abortion as a moral crime against humanity.”

Not All Applaud

Not all of the local reaction to the proposed arch has been positive. Following Behr's announcement, the Buffalo News ran both pro and con letters for weeks. “Behr and his ilk are not only interested in advocating against abortion,” wrote Norm Allen Jr., assistant director for the Council for Secular Humanists in Amherst. “They are also trying to promote anti-atheist propaganda.”

Others, such as Lynda Suchman and Diane London, suggested that the money would be better used to create jobs or to educate people.

Behr argues, however, that those willing to donate to the arch will continue donating to other charitable causes. In addition, he says, “When the Shrine is operational and, we hope, generating excess revenues, money will come from it to the needy in our community and other worthy Catholic causes, as promised in our Prospectus. It is reported that the St. Louis Gateway Arch brought an estimated 2.32 billion dollars into that region in 1999 alone.”

“The reaction of the local Catholic and Christian faithful has been tremendous,” said Behr. Behr mentions that his Bishop has expressed appreciation for his pro-life work and looks forward to hearing more definite plans about the project. Behr believes that the project could be completed in as few as four years. “The Arch of Triumph and Holy Innocents Shrine will be built quickly once the faithful people of this country are awakened to the greatness of this project, and form a common will to support it,” he said.

Project advisor Father Robert Fox agreed: “Pope John Paul II once said that Shrines today are doing for people what monasteries of earlier centuries accomplished for the good of souls.”

A Golden Dream

The idea for the arch came to Behr in an extraordinary dream he had after reading an article in September 2000 about the pastoral significance of Marian shrines. He dreamt he was on a bridge overlooking a valley. To his left sat a group of unsightly and dilapidated buildings; on his right, sat a stone church in a beautiful green setting with a golden statue of Our Lady set in a niche in its front. Approaching the church he met a woman who said to him, “This is the shrine of the Golden Arch of St. Mary.” He saw a golden statuary grouping of the Holy Family, and awoke asking himself, “why a golden arch for St. Mary?”

Thinking of Mary's titles, Gate of Heaven and House of Gold, Behr decided that a golden monumental arch would be an appropriate tribute to Mary. Later, he recognized that such a structure would necessarily be a triumphal arch honoring the victory of Mary's Immaculate Heart predicted during her appearance at Fatima on July 13, 1917.

“It's a mystery,” remarks Behr, asked why such a shrine would be built in Buffalo, “but I am here and I cannot run a project anywhere else.” He added, “One could as well ask, why Buffalo for the National Shrine of Our Lady of Victory?” referring to the beautiful Basilica built by Buffalo native Venerable Father Nelson Baker, in the Buffalo suburb of Lackawanna.

The question “Why Buffalo?” has been addressed before – in the life of Father Baker. After assisting at Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Victory in Paris in 1874, Father Baker began a lifelong devotion to Our Lady under that title. Later, back in Buffalo, he dedicated himself to the care of orphans, showing a zeal for unwanted babies that, many feel, makes him a pioneer of the pro-Life movement. Finally, in 1921 at age 80, he asked his Association of Our Lady of Victory members to consider contributing $10 to “buy a block of marble for Our Lady.” Donors responded, and the Lackawanna Basilica was erected in just a few years.

Supporters of the Triumph Arch understandably draw inspiration from Venerable Nelson Baker's story. The association asks donors to consider contributing $100, entitling their names to be engraved on the Arch of Triumph. Behr notes that such an amount is equivalent to Fr. Baker's $10 request in 1921. Behr also points out that there are practical reasons why the arch should be built in Buffalo, including its location only 20 miles south of Niagara Falls, itself a world-famous attraction. Supporters believe that the arch will draw at least as many visitors annually as the Gateway Arch, with 4 million visitors per year. The shrine would also be within a day's drive of 60% of the population of the U.S. and Canada.

Behr would seem justified in calling it “a global signal call to repentance and conversion.” The Project has been receiving donations from states all around the country, and already has won the support of Catholics in other countries as well, including Jordan, Australia and Russia. Donations are being received on the Web site, www.ArchofTriumph.org, and information is offered by calling toll-free, 1-866-205-6512.

The Association's immediate goal is to raise $3 to $5 million to acquire the proposed site, an available private waterfront parcel that Behr believes matches the scene of his dream. In addition, the Association is seeking now to recruit capable Regional Directors and to establish local chapters, to oversee fundraising in as many cities, counties and towns around the world as they are able. To date, Regional Directors have signed on in San Francisco and Edmonton, Alberta.

Behr is firmly convinced that God intends to use Our Lady to bring about the end of abortion and the renewal of society, as well as the return of our separated brethren to the fold of the one, true Church. He sees as primarily responsible for the slaughter of the unborn, the severing of Christ's Mystical Body the Church, allowing leeway to the “serpent” of Revelations 12 in his “war on the rest of her offspring” (v. 17), a reference to all faithful Christians as Mary's true children.

Tim Drake

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Tim Drake is an award-winning journalist, the author of six books on religion and culture, and a former radio host. Widely published, and a long-time contributor to the National Catholic Register, he serves as Senior Editor/Director of News Operations for the Cardinal Newman Society.

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