Holy ground that needs to remain holy

In the late 1970s, Catholic troubadour John Michael Talbot recorded Christopher Beatty’s beautiful meditation song, “Holy Ground” (not to be confused with Taylor Swift’s 2012 “Holy Ground”).

The lead verse is as follows:

“This is holy ground, we’re standing on holy ground. For the Lord is present and where He is is holy. This is holy ground, we’re standing on holy ground. For the Lord is present and where He is is holy.”

It was a song the Cursillo music ministry would often use on retreat weekends. It brought the listeners and the musicians into a calm, a quiet, where they could more acutely feel the Lord’s presence.

Through the years, I’ve visited many places that I could consider holy ground: La Salette Shrine in Attleboro, Holy Cross Family Ministries in Easton, the Sacred Heart Retreat Center in Wareham, and various churches across the diocese. Even off-season visits to Horseneck Beach in Westport have provided holy ground moments for me.

There’s another region that I’ve visited several times with Denise and Emilie, a place we’ve gone to specifically for the holy ground experience. It’s the St. Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine in Fonda, N.Y. and the National Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in nearby Auriesville, N.Y.

I’m partial to both because St. Kateri is my favorite saint (along, now,­­ with the newly-canonized St. John XXIII), and both shrines are places of peace, calm, quiet, and holiness in the midst of the beautiful Adirondack Mountains on either side of the equally gorgeous Mohawk River.

I’m writing about this because of the disturbing Catholic News Service story I’ve placed on page 20 in this week’s edition.

The National Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs is in financial trouble and has initiated a $1 million fund-raising effort.

I don’t know the politics involved, but I can’t imagine that holy ground ever being used for any other purpose.

The shrine is the site where Jesuit missionaries SS. Isaac Jogues, Ren Goupil and John Lalande were martyred for the faith in the 1640s, and where St. Kateri was born in 1656.

A visit to the shrine leaves one in awe. It’s set off the beaten path, where visitors travel up a sizeable incline, and once there, are gifted with the beautiful mountains on the horizon, rising above the Mohawk River in the valley below. Statues and shrines dot the massive grounds, where the only sounds you can hear are the melodic songs of the birds in the trees and the mantra-like buzzing of the bees amidst the flowers.

The shrine’s church is a 10,000 seat coliseum where we have attended Masses that were so beautiful, they brought tears of joy to my eyes.

What brings tears to my eyes now is not a joy and a peace, but a dread that this masterpiece of God is in dire straits. I can’t, or won’t, envision this mountainside retreat as a condominium development.

I have a sick feeling that there are many realtors licking their chops and wringing their hands at the chance of obtaining this holy ground.

In a land where Walmarts are springing up like weeds all over the place, and there is seemingly a Dunkin’ Donuts on every corner of every city, how can it be that such a holy site is in danger of folding?

Should that ever happen, it won’t tarnish the blood spilled by those men who gave their lives spreading the Good News, nor will it diminish the devotion St. Kateri had for Jesus and the Blessed Mother. That will never happen. 

But Catholics can rally to save this holy ground.

The second verse of “Holy Ground,” declares: “These are holy hands. He’s given us holy hands. He works through these hands and so these hands are holy.”

There are enough holy hands in the Northeast and Eastern Canada alone to save the shrine. I pray we can do that. Meanwhile, take a trip west on the Mass Pike into N.Y. state, then head north to Albany, then west again on the N.Y. State Thruway until you reach a little bit of Heaven — where the Lord is present, and where He’s present is holy.

To help keep this holy ground holy, donations by check may be sent to: Building fund drive, c/o Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine, to 136 Shrine Road, Fultonville, N.Y. 12016. Additional information is available on the shrine’s Facebook page.

Dave Jolivet can be contacted at davejolivet@anchornews.org.

© 2018 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing   †   Fall River, Massachusetts