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LET'S PROMOTE CHURCHES AS TOURIST ATTRACTIONS

Churches are also tourist attractions. My husband and I discovered this on recent trips to Europe. We never intended to see every church on or near the Marienplatz in Munich, but we could not resist going up the many stairs, through the huge wooden doors and into such places of beauty.

Most of these churches were bombed out during World War II and have been rebuilt. The only towers standing at the end of the bombings were the twin "onion" cupolas of the Metropolitan Church of Our Lady. These towers are the most famous landmarks in all of Munich.

Most of the churches have photos of the bombed-out buildings in their vestibules. When we walked inside, we were blinded by the beauty of the restoration work. They featured 22-carat gold trim on the altars and the statues, Baroque-trimmed ceilings, restored paintings and stained-glass windows. Many of the statues and artwork were hidden and protected during the war.

We noticed a statue of the Redeemer, blood covered, with nail wounds in his hands and feet. My husband remembers a similar statue in St. Matthew's Church on East Ferry Street. One chapel contained a statue of the Pieta, with the Blessed Mother holding her son, Jesus. There is a replica of this statue in St. Francis of Assisi Church on North Ogden Street.

The painting of the "Assumption of Mary" behind the altar is one similar to paintings that had been on the walls of my church, St. Agnes Church on Ludington Street. The Chapel of the Seven Dolours is reminiscent of the church on Genesee Street where my husband's grandparents were the first couple to be married.

We noticed many more similarities between the churches in Buffalo and those we saw in Germany and Austria. These countries are about 80 percent Catholic, and the state contributes to the restoration and upkeep.

The majestic interior of St. Cajetan's Church in Munich reminded us of St. Gerard's Church on Bailey Avenue. The heavy oak pulpit made us wonder what happened to all of the pulpits that were in our churches in years past. The pulpit at St. Agnes was also made of oak, with hand carvings of the four evangelists.

Outside St. Michael's Church on the Marienplatz is a huge bronze statue of Archangel Michael triumphant over Satan. Inside, the life-size bronze angel at the water font reminded us of the importance of the fonts in our churches with the blessing of oneself as we enter or leave the church.

Further into our travels, we stayed in Vienna. Our hotel room was on the sixth floor, and St. Stephen's Church was across the plaza. The ringing of the bells echoed throughout the area. The steeple is 136.7 meters, and the sight of it at night with spotlights and the moon behind it left us breathless.

The interior of St. Stephen's is filled with statues, including St. Christopher and St. Anne. I thought of St. Anne's Church on Broadway, and I wondered why the steeple was never replaced on that beautiful building.

St. Stephen's has catacombs and many vaults containing the remains of emperors, dukes and bishops. Hundreds of tourists were walking through the church, and private tours were being given.

Many of our churches in Buffalo seem to have been neglected and forgotten. These beautiful structures were built by immigrants, who brought their ideas from the old countries. We noticed in our travels that the steeples on our churches are similar to the ones in Europe. However, we have removed our altars, statues, pulpits and altar rails. Where has all our history gone? Why has Europe rebuilt, restored and protected its treasures and we have not? We should revitalize our rich heritage and promote our churches as tourist attractions.

MARGE THIELMAN HASTREITER is a neighborhood activist in Buffalo.

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