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MASSIVE ARCH WOULD BE A SYMBOL -- BUT OF WHAT?

Let me say at the outset that as a Catholic woman who four years ago chose to have a child under what seemed like hopeless circumstances, I'm very supportive of any other woman making that choice, too.

And, as a native Western New Yorker who cut her reporting teeth chronicling the sight of grown men sobbing as they walked out of Bethlehem Steel on their last day of work in 1982, I'm equally supportive of whatever it takes to fill that long-empty waterfront.

But.

A 700-foot-high steel fixture that resembles a massive tuning fork, carries the rather unwieldy name the Arch of Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and International Shrine of the Holy Innocents -- and promises to increase local tourism "and respect for the sanctity of human life ..."?

Well. Call me a wet blanket, but I'm pretty sure we need to go back to the drawing board on this one.

Perhaps you thought so, too, after reading a news story about it on Wednesday.

It reported that a non-profit, pro-life New York association with the same title as the arch (I can't write it a second time; my fingers will seize) wants to build "a monumental, ascendable, golden triumphal arch" along Buffalo's waterfront, possibly along Fuhrmann Boulevard.

Underneath this 700-foot high arc (the world's tallest) would be a shrine to the Blessed Mother, with the hope that the entire monument will attract millions of tourists from around the world, and promote the pro-life cause.

But, how to say this? Unless our goal is to land back at the top of Dave Letterman's nightly monologue, or ensure unusually good TV reception within a 20-mile radius of this steel behemoth, we haven't got a prayer (sorry) of being taken seriously if this shrine goes up in Buffalo.

This is because it is impossible to merely glance at the thing without having bizarre yet entirely plausible scenarios forming in your head.

First of all, in the spring, you know kids will be trying to ping rocks off this thing, inadvertently sending monstrous sound waves rocketing through the Old First Ward.

In the summer, sheriff's deputies will routinely be called to the scene at 4 a.m. to pry off some guy who got hammered on Chippewa and is trying to shimmy up the thing.

And in December, we know perfectly well that roughly a hundred people will try that stunt from "A Christmas Story," touch their tongue to this and wind up frozen in place, screaming words that one doesn't normally associate with holy shrines.

And the name! "Mary's Golden Arch," as one of the news releases called it. Tell me we're not setting ourselves up with that.

I can just hear Jay Leno now. "Billions and billions absolved! And what do they say to you in Buffalo as you pass through this thing -- 'D'you want forgiveness with that?'"

But even when all the bizarre images are pushed aside, there's another reason why this thing rankles me so.

Could someone please show me the part in the Bible where it says Mary wanted someone to erect a big, steel monument to her and to human life, stick it on a waterfront that is frozen six months of the year and largely inaccessible to humans, and then have people take $100 -- which they might otherwise spend on their parishes or, kooky as it sounds, bettering the lives of the already-born -- and spend it on name-engraving?

Isn't it possible that it might please the chosen bearer of God's son a little bit more if we did something just slightly less showy?

Something like, oh, I don't know, help a few thousand kids get off crack, get some decent food, and get into college at 18 instead of a cemetery plot at 14?

If we're so earnest about furthering the pro-life cause, how about we skip erecting something that in January will resemble half a frozen bagel sticking out of the ice, take that $100 million, round up 1,000 women contemplating abortion, and support them completely during their pregnancies and their first years of motherhood -- with job-training included, if necessary -- until they're adjusted to it, and ready and able to work?

Look. If you're a Christian, and especially if you're a Catholic, you've been taught that the blessed heart of Mary was -- and is -- the loving and compassionate heart of a mother who wants the best for her children.

All her children.

And if you really believe that at the core of that immaculate mother's heart lies a hope that $100 million will be spent on a big metal arch in the name of tourism and the pro-life cause well, fund it, then.

And then come see me. I've got a plot of land down on the waterfront to sell you.

That is, unless a gleaming, glowing, richly engraved, 700-foot stirrup gets there first.