I remember the marble carvings of angels, the elaborate displays of flowers and the gorgeous murals depicting scenes of Christ's life. I remember intricately patterned stained-glass windows, high-arched ceilings and pipe organs that swelled so dramatically that I could not help but shudder in awe.
Even though I was much too young to understand the readings and sermons, even if I could not grasp doctrines as complex as transubstantiation and the Trinity, I still bowed with reverence, aware that I was in the presence of something holy.
As I think back on my upbringing in the Catholic faith, what I remember most vividly is being surrounded by a type of beauty that points beyond itself toward a transcendent spirit underlying all things. The experience is not merely aesthetic, but also deeply spiritual.
An encounter with beauty naturally leads one to seek that beauty's source. This is an experience that everyone, regardless of creed, can relate to. People travel the world to visit beautiful houses of worship, whether the monasteries of Korea and Tibet or the opulent churches in Europe.
What puzzles me, however, is that while people travel great distances in order to see such splendor, they fail to appreciate the riches that lie in their own back yard.
Right here in Buffalo, we have gorgeous Romanesque and Gothic churches that rival the cathedrals of Europe. And yet, on a typical Sunday, I can count only 30 or 40 people dotting the huge, high-ceiling rooms.
From St. Anthony of Padua on the West Side to Corpus Christi on the East, Buffalo is a treasury of churches. Unfortunately, many of these are now in peril.
Due to the shortage of priests and lack of funds, the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo is planning to close some parishes. Many of those in the city -- often only operating at 20 percent capacity for a regular Sunday Mass -- will probably be the first to go. This loss, if it occurs, will constitute a tragedy for our region.
The churches of Buffalo are a testament to our city's rich cultural heritage. Many were founded by stalwart immigrants whose religious faith enabled them to adapt to a new way of life. St. Adalbert Basilica, which is the oldest basilica on the East Coast, and St. Stanislaus Parish, the "Mother Church of Polonia" founded by my own great-great-great uncle in 1882, are two products of these immigrants' labors.
However, not only are these churches historic and architectural gems, but they are also resources for the needs of our community right here and now. Many have heard the story of Norm Paolini and Amy Betros, who founded St. Luke's Mission, which provides food, shelter and spiritual support for some of those in greatest need. Many neighborhood residents, once beneficiaries of the mission, have gone on to become missionaries themselves.
St. Luke's Church, which had been closed by the diocese, could have fallen into complete disrepair. Instead, it has been transformed into an invaluable resource for our community. The same can be said for St. Stanislaus, whose pastor -- Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz -- has embarked on a major restoration project for his church and school.
If the churches of Buffalo are going to survive, they need the support of everyone.
Jeannine Pitas, of Cheektowaga, reflectson this area's splendid Romanesque and Gothic churches.