COHOCTON — The wind howled and dark clouds remained low for most of the afternoon, giving occasional showers — not exactly ideal weather for an outdoor prayer service.
However, these threatening conditions apparently had little effect on the more than 100 people who gathered on May 22 in rural Steuben County.
With umbrellas in tow, they participated in “Mary, Miracles and Music,” a 90-minute spiritual event.
“It’s something to get so many people out on a Sunday afternoon in Atlanta, NY (a hamlet in the town of Cohocton),” remarked John Landino, on whose property the service was held.
Participants of all ages spread out across a large yard, sitting on lawn chairs, blankets and even on the wet grass. On top of a hill in front of them, guest speakers shared stories of miracles in their lives as well as those of others. In addition to these reflections, a group of musicians interpreted several spiritual and popular songs. Next to them was the Grotto of the Pieta, a large Marian sanctuary that Landino built with his own hands.
An Uplifting Spirit
Speakers included Father John Gathenya, pastor of Holy Family Catholic Community, who highlighted the importance of the month of May as a special month for Marian devotion in the Catholic Church. Other dominant themes touched on love, hope, prayer, peace and perseverance, especially for those who feel lost or alone. Inspirational quotes have been quoted by Helen Keller, Emily Dickinson, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr. and Albert Einstein. Meanwhile, well-known musical offerings included ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, ‘Ave Maria’, ‘The Prayer’, ‘What a Wonderful World’, ‘You Raise Me Up’ and ‘The Impossible Dream’.
“We were trying to be uplifting, especially for people who are going through tough times in their lives,” said Kathy Bawel, one of the musicians. She said, with a laugh, that the day’s closing song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” had lyrics appropriate for both the event and the weather: “Walk through the wind/Walk through through the rain / Though your dreams are tossed and blown / Walk, walk / With hope in your heart / And you’ll never walk alone.
Bawel, a regular musician with the Holy Family Catholic Community, noted that she had been the chief organizer of the event after Landino expressed to her his desire for special public service at the grotto.
“Because I love him and (Landin0’s wife) is dear, that was my present for him,” Bawel said. “I thought it went well.”
Landino said that despite the bad weather, the crowd size on May 22 was similar to August 2020 when the shrine was dedicated.
“I’m happy, I’m very happy,” said Landino, a longtime member of the Holy Family (St. Joseph’s Church, Wayland; St. Pius V, Cohocton; Sacred Heart, Perkinsville; and St. Mary’s, Dansville. )
Popular with visitors
Pieta’s Cave is located on County Road 38 in northern Steuben County, across from Landino’s house and set back about 200 feet from the road near a heavily wooded area. In addition to the special event on May 22, Landino welcomes anyone who wishes to stop at the grotto to pray, reflect and/or admire the artwork. He noted that many people have visited since the shrine’s completion, often traveling long distances and enjoying the outdoor setting that has helped limit health risks from the coronavirus pandemic.
Landino built the sanctuary over a six-year period ending in September 2019, applying the expert work he is well known for in the Wayland-Cohocton area. The grotto – with a sculpture of the Blessed Virgin Mary cradling the deceased body of Jesus in her lap – spans 37 feet in diameter and is 12 feet high at its center. Weighing some 125 tonnes, the structure is built to last, to say the least.
“In 1000 years it will still be there,” Landino remarked.