It took 16 years for land to be found on which to build the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Construction on the gothic and art nouveau basilica began in 1882 and is expected to be complete in 2026. So, Laurence Behr doesn't think his project is moving too slowly.
Behr, founder of Western New York Lawyers for Life, had a dream of an arch monument to rival St. Louis. The Arch of Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and International Shrine of the Holy Innocents, measuring 70 stories tall, would stand on Buffalo's waterfront as a monument to Mary's prophecies at Fatima, delivered nearly 100 years ago.
Now, 16 years since the project was launched, Behr still holds onto that dream, feeling the $100 million arch will be built when ready.
"People all over the world fell in love with this idea. I got letters from people from all parts of the world," he said. "It's not a hard thing to raise money for, if you have millions of people all over the world who potentially interested in supporting it." Much like the Sagrada Familia, the project still has no land to build on 16 years after its conception. "We don't have land. I initially believed that it should go out here on our waterfront," Behr said.
He has received letters of support from the Priests for Life, the National Black Catholic Apostolate for Life and Human Life International.
Behr would also like to have a diocesan celebration to mark the 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions. In 1917, three shepherd children received visits and messages from Mary over six months in Fatima, Portugal. The Vatican has declared the visions "worthy of belief" in 1930.
Although born and raised Catholic, Behr drifted away from the Church in his teens. He had a conversion experience at the age of 21 and began to read about Mary and her apparitions at Fatima. At her last visit on Oct. 13, 1917, Mary announced that, "Jesus wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart."
A lawyer for 36 years, Behr, 65, has tried to carry his faith into his legal practice.
"I've always been receptive to living Catholic values as a lawyer and letting my light shine in my work as a lawyer," he said.
Around 1987, while working at a large law firm, he took on the case of a group of students at McKinley High School in Buffalo who wanted to hold an afterschool Bible study. The Board of Education denied permission, citing separation of church and state. Behr found that Congress had passed a statute called the Equal Access Act, which stated that if a school allowed any non-curricular gatherings, equal access had to be granted for all non-curricular gatherings, including religious groups. The case made the front page of The Buffalo News. Behr's actions garnered an apology from Buffalo's then-mayor, Jimmy Griffin.
When law professors at the University of Buffalo wanted to host a Roe v. Wade seminar, Behr met with some other lawyers with an interest in the pro-life cause and formed Western New York Lawyers for Life. They made the Erie County Bar Association cancel the seminar.
He also defended members of Operation Rescue who were arrested during the Spring of Life demonstration in Buffalo and Amherst.
Currently, he is considering how to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions, and the 70th anniversary of the Western Virgin Pilgrim Statue coming to Buffalo. Sister Lucia, one of the three children who saw the apparitions in Fatima, commissioned this statue, which John Haffert, founder of Blue Army, brought to Buffalo. In one of his autobiographies, "To Shake the World," Haffert told how the first pilgrim virgin statue to enter the United States did so through Niagara Falls and Buffalo. "He explained how, because he was refused permission to bring it into New York City, he sought permission from Buffalo's bishop, John O'Hara at the time, and that bishop welcomed Our Lady with open arms. The statue was brought in across the Rainbow Bridge from Canada and crowned in a tremendous celebration at (St. Joseph's New) cathedral here. There were 200,000 people, the papers said at the time. They lined the streets to welcome Our Lady," Behr said, adding that the statue coming tom Buffalo reaffirms his plans for building the triumphal arch in the Queen City.
His love of the Fatima image comes from the simple fact that he is Catholic.
"I've been interested in Fatima since learning about it. As a devout Catholic, it is an extremely important aspect of our faith. The Blessed Mother, the Mother of Jesus appears to shepherd children in Fatima. Tremendous miracles occur. The Church said this is worthy of belief. The question is, any Catholic should answer it for themselves - Why aren't your interested in Fatima. That's how I see it. Everyone should be deeply interested in Fatima."
He began reading more on the subject in 1995. Then, in September 2000, he had a dream of the triumphal Golden Arch of St. Mary and made the connection with Fatima and Mary's prophecy that, in the end, her immaculate heart would triumph and the world would know a certain period of peace.
For more information on the arch, visit archoftriumph.org.