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Grotto meeting draws noisy, capacity crowd

By Carol Martin
SooToday.com
Friday, June 17, 2011

The following is the continuation of an article on a meeting about a proposed grotto dedicated to the Virgin Mary in Bellevue Park. To return to the beginning of this article, please click here.

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Sarlo said he had consulted many people from different religions in Sault Ste. Marie, including Aboriginal leaders, and that he had received much encouragement and support to build the grotto.

"Everybody that I talked to was extremely supportive," said Sarlo. "[They] thought that this was really something that would help get our history going again and get people interested in the history of our city."

One woman said she didn't see why anyone would have a problem with a grotto in the park since Bellevue park isn't usable anymore.

"I've been born and raised in the Sault and I also went to the park as a child and for a long time until the birds took over," she said. "You know what I was wondering is that, Frankie, did you check with all the birds in the park? I don't go to the park anymore because it's full of shit."

Chris Barnett had a problem with the description of the grotto released by Sarlo because it described the stories and teachings of other cultures and forms of spirituality as myths while referring to Catholic teachings about the Virgin Mary as history.

When Barnett asked whether the City would be willing to place a disclaimer plaque near the grotto saying not all Saultites agree with the opinions expressed in the grotto, Butland had his microphone turned off.

Butland also cut off Frank Sarlo when he felt the discussion was getting out of hand.

Some questioned Sarlo's qualifications as a historian or a researcher and his motivation to present a historical monument when the planned grotto would contain 13 different statues of the blessed virgin and a stained-glass spire more than 30 feet tall.

Sarlo said he wasn't doing this for history alone but also for people to have a place to go and reflect in peace and solitude.

Several people said they're already going to that very space to reflect in peace and solitude and don't need a fenced-in grotto with a donation box to help them do that.

Tarlo Beibler wanted to know whether there is a master plan for parks in Sault Ste. Marie designating how much space can be dedicated to religious monuments.

Beibler said that approval of this grotto could and would open the door to other groups who want to do the same and soon all the parks in the Sault would be nothing but a maze of monuments.

Many speakers said they were not against the idea of the grotto, they just felt that a public park was the wrong place for it because of of the project's heavy religious overtones.

"Mr. Sarlo's proposal features a 37-foot-high stained glass spire," said Jason Young. "Calling this a grotto is like calling an aircraft carrier a boat. This is a shrine. Let's call it what it is."

Young went on to say that Prince Island, the proposed location for the grotto in Bellevue Park, is already a shrine to the man buried there, Colonel John Prince.

"Unlike the Virgin Mary, Colonel John Prince actually lived in Sault Ste. Marie and made tangible contributions to our history," he said. "It's his estate, Bellevue, that is our beloved park. If he had wished his final resting place to be a stone's throw from a shrine to the Virgin Mary he certainly could have afforded to build one. If our attempt is to celebrate history, let's start with the history we already have."

Sarlo was asked whether the grotto could be located somewhere else.

"It was designed specifically for that site in Bellevue Park," he replied.

Butland said that if anyone else wants to make their views known or ask questions about the grotto, he or she should email a City councillor or City Clerk Malcolm White.
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