COHOCTON — The wind howled and dark clouds hung low most of the afternoon, emitting occasional showers — not exactly ideal weather for an outdoor prayer service.
However, these threatening conditions had seemingly little effect on more than 100 people who gathered May 22 in rural Steuben County.
With umbrellas in tow, they took part in “Mary, Miracles and Music,” a spiritual event lasting 90 minutes.
“This is something, to get this many people out on a Sunday afternoon in Atlanta, N.Y (a hamlet in the Town of Cohocton),” remarked John Landino, on whose property the service took place.
Participants of all ages spread out across an expansive yard, sitting in lawn chairs, on blankets and even on the moist grass. Atop a hill in front of them, guest speakers shared accounts of miracles in their lives as well as others’. In addition to those reflections, a group of musicians performed several spiritual and popular songs. To their side was Grotto of the Pieta, a large Marian shrine that Landino built with his own hands.
An uplifting spirit
Among the speakers was Father John Gathenya, pastor of Holy Family Catholic Community, who noted the importance of May as a special month for Marian devotion in the Catholic Church. Other prevailing themes touched upon love, hope, prayer, peace and perseverance, particularly for those who may be feeling lost or alone. Inspirational quotes were cited from 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 going through hard times in their lives,” explained Kathy Bawel, one of the musicians. She said, with a laugh, that the day’s concluding song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” contained fitting lyrics for both the event and the weather: “Walk on through the wind/Walk on through the rain/Though your dreams be tossed and blown/Walk on, walk on/With hope in your heart/And you’ll never walk alone.”
Bawel, a regular musician for Holy Family Catholic Community, noted that she served as the event’s chief organizer after Landino expressed to her his desire for a special public service at the grotto.
”Because I love him and (Landino’s wife) Rose dearly, this was my gift to him,” Bawel said. “I thought it went beautifully.”
Landino said that despite the inclement weather, the crowd size on May 22 was similar to the one in August 2020 when the shrine was dedicated.
“I’m happy, I’m very happy,” said Landino, a longtime member of Holy Family (St. Joseph Church, Wayland; St. Pius V, Cohocton; Sacred Heart, Perkinsville; and St. Mary, Dansville.)
Popular with visitors
Grotto of the Pieta is located on County Road 38 in northern Steuben County, across the street from Landino’s home and set back approximately 200 feet from the road near a heavily wooded area. In addition to the special event May 22, Landino welcomes anybody who wishes to stop at the grotto for prayer, reflection and/or to admire the artwork. He noted that many people have visited since the shrine’s completion, often traveling from long distances and taking advantage of the outdoor setting that has helped limit health risks due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Landino constructed the shrine over a six-year period ending in September 2019, applying the expert handiwork for which he is well-known in the Wayland-Cohocton area. The grotto — featuring a sculpture of the Blessed Virgin Mary cradling Jesus’ deceased body in her lap — stretches 37 feet across and measures 12 feet high at its center. Weighing some 125 tons, the structure is built to last, to say the least.
“In another 1,000 years, it’ll still be here,” Landino remarked.Tags: Mary, Steuben County News