Bishops Race To Shape Reaction As Cases Of Images And 'Weeping' Statues Spread
Statues and other relics said to weep or otherwise behave in an unusual manner have become something akin to "radioactive."
In the current crush of such claims -- from images to Eucharistic miracles -- local dioceses appear to be acting more swiftly than before, juggling openness to faith with fear of fraud or concerns that a bad impression will be left with the secular public as they issue immediate official reactions and then restrain themselves from detailed comment.
"We're not talking about it to the media or anyone else," Carol Brinati, spokesman for the Orlando Diocese in Florida, told us when asked about the reports last week of a tearing Pieta at a statue shop in that particular bailiwick.
By this time, the diocese already had issued two public statements, one of which proclaimed that nothing supernatural had occurred.
The issue was a streak-like mark in the marble that was imported from Europe five weeks before (during Lent) and seemed to darken day by day -- uncannily resembling a tear streaking down from the left eye of the Blessed Mother. This occurred at a gallery called Castle Designs, where the item was on sale for $15,000.
It took less than two days after reports hit the media for the diocese to discern that no miracle had occurred. The owner of the gallery took the item off the market and offered it to the diocese, which had sent a priest to investigate. That came in the midst of a frenzy -- with thousands immediately chartering buses to see it.
"Today, a diocesan representative met with Les Roberts, proprietor of Castle Designs, to view and discuss the 'Weeping Mary,' a marble replica of the Pieta in which a dark line has formed from Mary’s eye, giving the impression that she is crying," said an April 25 statement. "After conferring with Mr. Roberts, it is the position of the Diocese that the black vein coming from Mary’s eye is a natural occurrence. Even though the 'weeping' can be explained in purely natural terms, the phenomenon is an occasion of some spiritual introspection."
In many dioceses, bishops take months to consider such a claim and then issue a statement only after a committee investigates or tests are conducted, in the unusual cases where an investigation is initiated. The speed with which the Orlando diocese has reacted, coupled with similarly quick reactions recently as far away as Michigan, may point to a new trend in the handling of proliferating claims.
Some have speculated in the press that a natural gray vein just below the left eye was strategically placed by the artist who carved the famous replica. The owners maintain belief that something unusual has occurred.
"A marble is a giant piece of block. [The sculptor] would have to know what's in the 40,000-pound block to carve it all the way down and when he got to the carving for the face, there's the stain. That's what's incredible," said Roberts, while one of his representatives, Chris Wilson, added that "it doesn't appear to be stained from the outside so it's kind of unusual because it does appear to be coming from the inside."
It's unclear whether the priest who was sent to investigate dismissed it as a miracle because of the possibility -- however remote -- that a dark streak could have been set in the marble, or if he had other reasons. Of no doubt is that the diocese scrambled quickly to stay ahead of the reaction. The first reports swept with unusual speed from a local television stations to newspapers and media outlets around Florida and then across the country. The Orlando diocese says it might accept the statue from Castle Designs despite its skepticism.
"Whenever a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary is observed to be weeping, it creates a lot of interest, or at least discussion within the Church, as well as among the general population," said a diocesan statement on April 24. "Spiritually, too, it can have a significant impact on many souls.
"For some people, 'seeing, is believing'; for others no such phenomena will convince them it is of God. For most, usually the first questions asked are, 'Is it real?' And, “Can it be proven to be genuine, or of supernatural origin?
"These are healthy and important questions. In each case, it is beneficial to everyone if these questions are fully investigated and answered confidently by spiritual and scientific experts. But, oftentimes, it may take longer than expected to reach definite conclusions.
"Church authorities must proceed with caution when such an incident is reported to be happening in their location," went on the diocese. "A supernatural happening of this sort may usher in many graces of God, but even if the 'weeping' can be explained in purely natural terms, the phenomenon may be an occasion of some spiritual introspection. Even if such a phenomenon was found to be 'worthy' of belief, the Church never insists that anyone believe since these manifestations do not add anything essential to the deposit of faith received through Revelation. But, a choice to believe in something 'supernatural' will inherently include an element of personal faith."
The statue comes in the midst of a veritable explosion in such claims from around the world. Ironically, Church officials -- perhaps because they are mindful of those past deceits -- are usually among the most skeptical of such reports.
But continue they do. Weeping icons and images in various objects have been joined by subtler manifestations, such as groups of the devout who claim to see holy images in the tabernacle or Eucharist. [Above right, a pillar of light in Doyelstown, Pennsylvania; at left, "Mary" in an oak stud. At right, a shadow from a tabernacle forms the image of what looks like a bearded man to right of the tabernacle.]
Such was the case last fall at Saints Peter and Paul Church in New Braunfels, Texas, where men attending a retreat claimed to see and even photograph images of Jesus.
"Some saw more than others," said the pastor there, Father Tony Pesik. "But these are good, level-headed, solid Christian people. I don't think they're being caught in deception or some sort of hysteria. I just see less in the way of images than they do. But I think for the men it was very profound."
Father Pesik said the case was brought to the chancellor of the diocese, who described it as a "private revelation," with no further comment and no plans to investigate.
"Is it miraculous?" asked Father Pesik. "It's hard to tell. It's more than tears coming out of a statue."
Whatever is or is not a more impressive phenomenon, the instances continue to spread despite widespread resistance in both the secular and religious press. In March, it was a weeping statue in Bavaria. Weeks before, it was a bleeding icon at a policeman's home in India. If the phenomenon in Orlando had been determined to be miraculous, the questions would have been poignant. Why in Orlando? Why any particular locale? And why a tear stain that is black.
The coloration, in fact, has set the Orlando case apart, raising questions about the times we are in and occurrences elsewhere, such as at Medjugorje, the apparition site in Bosnia-Hercegovina that is currently under review by a group of several bishops and the Cardinal of Sarajevo who assumed the case after it was taken out of the hands of the local diocesan offices. At Medjugorge, where six seers have claimed to see Mary since 1981 and are said to possess "secrets" about the future, a bronze corpus of Christ has been exuding a strange oily substance regularly for several years but thus far neither local priests nor the diocese have issued a response. In this case, as was more common in the U.S., before the recent surge, the local diocese and parish priests have thus far not responded.
"They have nine secrets, they have one more to get," a guide there named Draga Vidovic told an audience recently, referring to a seer named Ivan Dragicevic, who lives in the Boston area, and two others who still see Mary daily. "I remember once I was interpreting for Ivan's talk for the Italians, in the yellow building, and I remember very well what he said. He said it's not coincidentally that I live in the United States and Marija [Pavlovic, another seer] lives in Italy. One day you will understand why."
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[see also: Anatomy of an apparition, An extraordinary sun miracle, And another solar phenomenon, and Statue weeping caught on video]
[resources: The Day Will Come, The God of Miracles, and Medjugorje and the Church]
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