December 1, 2005

Some see miracle tears on Calif Virgin Mary statue

By Adam Tanner

SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - The dark streaks like
bloody tears that have drawn believers to a Virgin Mary statue
here in recent weeks follow a long tradition of Catholic
apparitions around the world which often provide solace to the

Steady numbers of Catholics have made their way to the
Vietnamese Catholic Martyrs Church in Sacramento, California's
capital, to view an outdoor statue that has clearly visible
dark streaks running down from the eyes.

"I am a believer because throughout history the Virgin Mary
cried," Van Li, who came to the United States from Vietnam in
1993, said as he visited on a rainy Thursday afternoon. "She
cries for everybody's sin."

Believers worldwide have seen what they believe are signs
from the Virgin Mary since shortly after her death two
millennia ago.

"For most people they are a kind of catharsis, they become
a way of coping with stresses and anxieties," said Sandra
Zimdars-Swartz, author of "Encountering Mary" on visions of the
Virgin Mary.

"It usually has to do with a time of anxiety," she said. "A
statue weeping blood, kind of obviously, she's not crying for

Timothy Matovina, an associate professor of theology at the
University of Notre Dame in South bend, Indiana, said such
visions were more common in Christianity than other faiths.

"Christianity, Catholicism in particular, is a very
incarnational religion," he said. "One of the claims of
Christianity is that god became human; that's absolutely
impossible for Muslims."


Skeptics say a human dabbing of pigment or blood could
explain the marks on the Sacramento statue.

Randall Sullivan, author of "The Miracle Detective: An
Investigation of Holy Visions," said it was right to be
sceptical of such visions. "If you dismiss this as fraud or
hysteria, odds are you'll be right."

"But it is still a stupid thing to do, to dismiss them,
because there are a large number -- a relatively small
percentage, but still a large number -- of these incidents that
can't be dismissed," he said.

Matovina of Notre Dame said such events, whatever their
nature, can have profound meaning for believers and draw
together people of all types.

"There is a sense of what some call communitas, a leveling
that you don't find anywhere else, only in sacred places where
everyone feels equal before this mystical, divine experience."

Some people are traveling long distances to see the
Sacramento statue. "I wish everybody would see this," said
Donald Quiroz, who came from southern California. "These signs
are trying to tell us something about our troubled times."

A spokesman for the Diocese of Sacramento, which serves
500,000 Catholics across northern California, said the church
had not made any conclusions about the streaks on the statue,
first seen about November 19.

"The diocese and the parishes are watching right now," said
Kevin Eckery, adding that no formal investigation was underway.
"For now it is a sort of wait and see."

(Additional reporting by Jenny O'Mara and Kimberly White)