All Debbie Holt wanted to do yesterday was say a prayer at St. Joseph Church in Emmitsburg.
She knew that Gianna Talone-Sullivan, a woman who claims she receives messages from the Virgin Mary, would not be attending the usual Thursday night prayer service. She knew the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore found no basis for the Talone-Sullivan's apparitions and canceled the service.
Still, the 32-year-old mother wanted a chance to pray in the church where thousands have heard Talone-Sullivan's messages from Mary for seven years.
But the church doors were locked.
"If they didn't want Gianna, that was one thing, but not to have Mass is really sad," said Holt. "That service was moving because so many people came here. This whole place is a gift from God."
Throughout yesterday, many others had the same reaction.
Several had driven hundreds of miles, knowing there would be no service and no message delivered by Talone-Sullivan, who remains in seclusion and determined to obey the archdiocese's edict.
They just wanted to pray in St. Joseph's.
Bridget Ganger traveled four hours from Hampton, Va., to "make a visit to a holy place."
Frank Kaiser brought several neighbors from White Marsh. Joseph and Betty Zeilmann came from Paulsboro, N.J.
"Are they trying to chase people away," said Joseph Zeilmann. "They might be frightened of Gianna's message, but can prayer hurt?"
His wife added, "Anything that brings people to prayer cannot be bad."
The Rev. James Kiernan, pastor of St. Joseph's, promised the doors to the 160-year-old church would reopen today.
"We don't normally lock the church, and we encourage prayer, but this decision was made in connection with the archdiocese's decision," said Kiernan. "It is just for this day."
Kiernan, who often celebrated the Thursday evening Mass, said the service became focused on Talone-Sullivan, so much so that the congregation lost track of the worship. After meeting with Talone-Sullivan and reviewing her messages, church officials "found no basis for the alleged apparitions," said Raymond P. Kempisty, spokesman for the archdiocese.
"We needed to stop the prayer service as it had been constituted," he said. "It centered on Talone-Sullivan's messages, and in them were elements not in keeping with the teachings of the church, including predictions of the future."
"It became her platform," said Kiernan, who locked the doors after the 8:30 a.m. Mass yesterday. "Today, we wanted to ensure that this particular prayer group did not occur."