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Miracles are delicate matter for church

The Baltimore Sun

ORLANDO, Fla. -- When Castle Designs opened its Orlando gallery Friday morning, Chiem Nguyen was waiting, along with four other members of his family and employees of his nail salon. A Catholic and a Vietnamese immigrant, Nguyen came to the gallery to pray at a statue of the Virgin Mary, asking for help in locating the father he never met.

The five people, the latest of hundreds to view the statue in the past week, knelt and recited the rosary in front of the copy of Michelangelo's famed Pieta.

When the sculpture was unpacked a month ago, employees noticed a black spot on its eyelid. After standing outside, exposed to the elements, the dot had grown to become a thin line stretching down Mary's cheek. Then the rumor that the statue was weeping made its way into a local television report.

Stories of a weeping Virgin Mary or of holy images appearing in unlikely places present a dilemma for the Roman Catholic Church. These phenomena can be the product of anything from wishful thinking to hysteria or even fraud. Church officials are also wary of subjecting sincere believers to ridicule and, by extension, of letting the church itself be vulnerable to ridicule.

"It is beneficial to everyone if these questions are fully investigated and answered confidently by spiritual and scientific experts," said Carol Brinati, spokeswoman for the Diocese of Orlando.

After sending a priest to investigate the marble carving, the diocese declared that the streak coming from Mary's eye was "a natural occurrence." The diocese did say it would accept the statue if the gallery decided to donate it.

Les Roberts and Kim Wilson, owners of Castle Designs, said Friday that they accepted the findings but added that many visitors during the week were deeply affected by the statue.

Such phenomena raise complex issues, says Michael Duricy, lecturer at the International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton. "There is a hunger among people who want access to a goodness that is beyond ordinary goodness that occurs in everyday life," he said.

Mark I. Pinsky writes for the Orlando Sentinel.

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