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The Nation

Faithful See Virgin Mary and Message in Window

June 17, 2003|Elizabeth Mehren | Times Staff Writer

MILTON, Mass. — The image was unmistakable, Mary O'Toole said Monday as she gazed up at the third-floor window of Milton Hospital.

"I see the outline of the Blessed Mother," said O'Toole, clutching bright blue rosary beads. "It looks like there are flowers at her feet. It looks like she is holding an infant."

Thousands of pilgrims have flocked to the hospital parking lot since a frosty white representation became visible almost a week ago. Hospital officials say the shadowy pattern is the result of condensation. But believers from around New England say the Virgin Mary has appeared in this bedroom community south of Boston.

Many brought flowers or photographs of loved ones. Some knelt on the asphalt, praying softly. Others joined hands and sang hymns. Some touched the brick building.

"I didn't really see it at first," said Jim D'Amico, 15, of nearby Canton. "But then I saw her, holding the Baby Jesus."

His mother, Karen D'Amico, said she brought her son to the parking lot after her mother-in-law made three visits to the makeshift shrine.

"I think she is sending us a message," Karen D'Amico said. "And the message is: Pray for peace."

Some said another theme was at work.

"This is about abortion," said Pauline Pace, from neighboring Quincy. "Can't you see the baby in her arms? She is trying to tell us to hang on to our children."

Abortions are not performed at Milton Hospital, a hospital official said, and the window where the pattern appeared belongs to an eye doctor's office. Susan Schepici, the hospital's director of public relations, said a brick wall was placed inside the office in front of the window several years ago to darken the room.

She said the glass company told her a permanent seal on the window had broken, allowing condensation to develop. Schepici said no one at the hospital knows when the window design was first spotted, or by whom.

"People just began showing up," she said. "Suddenly, you could hear people talking about it in the halls. It just kind of grew from there."

According to a Web site maintained by the Marian Library at the University of Dayton in Ohio, 386 Virgin Mary sightings were reported in the 20th century.

Several worshipers at the hospital speculated Monday that the Virgin Mary came to the Boston area to offer solace from the sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the church here, but archdiocese spokesman Father Christopher Coyne said it was too soon to comment on the legitimacy of the image or its possible implications.

Church policy permits local bishops to verify apparitions of the Virgin Mary.

Jim Murphy of Weymouth, Mass., said the image required no authentication.

"It's very obvious," he said, pointing at the window.

His wife, Maureen, added: "I just think that the Blessed Mother is here to warn us, to tell us to turn back to our faith, to turn back to humanity.... She is here to make us think."

But for some patients and hospital administrators, the figure was causing more congestion than contemplation. Schepici said the hospital had to add extra security to accommodate more than 1,000 people Sunday.

"Right now we are just trying to manage the crowds and make sure the patients have access to the hospital," she said.

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