Some people walk past the tree in suburban New Jersey and see ... well, a tree. Others walk past it and see what they say is a miracle -- an image of the Virgin Mary in the trunk, which has become the centerpiece of a shrine rising on the hot pavement.
"It's amazing," Dile Marku, part of the throng surrounding the tree, told WABC, the local ABC affiliate, on Friday, after news of the wondrous piece of wood spread through the city of West New York. "I cannot explain because that's God's work, but I know how I feel and what I've seen people feeling here for three days. It's amazing. It is amazing."
The mayor of West New York, a city of about 49,000 people across the Hudson River from Midtown Manhattan, said he had received calls from around the world from people wanting to come and see the "miracle" for themselves. Mayor Felix Roque said the attention had led to a shrine so large that he wants to make it permanent, in hopes of drawing visitors to an avenue whose fast-food shops, nail salons and cellphone stores don't scream "vacation spot."
Dozens of people have been stopping at the tree, snapping pictures of the section of bark with a scar that they say perfectly mirrors the shape of images of the Virgin Mary. Police have set up metal barricades to protect the tree and the crowd, which has left a rising mound of flowers, candles, flags and religious icons.
Locals say the image appeared this week after a man was killed in a car crash in the area. Eva Copantitla, who lives in West New York, was the first to notice the image and alerted the mayor, the Jersey Journal reported.
“Most of the people believe it’s a miracle,” Copantitla said, echoing others' hopes that the image will give people faith.
But skeptics include a spokesman for the Newark, N.J., archdiocese, Jim Goodness, who told the Journal that the Virgin Mary image was probably "just some discoloration."
“But if it helps people to be stronger in their faith, then it is a good thing,” Goodness said. “I think it’s more natural to try to encounter God in church, not by expressing your faith to a tree.”
A tree isn't the strangest place believers have seen the Virgin Mary or Jesus. Not by a long shot.
In June 2011, a South Carolina couple reported that Jesus' image had appeared on their Walmart receipt. A Brisbane, Australia, pizza shop made headlines in March 2011 when it produced a three-cheese pizza that believers swore contained an image of Jesus' face.
And earlier this year, a New Mexico man claimed he had found an image of Jesus on a freshly-baked tortilla.
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