By Helena Rodriguez: Local columnist
We’re not supposed to argue about religion, or so we’re told. But the Virgin Mary has become a very arguable figure in Biblical history, with many alleged apparitions and unexplained events surrounding her.
The Virgin Mary — or Our Lady of Guadalupe, as we Latinos call her — holds a very special place in my heart. I look forward every year to the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12. It has become a tradition for my daughter Laura and I to awake before sunrise for Las Mañanitas de la Virgin, which are being held at 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday at St. Helen’s Catholic Church in Portales and at 6 a.m. at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Clovis.
Pope Pius XII declared Our Lady of Guadalupe to be the Patroness of the Americas and our beloved Pope John Paul II credited her with saving his life during an assassination attempt in 1981 when a bullet aimed for his chest was intercepted by a miraculous Marion medal. Over the years, there have been wacky stories and “Marion sightings” across the globe. People have reported seeing images of Our Lady of Guadalupe on everything from tortillas to trees. But what we don’t hear about are true stories of miracles and conversions.
In 1985, a U.S. journalist, Wayne Weible, went to Medjugorje, Yugoslavia, where apparitions of the Virgin Mary are reportedly still occurring. Weible went with the intention of disapproving the accounts. He came back a believer and wrote a book, “The Message.” Another pessimist, Tim Staples, debated with a priest about the Virgin Mary and soon became a believer. Today Staples is an expert on the subject. Weible reports in his book that a U.S. news crew who went to cover Medjugorje also came back true believers.
Some people like the look of the Virgin Mary icon, which has become somewhat of a fashion statement on T-shirts, belts, bags and such. Others like the look of the rosary and use the giant wooden decades of beads to adorn their armoires. But there is much more to this image, which has been shrouded in mystery since it first appeared on the tilma of a poor indigenous Indian, Juan Diego, in 1531 on the mountain of Tepeyac near Mexico City.
Scientists cannot explain the origins of the famous tilma, which has an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe miraculously etched on it. Experts say the cactus fiber material should have disintegrated centuries ago. They also cannot explain why a bomb, which was placed beneath the image in a vase of flowers in 1921, caused great damage to the nearby altar but did nothing to the image.
In 1929, a photographer, Alfonso Marcue, was the first to note and document an apparent reflected image of a man’s head in the right eye of the Virgin Mary image on the tilma. In 1962, Dr. Charles Wahlig, O.D., announced the discovery of two images apparently reflected in the eyes of the Virgin when studying a photograph enlarged 25 times.
After being examined by many other experts, Dr. Jose Aste-Tonsmann announced in 1979 the finding of at least four human figures apparently reflected in both eyes of the Virgin. Tosmann used sophisticated image processing techniques with digitized photographs of both eyes. According to reports, the images reflected in the eyes are consistent with the way images are reflected in a normal human eye.
Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code” book and movie sparked a new round of Marion debates last year, but all the controversy was eventually pointless as people were reminded, in spite of the great media spectacle, that Brown’s book was purely fiction. As for the alleged apparitions of the Virgin Mary, they remain to be scientifically proven. In the meantime, however, stories of miracles, healings and life-changing experiences continue to pour out of places like Medjugorje.
As for me, I believe!
Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at: