`Image' seen giving occasion to pray
By Jamie Francisco
Tribune staff reporter
Published April 26, 2005
Fresh from his whirlwind visit to Rome, Chicago's Cardinal Francis George on Monday offered his thoughts about an event closer to home: a stained underpass many locals believe is an image of the Virgin Mary.
"God has many ways to stir up devotion in people's hearts," George said at a news conference. "It's a purely natural phenomenon. If it's helpful in reminding people of the Virgin Mary's care for us and love for us, that's wonderful."
In response to a question about the image at the Fullerton Avenue underpass off the Kennedy Expressway, George said strong believers of the Catholic faith can find signs from their everyday lives that reinforce their beliefs.
George just returned from Rome where he attended the funeral of Pope John Paul II and participated in the conclave that selected Pope Benedict XVI. He said he had not seen images of the stain and did not have plans to visit the underpass.
"If you think I should go, I guess I should," he said. "Are there crowds there?"
He was also careful to not call the stain a miracle but said any occasion that encourages people to pray is wonderful.
"What's miraculous about it is people see images in clouds and they're there," he said. "I haven't seen a picture of it or anything, but it reminds people of something they know and love. If you didn't love the Virgin Mary, you probably wouldn't see her image there."
At the Fullerton underpass Monday evening, some 75 people filtered in and out of a makeshift altar, where people had left bunches of roses and candles. People took turns approaching the stain, touching it and making the sign of the cross. Dozens of visitors held out cell phones, snapping pictures and examining the image.
North Side resident Octaviano Cendejas has visited the stain three times. Initially, he did not believe, but once he saw the picture of the stain captured on a cellular phone, he said he recognized the face of the Blessed Mother.
"It's a way that she's showing us she's everywhere," said Cendejas, 37, who has a tattoo of the Virgin Mary on his back. "What she's showing us, I don't know. I think the cardinal should look at it because it's serious."
The image is evidence that the Virgin Mary is watching over her believers, and her appearance will encourage youth to believe in the church, said Tim Donovan of Logan Square. He visited for the first time with family members and to show the image to his goddaughter.
He agreed the image has given believers a renewed sense of faith and inspiration to pray.
"I can see a face that's looking up," he said. "I think what's remarkable about it is that stain on the wall has brought a lot of people out to pray."
His goddaughter Jordan Donovan-Schager, 10, said she also saw an image of a praying Virgin Mary.
"I thought it was something that was supposed to bring people together and make them have hope," she said.
People from all over the city have made the pilgrimage to the image, said Teresa Diaz, 77, of the North Side.
"Everyday, there's a group of people coming and going," Diaz said. "If you believe in this, they will come. That's why they come.
Supposedly there's a police barricade and a shitload of candles there now! They've turned it into a shrine!