Thursday, June 26, 2003

That hospital windown in MA

And still, they come -- a quiet multitude of Hispanics, Asians, blacks and whites, young and old, a rare confluence of community in this ethnically tribal region. On Monday their cars backed up onto the street as the parking lot overflowed. Peach-colored roses, an angel twisted from gold and silver wire, and a clear plastic jug brimming with dollar bills leaned against the wall below the window. (So far, an estimated $4,000 in donations has been placed in a hospital account for safekeeping, Schepici says.) Some visitors sang "Ave Maria" and prayed the rosary. Others fiddled with video cameras and set up lawn chairs in the parking lot as they waited for the window to be revealed. One woman who has made the hospital a daily ritual claimed her neuropathy had been cured: "It's been a week, and I have no pain." A Russian Orthodox priest with poor eyesight compared the window to an icon, and 19 people who traveled that day by bus from Chinatown in New York, including a woman in her eighties, prayed for world peace.

After visiting his father in the hospital, Steve Perry, 48, looked up, scanned the crowd, shrugged and walked away. "I don't get it," he said, smiling. "I don't see anything except a dirty window."

But Barbara Cesanek, 52, needed no convincing as she peered through sunglasses at the whiteness above. "To me, it's definitely the Blessed Mother. If you follow her arms, you can see she's holding something, and it could be the baby Jesus, and she's standing on clouds," Cesanek said.

Among the believers there are differing opinions as to why here, and why now.Some say she came to warn away Milton Hospital -- which does not perform abortions -- from its recent clinical affiliation with a Boston area hospital that provides the procedure.

Others believe the clergy sexual abuse scandal in the Boston Archdiocese prompted her visit. Others, like Cesanek, say Mary came to warn Boston of an impending terrorist attack. It is not unusual for sightings of Mary, the holy intercessor, to coincide with periods of personal or national distress, such as a poor economy or war with Iraq, says University of Kansas professor Sandra Zimdars-Swarz, author of "Encountering Mary: Visions of Mary From La Salette to Medjugorje."

"In a way, they are crisis apparitions," she says. "The belief is that Mary is responding to some perceived need."

The scientific explanation for some people is pareidolia, or the human ability to see shapes or make pictures out of randomness. Think of the Rorschach inkblot test.

"People all the time see things, like a pattern in the clouds. Does it look like a ship, or a dolphin, or something else?" said Kevin Christopher, a spokesman for the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal in Amherst, N.Y. "It gets a little more attention if they see something of a religious nature."

Whatever the explanation, there is no sign of interest in Milton Hospital abating soon. Word spread this week that someone had spotted a cross in the soot of the hospital chimney.

Reminds me of the Clearwater sightings a few years back.