Virgin Mary shrine at tree stump gets permanent shelter

PASSAIC, N.J. – Drivers zooming by a highway overpass may only see a tree stump, but hundreds of Roman Catholics who believe they see an image of the Virgin Mary there consider it worth a pilgrimage.

Now, the site is getting a permanent shelter to replace the plywood lean-to that the city dismantled two months ago.

Passaic cited safety concerns after the makeshift roof collapsed amid prayer candles, flowers and rosary beads.

The stump was to be moved to a nearby church, but a group of business owners of Mexican heritage from New Jersey and New York raised money for a permanent shrine, which has a devoted following of Mexican and Polish immigrants, the Herald News of West Paterson reported in Tuesday’s newspapers.

“It was just time that the Mexican community came together as one to focus on helping the community,” Maria DeDios, treasurer of the newly formed United Mexican Chamber of Commerce, told the newspaper. “The shrine has brought us together and it shows what unity can do.”

One volunteer worker, Laurencio Barrios, a native of Mexico who lives in Passaic, smoothed mortar on bricks at the site on Monday.

“I’m taking extra care, because it’s for the Virgin,” he said.

Work is to be done by Dec. 12, the holy day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a manifestation of the Virgin Mary who is the patron saint of Mexico.

Landscaper Jaime Delgado, who is overseeing construction, said he has secured permits for work on the land from the city and the state Department of Transportation.

DOT spokeswoman Erin Phalon on Tuesday said no permit was issued and that the structure is not on state land. She said that if it was on state property it would be considered a “roadside memorial” and would be removed if it posed a risk to safety.

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