ENSENADA, Mexico, – Mexico’s Catholic Church Monday ruled out any divine origin for an image on a hospital wall that thousands of pilgrims are flocking to venerate in the belief that it shows the country’s patron saint.
The shadowy figure, which the faithful say depicts the Virgin of Guadalupe, appears every night when a light is switched on in the patio of a clinic in the Pacific resort of Ensenada.
But Flor Guzman, a spokeswoman for the Tijuana Diocese in which Ensenada falls, said the church did not believe the image was miraculous although it was pleased at the devotion of the pilgrims.
“The church is quite clear that it is not a miracle, but a natural phenomenon that serves to strengthen the faith of the believers,” she told Reuters. The image, which appears to be a shadow, was first reported to hospital authorities on April 19.
“The Catholic Church is not going to report the phenomenon to the Vatican for a thorough analysis because it does not have a supernatural explanation,” Guzman said.
The Virgin of Guadalupe has been venerated by successive generations of devout Mexicans since she is said to have first appeared to a shepherd in 1531. She is generally depicted in a gown fringed by rays of light.
Among those flocking to Ensenada are pilgrims with chronic illnesses, some of whom claim to have received miraculous cures.
“I was being treated at the clinic for an asthma attack, but when I came outside to see the Virgin, I stopped wheezing,” grandmother Maria Esther Valderrama, 66, said Sunday night.
“It was definitely a miracle,” she added.
Staff at the cottage hospital – known simply as social security clinic No. 32 – say up to 1,000 pilgrims keep a vigil at weekends.
They transform the clinic’s courtyard into a shrine of devotional candles, flower garlands and printed prayer slips.
Mother of three Maria Hernandez murmured a prayer and crossed herself as the electric light blinked to life, casting a shadowy green outline on the hospital wall.
“I believe in the Virgin with all my heart, and seeing her fills me with indescribable joy,” she stammered as she gazed up at the three-foot-high image.
Set two blocks back from a port popular with towering cruise ships, the hospital has drawn pilgrims from the nearby cities of Tijuana and Mexicali, and from as far away as San Diego across the border in southern California.