Hundreds lined up outside a Westchester chapel Friday to see it for themselves: the silhouette of the Holy Family projected mysteriously onto a white tapestry.
”It gave me goose bumps,” Samuel Rosario said as he left the chapel at St. Brendan Catholic Church, cellphone in hand. “I had to come and see it. It’s a miracle.”
Since first appearing late Wednesday, the shadow at St. Brendan has drawn long lines. Parents clutching rosaries and camcorders. Schoolchildren in their uniforms. The aged. Worshipers from as far away as the Keys.
Officials at the church won’t say whether they believe the Virgin Mary has appeared, but they’re thrilled by the turnout.
”What the people see, that’s up to their interpretation,” said Father Fernando Heria of St. Brendan, at 8725 SW 32nd St. “What’s important is the awakening in people’s hearts. Thousands of people have come through the doors of our little chapel. As a priest, what more can I ask for?”
The shadows are cast inside the church’s Adoration Chapel, where worshipers are praying 24 hours a day. Inside, three pews and a kneeler face a small altar, upon which a white cloth has been draped. Atop the altar, a monstrance holds a Eucharistic Host. A candle burning in a glass vase and two overhead lights illuminate the display.
Parishioners say the sacred image first appeared late Wednesday. Those present that evening said there was a flash of light. Afterward, they noticed the candle casting an unusual shadow on the white cloth over the altar.
To them and many others, it unmistakenly forms the silhouette of the Holy Family — Joseph and the Virgin Mary standing over the baby Jesus.
It’s not clear what’s causing the silhouette.
”You really can’t tell where it’s coming from,” said visitor Joanna Hernandez. “There’s no way to explain it.”
Before long, word spread.
By Thursday evening, dozens had assembled outside the chapel hoping to catch a glimpse. The line stretched from the door out into the parking lot, maybe 100 feet away, parishioners said. Some people waited as long as two hours to see it.
”I’m in disbelief that something like this would happen in our community,” said Dailin Barca., who was there alone to see the image. “You hear about these things all the time, but they don’t happen at your church.”
This isn’t the first time people have believed they spotted the Virgin Mary in South Florida. People have claimed to see the image in a variety of places, including an office building in Clearwater and a grilled cheese sandwich in Hollywood — the sandwich sold for $28,000.
Still, reported sightings are rare, said Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado, a religious studies professor at the University of Miami. In the past two decades, fewer than a dozen have been recognized by officials in the Vatican.
”We live in a country that is governed by scientific thought and reason,” Gonzalez Maldonado said. “We don’t easily embrace miracles. So events like these are really a testimony to a community’s relationship with God.”
The Archdiocese of Miami did not return phone calls seeking comment.
But in cases like these, Gonzalez Maldonado said, archdiocese officials will sometimes investigate. If necessary, the investigators forward their findings to the U.S. Conference of Bishops, then to the Vatican for official recognition — or not.
`I SEE HER’
In the meantime, the faithful are flocking to St. Brendan.
Inside the dimly lit chapel, dozens were moved to tears Friday. Scores snapped photos with cellphones and digital cameras. One older woman fell to her knees and prayed.
”La veo! La veo!” — I see her! — she exclaimed.
Magdi Castaneda said she, too, was overcome with emotion.
”My eyes watered as soon as I walked in and saw it,” she said. “It was a lot clearer than I expected it to be.”
Outside St. Brendan, Ivonne Bandin embraced her friend Anny Comesan~a.
”It was very peaceful,” Bandin said. “It’s a reminder that we’re not alone.”