Cloth relic from Mexico draws hundreds to pray at Basilica

Catholics believe cloak from 1531 was imprinted with Virgin Mary's image

August 11, 2003|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Miranda Pakulski wept as she left the small relic hanging from a chain around a statue of the Virgin Mary at the Basilica of the Assumption yesterday.

"I can't even begin to explain," said Pakulski, 26, of Highlandtown, who believes the Virgin Mary helped her recover from a chronic case of hives two years ago. "It's just so moving. It's a matter of faith."

Pakulski and about 400 others came to the Basilica yesterday to attend Mass and see the relic, a half-inch piece of cloth from a tilma, or cloak, that Roman Catholics believe was imprinted with Mary's image more than four centuries ago in Mexico.

The relic, which is on a seven-month Tilma of Tepeyac Tour of the United States, meant different things to the dozens of Catholics who waited in line after Mass to kneel before it. Some took photographs and were awed by the relic's history; many prayed for forgiveness or for relatives in poor health.

Charlotte and Michael Janssen brought two foster children to see and pray over the relic. They hoped it might help 13-year-old Gan as he battles scoliosis, mental disabilities and other severe ailments.

"It gave me a glow, maybe we can do something for this child yet," said Michael Janssen as he pushed Gan in a wheelchair.

The Janssens, who drove to Florida several years ago to see what some said was an image of the Virgin Mary in a bank window, also prayed that they might keep 8-month-old Christopher, also a foster child.

The relic dates to December 1531, when an Aztec peasant named Juan Diego passed Tepeyac Hill, in what is now a northern neighborhood of Mexico City, on his way to Mass.

According to Roman Catholic tradition, Diego suddenly heard birds singing and saw the Virgin Mary, who asked Diego to tell the local bishop to erect a church on the hill in her honor. The bishop told Diego that he doubted the claim and asked for a sign. Mary appeared to Diego again and told him to gather roses blooming on the hill and wrap them in his tilma.

When Diego opened his cloak for the bishop and others, they were not just surprised by the roses, which were growing in the middle of winter. The bishop and several witnesses dropped to their knees when they realized the cloak bore an image of the Virgin Mary.

The cloak with her image is enshrined in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Juan Diego was canonized last year.

The Los Angeles Archdiocese received the half-inch piece of cloak in 1941 after the city's archbishop led a pilgrimage to the shrine. The tour is being organized by the Apostolate for Holy Relics and is being co-sponsored by the Knights of Columbus Supreme Council in New Haven, Conn.

Andrew Walther, vice president of the Apostolate for Holy Relics, said the small piece of cloth has drawn hundreds of pilgrims throughout its tour. Noting that the cloak survived a bombing attempt in the 1920s and that its poor-quality fibers should have disintegrated years ago, Walther said, "It's sort of miraculous from beginning to end."

Yesterday, many said they visited the Basilica to soak in that history and feeling. "We may never get a chance to go to Mexico City," said Marie La Valle, 75, who traveled from Annapolis with a friend to see the relic. "This is a chance of a lifetime to see a relic and honor her."

A farewell Mass, where the relic will be on display, has been scheduled for 12:10 p.m. today at the Basilica.

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