Beneath a tent on the lawn of Hoa Nguyen’s Baton Rouge home, a small congregation has appeared.
Since July 5, when a statue of Mary holding the infant Jesus appeared to bleed from her temple, faithful Catholics have come day and night to pray the rosary, sing Vietnamese and English hymns and wait for a miracle.
The statue and the faithful who assemble each day have attracted attention from local and national news media, appearing on CNN and The Huffington Post — an online news site — since the story spread via Internet social media and religious blog sites.
“If God is trying to say something to us, I want to come here for prayers for our country and church and so I can hear God talking to us,” said Tricia Parsons, a Catholic from Ascension Parish who has visited the site multiple times and written about it on her blog, http://www.HolyMotherChurch.org.
Two weeks ago Hai Nguyen, the homeowner’s father, was working in the yard when he saw the red running from the statue’s temple, said Manh Bui, a nephew who has spent every night there since the occurrence. Hai Nguyen showed his wife, Hoa Doan, who began calling relatives and friends to come see.
“They believed what they saw, but they were surprised to see a miracle,” Bui said.
They took pictures of what appeared to be blood running from Mary’s head and posted them on Facebook. Friends from their home church, Saint Anthony of Padua, came to pray all night. They covered the statue with an umbrella to protect her from the elements.
On July 6, the Mary statue appeared to weep, Bui said.
“I believe, but I did not believe until I saw it with my own eyes,” he said.
Three days later both Mary and the infant Jesus seemed to be smiling, Bui said.
“It was a miracle,” said Tuyen Pham, a friend of family who was one of the first to be called to see the sight. “I could say nothing, just stand there and look at it.”
Each night cars line the curbs on Broadmoor Circle near the intersection of Airline Highway and Goodwood Boulevard as dozens of faithful come to say the rosary. During the day a few faithful wait and pray or sing.
As pilgrims arrived, they brought two tents for the yard and folding chairs. Someone brought a prie-dieu kneeler so congregants could kneel on a padded surface and pray. Flowers, especially lilies, surround the statue.
On Monday a small group of Vietnamese Catholics sang hymns from photocopied sheets of music. Some were Vietnamese songs, one was “Ave Maria.” While singing, one woman fainted in sight of the statue and was fanned by her friends.
Some of the visitors are hoping to see a miracle, while some are curiosity seekers. Others are “testing Mary,” searching for proof of her miraculous nature, said Michael Pasquier, assistant professor of American religious history at LSU.
The Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge has not been asked to investigate the occurrence and will not comment on the statue, said Donna Carville, spokeswoman for the diocese.
“The Church always encourages prayer and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. At the same time, the Church proceeds cautiously with claims like this,” Carville wrote in an email to The Advocate.
Such a response is typical from the church, Pasquier said. Proof of miracles is “hard to come by,” and the church often does not want to discourage lay persons’ beliefs, he said.
“More often than not, devotions to Mary are lay-driven,” Pasquier said. “They begin from the grass roots of a popular devotion to Mary and a popular belief in a miracle. The Catholic Church as an institution is very rarely going to jump on the bandwagon and authenticate something like this.”
Such “apparently supernatural events” happen fairly often, Pasquier said, with apparitions of Mary occurring in Ohio and Florida this year.
The most well-known apparitions have remained popular with Catholic pilgrims over centuries, with visitors traveling to view shrines to Our Lady of Lourdes in France or Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. The Nguyens’ statue memorializes Our Lady of La Vang, where Mary is believed by many to have appeared to persecuted Christians in Vietnam.
“It’s unlikely that this statue of Mary will become known as Our Lady of Baton Rouge in the same way that people recall Our Lady of Guadalupe or Our Lady of Lourdes,” Pasquier said, “but that doesn’t mean it won’t be an important spiritual event for some people in the Baton Rouge area.”
Bui said he knows many people are skeptical that the statue holds any supernatural meaning. “We expect people to say that. They need to see it with their own eyes,” he said.
He is not asking people to believe anything, he said. Instead he is welcoming people who will believe.
There will always be people who ask whether the statue oozes actual blood or tears, Pasquier said. But this occurrence also sheds light on the faith of Catholics in south Louisiana.
“Is it real in the sense that people believe it? Yes,” Pasquier said. “Is it real in the sense that this is actually human blood? Probably not.”
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