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Group says Jesus is where Mary was

Shepherds of Christ Ministries hopes the image of Jesus on a glass window draws a crowd like the image of the Virgin Mary did.

By EILEEN SCHULTE
Published July 18, 2004


CLEARWATER - To the faithful, Jesus first appeared in a photo of the multicolor Virgin Mary image at Drew Street and U.S. 19 on Feb. 5, 2001.

Albeit fuzzy, Christ seemed to peer out from her womb - contained in the two glass panels at the bottom of the building next door to Pelican Car Wash.

When the upper portion of the Virgin's face was destroyed by a teenage vandal in March, believers say the face of Christ started to become more clearly defined, his features unmistakable.

"He's appearing to tell us how much he loves us," said Rosie Reed, site leader for Shepherds of Christ Ministries, the organization that owns the building. "People are not listening to the message to pray the rosary and to give our hearts and homes to Jesus every day."

But why now?

"Since her face is gone, we have to focus on Jesus," Reed said. "Mary always leads us to Jesus."

Indeed, said Linda Garza of San Antonio, Texas, who was visiting the image with her 16-year-old daughter Brittany and other family members, "She did her part."

In fact, said John Weickert, president of Shepherds of Christ Ministries, "The purpose of her being there was to lead people to Jesus."

So although believers are still praying hard that Mary will reappear on the clear window panes that were installed in March at a cost of $1,200, they have a renewed confidence that maybe it doesn't matter after all. Even though they hope she returns, they believe her job to lead believers to her son is now finished.

"God allowed (the vandalism) to happen," Reed said. "He could have stopped it."

The figure is coming into focus at an opportune time. Where there was once a crowd of people gazing at the Virgin image, now there are just a handful of visitors on any given day.

"The crowds are down," Reed said. "We still owe $1,300,000 on the building. We need more people to come."

Shepherds of Christ maintains 24-hour security.

Reed said, "Everybody can see him at night."

And now that the presumed likeness is becoming sharper, more and more people can see him during the day, too.

But you have to stand in the right place to see him at all.

Reed said the best vantage point is the first row of plastic chairs, standing with one's back toward U.S. 19.

His eye is a dark blue mark at the top right of the bottom left pane. The window divider is his nose. The palm frond is his mouth.

When a reporter pointed out that she was having difficulty making out Christ's features, Reed said, "Not everybody can see him."

"When the wind is blowing the palm tree, it's even harder," she said.

One afternoon last week, Milagros Rodriquez and her mother, Carmen, visited the image.

"I came at nighttime and I saw the face of Jesus," said Rodriquez, wiping tears from her eyes. "I also saw baby Jesus in the arms of Mary. I see the face of Mary even when she's not here."

She said she cries standing on that parking lot because "When you come here, you feel that peace."

Unlike Rodriquez, Francis and Rose Flanagan of St. Petersburg could not see Jesus that afternoon.

"We have a picture of the image at home," said Rose Flanagan. "I just see Him in pictures."

Said her husband: "I believe He's here."

- Eileen Schulte can be reached at 727 445-4153 or schulte@sptimes.com

[Last modified July 17, 2004, 23:37:26]


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