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Web posted Friday, January 14, 2000
1:34 p.m. CT

photo: texasnews


  A pane of broken glass protects a melted ice cream stain that some say they believe is the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe on a concrete slab in southwest Houston.
AP Photo

Faithful see Virgin of Guadalupe in spilled ice cream in Houston

The Associated Press

HOUSTON - They come from far and wide, clutching their rosaries and their cameras, jostling to peer through the afternoon heat at an improbable shrine.

Adoring visitors dropped wilting roses, a forest of supermarket candles and crude crosses on the concrete bed of a southwest Houston apartment complex.

In the midst of it all, they say, the Virgin of Guadalupe reveals herself to the faithful. In an amorphous stain of melted ice cream, ecstatic believers swear they can discern the form of the beloved Mexican idol.

Gloria Castro made her way to the front of the crowd, crossed herself and burst into tears.

"She knows that we need her," the 47-year-old Houston resident said in Spanish. "I had to see her. I had to pray to her."

Virginia Hernandez patted Castro's arm.

"But look, look how lovely," Castro murmured. "Even the colors are the same. She wants to bring us closer to God."

The ice cream is disintegrating fast, but somebody placed a glass pane over the smear and hemmed the makeshift frame with duct tape in the hopes of preserving the image.

To unfaithful eyes, the crusty smear looks about as earthshaking as, well, a melted Popsicle.

"I just let 'em in," yawned apartment manager Maria Cervantes. "If they want to believe it, it's fine with me."

Cervantes spent this week watching a thick stream of Catholics, cameramen and curious troop past her office.

The uproar began Monday, when residents picked out the brilliant robes of the Mexican saint in the sticky swirls at the foot of a soda machine. Word moved over the region faster than a thundercloud.

The apparition drew between 500 and 800 onlookers from as far away as Miami, Seattle and Canada, Cervantes said. Some stay at the shrine all night long, absorbed in meditation.

Our Lady of Guadalupe enjoyed centuries of adoration. Legend has it the olive-skinned Virgin Mary first appeared in Mexico to an Aztec Indian named Juan Diego in December 1531. Clerics say millions of polytheist Indians converted to Catholicism after the apparition.

Clustered in the Houston courtyard, old women bounce babies on their laps. Fathers shush their children, teens move their lips in silent prayer. A hand-scrawled poster, in Spanish and English, warns worshipers to lower their voices.

In her office, Cervantes is beginning to wonder when it will all end. Moreover, what will she do with the patch of concrete? Some of the faithful want the complex to construct a shrine on the site.

"I don't know what to do," Cervantes said with a sigh. "I'm just going to wait and see."


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