Saturday, July 30, 2005

Heaven, Hell—or Hoboken?

It's not every day that a purported religious-statue miracle happens in my back yard, so I ventured to Jackson Street in Hoboken—which is literally the gateway to the city's housing projects—today to see the statue of Jesus that "opened" one eye (click the images link on that page—see also coverage in the Daily News and the Jersey Journal).

There were about 20 people gathered 'round when I was there, plus cars slowing down to take a look. I wouldn't call it a "carnival" atmosphere, as one newspaper reporter did. There were no hucksters and no call for money, other than the kind of wooden donation box that one sees at garden-variety Nativity scenes or other religious-sculpture displays—which is what this was, until its owner, Julio "Sly" Dones, experienced a "miracle" on or about last Thursday.

Dones is quoted in newspaper articles as saying that he was cleaning the statue he'd found in the trash a year ago of Jesus displaying His Sacred Heart, when it opened its right eye. The news reports also said that people have seen the statue move its head.

I didn't see anything out of the ordinary—but the statue does look eerie.

I prayed silently as I would in a church and tried to discern what, if anything, was going on, beyond people praying—most of them Hispanic women—and Dones standing by exhorting onlookers to prayer. He had made a hand-lettered sign which said something like, "If this gives you hope, pray for the needy and yourself." He also said to anyone who would listen that he was not asking for money, only that people should pray and turn to God.

I didn't feel that anything was terribly wrong—other than the discomfiting sense that Dones's peaceful shrine could easily turn into a carnival if the forces of greed were allowed to take hold. But that was just my fear. The scene itself was prayerful and moving. It was as though the entrance to Hoboken's projects—the dividing line that separates the city's $400,000-plus condominiums from its crime and poverty-ridden ghetto—suddenly had an angel's foot wedged in the door.

I talked with Dones for a moment. He is very thin and appears to be blind in one eye. In fact, his eyes look not unlike those of his winking Jesus—the left one nearly closed, the right open. I thought about how one of the first Lourdes miracles was the healing of a blind man, and about how Jesus said he had come so that the blind may see and so that those who see may be made blind.

Dones pointed out to me (and, again, anyone who would listen) something that he thought was very important, which was missed by all the reporters: the image of a cross on the forehead of the Jesus statue, above the right eye. Dones said he discovered it while cleaning the statue, at the same time as he discovered the open eye.

It's an interesting-looking cross—you can see it in the photos at the first two links above. I looked it up online and it's called by some a Bottony Cross, but it probably goes by other names as well. I'd be interested to know from Catholics whether it is a cross commonly used in the Church. (I do notice from a Web search that it is part of Cardinal McCarrick's coat of arms.)

I left the statue with a feeling of having been graced by something. I think it was Dones' faith. It's possible he might have imagined the "miracle" and that there might be a rational explanation for it, but I don't doubt his sincerity. He's reacting to his experience exactly the way that a person who has had a genuine encounter with the divine would react—by refraining from requesting material rewards and exhorting people to pray. (His reaction also matches the description that I just read in St. Teresa's Interior Castles of how one acts if they have had such an experience.) I'm praying for him, and—while I'm not convinced that the statue merits a cult—I pray that those who do visit it will be drawn closer to the Lord.

UPDATE: Here's the latest. It's funny how the press always acts surprised when the Church awaits further information in advance of a possible investigation. It's like they're expecting an immediate announcement from Rome: "It's a miracle!"