Statue of Virgin Mary with glittering eyes draws crowds

CAMPBELL, Ohio (AP) - A statue of the Virgin Mary at a Roman Catholic church in this Youngstown suburb has attracted hundreds of onlookers at all hours because the eyes and a heart appear to glow.
Two women first noticed the glittering eyes of the statue on the bell tower at St. Joseph the Provider Church on Aug. 4.
Since then crowds have gotten so big that police placed orange pylons along the curb in front of the church to keep one side of the road clear for emergency vehicles, Police Chief Gus Sarigianopoulos said.
The church's pastor, the Rev. Michael Swierz, said there's a simple explanation for the statue's glow. He said gold leaf was put on the statue's eyes, heart and halo in the 1970s.
For whatever reason -- heavy rains that washed away dirt or some chemical reaction -- the eyes and heart are glowing more brightly, he said.
"The miracle is down on the ground really -- that people are hungry to grow closer to the Lord," Swierz said Wednesday.
Many onlookers carry cameras or peer through binoculars, while others make the sign of the cross and pray.
Parishioner Rocky Yeropoli, who has lived across the street from the church since 1974, said he remembers the statue being painted with gold leaf about 30 years ago but doesn't recall ever seeing it glow the way it has the past few nights.
"It's strange. Last night, she just had a glow to her," he said.
The statue attracted a crowd of about 200 Tuesday night, Swierz said.
People have been gathering to pray for a variety of things. Some who are ill have come with their oxygen tanks to pray for good health.
"I prayed for everyone to have peace of mind and good health," said Betty Tobias of Youngstown. "It touches me and a lot of others. It's a beautiful vision."
"It reinforces your faith. It's a pretty obvious sign," said her daughter, Barb Malizia of Youngstown.
Swierz said they won't turn anybody away from coming to look at the statue or entering the church to pray.
"We believe that through ordinary ways the Lord leads us to look at our lives and change -- uses things that we can understand," Swierz said.
Monsignor Robert Siffrin, vicar general of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Youngstown, agreed.
"Anything in the course of our daily life that challenges people to think about their own life, their relationship to God and their faith is a good reminder," Siffrin said.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)