Some of you may have heard about the image of the Virgin Mary that popped up under a freeway overpass in Chicago this morning. What you may not have heard about is that I live only about a block away from that overpass. So after work today I wandered down with my digital camera to see for myself and try to document as much of the experience as I could for those of you who have never participated in your own viewing of a potentially holy image.
The pictures follow, but I'll tell you about the trip first. All afternoon there have been hundreds of people walking through my neighborhood. All heading for the overpass. As I fell in with them, I noticed that there were all sorts of people there. Lots of Latinos, some old Polish folks, young yuppies (like myself), all sorts of races ages, and family situations. Of course, there was also the hysterical evangelical shouting across the street about how "the truth wasn't in Mary, it wasn't in Buddha, it wasn't in Mo-Hammed, it's in JESUS!" And something about how we're all going to hell. Pretty standard stuff.
As I got closer, I couldn't really see anything. I was expecting something huge, but as I got inline I could see the top of the picture and it did look like a little face peeking out of a rain poncho. There was a wall of barricades set up about 4 feet in front of the image, and those who wanted to get close could wait in line to pass by it in a little "chute" between the barricades and the wall. While those who had less patience pushed up outside the barricades, held up their cameras and took pictures, and then hung out and talked with their friends or called them on cell phones.
As I got closer to the start of the chute there was a woman there taking signatures to keep IDOT (Illinois Dept Of Transportation for you out-staters) from power-washing the image. I signed. What the heck.
The ground in front of the image was covered in little votive candles, pictures, flowers, and at least one full-fledged Icon. Plus pictures of Pope John Paul II and such. I didn't have a lot of time to peruse the image, as they were trying to get folks through there pretty quick. But I got a few good pictures which I've posted below.
Here were my takeaways. First, people take this stuff really seriously. I didn't really get it until I saw parents of kids who were obviously cancer patients, people who were crippled, etc. go up and touch the image. Second, everyone was really well-mannered. There wasn't a single rude person, everyone said "excuse me" when they were trying to get through the line to leave. And once, when I sneezed (it being allergy season and all) I must've gotten about a dozen "bless you's". I figure they must be pretty powerful given that they were said right in front of the Virgin Mary.
Maybe I'll never sneeze again for the rest of my life. Cool.