In July 1972, newspapers around the world reported on the weeping of the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima in New Orleans, Louisiana. The story first broke in The Catholic Herald, a diocesan paper, with a stunning picture of the statue in tears.
Many statues and images of Our Lady have allegedly wept in the past. However, none seem to have garnered as much attention as this one. This case caught the world’s attention. Indeed, as could be expected, dozens of Catholic publications ran the story later. It also attracted the attention of secular newspapers and even those in non-Catholic areas of the country.
Why was it so different from others? The answer is undoubtedly the countenance of Our Lady as portrayed by the statue. The face is very appealing. Her expression appears to change without physically moving. Her tears form so delicately. She coveys a noble manner of crying. The picture says more than a thousand words.
A Brief History of the Statue
The statue that wept was commissioned by John Haffert, a co-founder of the Blue Army. It was the second of several “pilgrim” statues sent out from the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal.
The first one was sent out in May of 1947 and mainly traveled in Europe for many years. This second pilgrim statue, now known as the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue, was commissioned, finished and blessed in October 1947. It never stopped traveling the world and has become the most traveled statue in history.
The Best Resemblance
In Fr. Thomas McGlynn’s book, Vision of Fatima, the priest told how he, as a sculptor, worked together with Sister Lucy, the last surviving seer who saw Our Lady at Fatima, to make a statue that would best resemble what she saw. Up to that point, Sister Lucy found no representation of Our Lady at Fatima that pleased her. So, together they hoped to work to make a statue that would come close. Sadly, Sister Lucy found Fr. McGlynn’s efforts lacking since he could not replicate the beauty of Our Lady’s face. So the priest passed on Sr. Lucy’s observations to Jose Thedim, who is considered the official sculptor of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal.
He, in turn, implemented all her suggestions and, according to Mr. Haffert, worked on the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue with great fervour. When she saw the final version, she said it was the best resemblance she had ever seen. A pamphlet published by the Blue Army in the nineties tells how Sister Lucy spent the night praying before the statue and commented that she felt the same presence of Our Lady.
Hundreds of Newspapers Worldwide
Thus, the statue that cried in New Orleans was not just any statue but a famous representation that traveled the world. For this reason, Catholic journals covered the story in many dioceses. More than 25 of them have digital archives viewable online. Hundreds of secular papers in America and Canada published the report too, which are also available online.
Some write-up headlines were skeptical, while others were favourable. The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote, “Tears Welled up In Fatima Statue, Priest Declares.” The Naples Daily News of Florida wrote, “Pilgrim Statue of Fatima Reported Moisture In Its Eyes.” The News Journal of Wilmington, Delaware, wrote, “Pilgrim Statue of Fatima Seen Weeping Tears In New Orleans.” And The Los Angeles Times reported: “Fatima Relic, Statue of Madonna Wept Priest Says.” A quick search on Newspapers.com of “Fatima,” “weeping,” and “1972” yields about 200 verified hits.
The Atlanta Constitution Article
While most published the Associated Press wire story, The Atlanta Constitution sent its reporter and photographer to witness the weeping personally and capture it on film. The paper cannot be accused of favourable bias since it catered to predominantly Baptist and Methodist readers. Its account tells how the “sample of the tears was taken to the city’s (New Orleans) Charity Hospital for analysis” and proved to be “of human element.”
It presented opposing opinions. For example, Dr. James Rice, a “wood technologist” at the University of Georgia’s School of Forest Resources, said, “Cedar, when dried, has a low moisture content as any wood. I would be skeptical of any Catholic phenomenon which was verified in New Orleans.” Jerry Psenka, a spokesman from Southern Forest Institute, offered a differing opinion: “As best we can determine, Cedar [of which the statue is made] is a solid, compact, dense wood. When it is dried, it loses very little moisture, indicating it had very little to begin with.”
The Atlanta Constitution’s article begins with a curious statement: “If eyewitness accounts are to be believed, the four-foot wooden statue of Fatima does ‘cry.’ But no one seems to know why.”
The Stunning Picture Sweeps a Brazilian Leader Off His Feet
On 21 July 1972, a Brazilian Catholic leader, Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, was overwhelmed by the picture. He is considered one of Our Lady of Fatima’s greatest promoters. Through the movement he inspired, he is responsible for tens of millions of pictures, devotionals, rosaries and books related to Fatima.
Prof. Plinio presented his impressions of the weeping to members of the Brazilian Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property.
Paraphrasing heavily, this is what he said about this most stunning picture: Moisture is visible on the glass eyes. The tears pool on her bottom eyelid. Some tears seem to have poured down her cheeks, leaving a trail of wetness. There is one teardrop on the tip of her nose and another on her chin.
Some individuals, who cannot take much suffering, cry with unchecked sorrow. This statue is different. If there was a way to weep nobly, this is what it would look like. Even the nose, Prof. Plinio noted, had a noble character. Her mouth is slightly open as if about to say something. However, she seems to stop short of speaking and instead uses her eyes to communicate. And, what a gaze! All at once, it is maternal and serious, sad and smiling, inviting and reproachful, sorrowful and consoling. By some mysterious play of light, shadow, and angles, one can find a universe of expressions on her face, each one seemingly tailored to the recipient.
As for why Our Lady cried, Prof. Plinio said it was obviously because of the sins of mankind, the loss of souls, the punishment visiting humanity in the form of suffering, and, above all, because Mary’s Immaculate Heart is injured by humanity’s sins that offend God.
Why Does She Attract?
The whole world seemed drawn to this face because it is full of maternal goodness. However, the tears shock the viewer. It is an extreme type of sadness that does not belong on such a sympathetic face. While the picture captured only a moment, it conveys the idea that she was weeping copiously.
The picture gives the impression of a “desperate” appeal. There is a certain pleading in her eyes that seems directed to all men of goodwill. Through her gaze, she asks: “My children, look deep into my eyes, and let me look deeply into yours. Have I not given everything for you, even my only Son? Despite everything my Son did for mankind, do you not see the sins that offend Him. Do you not see the tragedy happening around the world? Will you not do what is right and fight for the Catholic cause? Will you not fight for me?
These and so many other thoughts are contained in her face. As Prof. Plinio put it, “I know no other countenance equal to this one.”
So, it is up to you, dear reader. See for yourself why this picture moved the world. And, if you see why, will you heed her message?
– by Rex Teodosio