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It’s no miracle, church decides of Milton Madonna

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The Patriot Ledger

The Boston Roman Catholic Archdiocese has concluded that the Milton Madonna, an image in a Milton Hospital window, is not a miraculous appearance of the Virgin Mary.

‘‘You cannot preclude natural causes as an explanation of the image,’’ the Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said yesterday.

For the image to be considered a miracle by the church, he said, earthly origins such as condensation must be ruled out.

‘‘A miracle by its very nature means that it cannot be naturally explained,’’ the Rev. Coyne said.

He said the church has completed its investigation of the image, which has brought thousands of the faithful and the curious to the hospital grounds over the past six weeks.

It can take years for the church to rule that something is a miracle. Apparitions of the Virgin Mary to three children at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917 were not officially ruled to be miracles until 1930. Since 1900, fewer than 10 reported sightings of the Virgin Mary have received church validation out of tens of thousands of claims.

The window silhouette was first noticed on June 10. About two weeks ago, flecks of green, blue, yellow and red appeared throughout the image, further fueling the faith of window regulars.

The Rev. Coyne said that although the image is not a miracle by definition, the archdiocese will not adopt an official position on the exact origin of the image, ‘‘nor do we expect to in the future.’’

Church doctrine requires a miracle to be an observable event that lacks a scientific explanation, facilitates healing or good and conveys a religious message. In 1978, the church codified the proper protocol for investigating apparitions.

Traditionally, the Vatican does not get involved in proclaiming miracles, leaving investigations up to local church officials. Bishops determine if an investigation is warranted, and then form a team of experts usually consisting of doctors, the pastor of the closest church and someone with a science background.

The church has a tradition of skepticism in dealing with alleged apparitions, most of which tend to be images of the Virgin Mary, said the Rev. Johann Roten, director of the Marian Library at the University of Dayton.

A church declaration would come in a statement that the Rev. Roten called ‘‘a theological negative,’’ and it would not even use the term ‘‘miracle.’’ A validation would say, ‘‘There’s nothing that bars us from believing in the supernatural nature of the event.’’

The first documented claim of a religious apparition came in A.D. 275 , the Rev. Roten said. The most recent authentication by the Roman Catholic Church came less than a year ago, in the case of a woman who claimed to receive a message of peace from the Virgin Mary in Amsterdam in 1948.

The Rev. Roten said the Boston Archdiocese did not engage in a full-scale investigation of the Milton window, but more ‘‘looked into the matter.’’

The Rev. Coyne did not comment on the church’s specific fact-finding attempts. Investigations in general have proved difficult because there is no way to reach the window from inside. In the rear of the ophthalmology clinic at a medical office building, the window is covered by drywall that blocks the light and frustrates further study, but which also eliminates any possibility of a hoax.

Window-gazing crowds have subsided to local viewers and regulars, and the hospital still has no plans to change the 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. viewing hours, spokeswoman Susan Schepici said.

Yesterday at 5:30, about 50 visitors peered at the window, even amid forecasts of a downpour. Some said they disapproved of the church’s position, but hoped for future investigations to reach a different conclusion.

‘‘That’s not condensation,’’ said Deirdre Cimeno, 32, of Dedham. ‘‘How could they think that’s condensation? Really.’’

Others said they felt the miracle is so obvious that the church’s findings were irrelevant.

‘‘They can say whatever they want, but I just think they don’t want anybody making fun of the church,’’ said Anna Cuilla, 74, of South Boston.

Ciulla said the definition of a church miracle should not take into account the origin of the symbol, but rather what it means for people.

‘‘I believe there’s condensation,’’ she said on her fourth trip to the window last night. ‘‘But condensation has appeared on my windows and it didn’t look like the Madonna.’’

A few skeptics said they agreed with the church’s determination.

‘‘I don’t believe it’s a miracle,’’ said Ciulla’s friend, Ellie Selvitelle, 71, of South Boston. ‘‘It doesn’t look like anything to me.’’

Randolph resident Jim Clark said authenticating the image as a miracle would bring people much-needed hope.

‘‘Who’s to say it is and who’s to say it isn’t?’’ he said. ‘‘This world can use as many miracles as it can get these days.’’

The Patriot Ledger

Copyright 2003 The Patriot Ledger

Transmitted Wednesday, July 23, 2003

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