A Catholic bishop in New Mexico says the “tears” flowing from a statue of the Virgin Mary that has attracted thousands of visitors are olive oil.
Church officials collected samples of the fluid seeping from the bronze statue at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Hobbs, the Las Cruces Sun News reports.
“And we determined it was olive oil, a scented olive oil,” Bishop Oscar Cantu of the Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces told the newspaper Friday, updating a church investigation that began two months ago when parishioners first noticed the statue “weeping.”
“Some of the witnesses claimed it smelled of roses, so something similar to the oil I bless and consecrate each year that we use for baptism, for confirmations and for ordination of the priests.”
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The bishop’s disclosure has incited jokes about “extra virgin” olive oil, which two ABC World News Now anchors trotted out on Tuesday.
Church investigators have not yet figured out where the substance is coming from, though the inside of the statue doesn’t appear to be the source.
“We examined the interior of the hollow statue,” Cantu told the Santa Fe New Mexican on Monday. “There’s nothing on the interior that’s not supposed to be there, except for cobwebs.”
Thousands of Catholics and non-Catholics, believers and skeptics from as far away as Italy have flocked to Hobbs in the southeast corner of the state since May.
So many people came to see the statue that the church began staying open day and night.
Some who made the pilgrimage have said they don’t need an official declaration from the church. They insist this is a miracle.
“This doesn’t happen in Hobbs. It happens around the world or somewhere else, around the country but not in Hobbs,” Judy Ronquillo, the church’s business manager, told KXAN in Austin.
Church member Laura Cisneros told the Sun News in May that she and her husband saw something different about the statue during a Sunday noon Mass. “I turned to my husband and asked him, ‘Does the Virgin Mary have tears?’” she told the newspaper.
Word spread so quickly during Mass that afterward, as the church’s pastor, the Rev. Jose “Pepe” Segura, greeted people outside someone told him, “Father, come quick, the Virgin Mary is crying,” Segura told the Sun News at the time..
“I walked inside and got closer and I asked, ‘Who got her wet?’ and they said, ‘No Father, she’s crying!’”
Segura told the Sun News he wiped the statue’s face twice and both times the tears reappeared.
“That’s when I saw that she really was crying,” the priest told the Sun News.. “I think it’s a reminder for all of us to get closer to God and to stop being violent and unite us. We need to be independent of the creed for our race, for our language and remember there is something more superior.”
The diocese launched an investigation right after that.
“We do try to take a healthy skepticism to things like this.,” deacon Jim Winder with the diocese told the Sun News in May. “The church is presented with all kinds of ‘miracles,’ so we don’t accept it at face value. We will investigate to rule out any chances of man-made causes or natural causes. We don’t want to jump to any conclusions.”
The diocese contacted the manufacturer of the sculpture in Mexico to see whether anything wet could have been left inside it while it was being made, Cantu told the New Mexican.
But even though wax was used to cast the bronze, the process is “so hot that all of the wax melts away,” the bishop sold the Santa Fe newspaper.
“But even if it were (a hoax), we are not sure how it would be done, physically, because it is hardened bronze,” Cantu said. “We’ve examined the interior, and there’s nothing on the interior.”
According to the Catholic News Agency, Cantu is being transferred to the diocese of San Jose, California, at the end of September, but plans to visit the statue, which he has not seen, before he leaves.
If the church deems that something supernatural is going on with the statue, the bishop told the New Mexican, it must also decide whether it stems from good or evil.
That call, he said, won’t be his.
“I’m checking best practices,” he told the Santa Fe newspaper. “Certainly, I have a final say, but I would defer to the wisdom of Pope Francis.”