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Pilgrimage in Oxnard : Hundreds Drawn to Image on Apartment Window

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hundreds of Christians, some devout and others merely curious, shuffled through a small south Oxnard apartment on Tuesday to kiss and pray to the image of the Virgin Mary they say appeared on a dirty kitchen window.

The pilgrimages to the silhouette began Monday after Marty Vaca told two neighbors that she saw the icon in a rounded spray of dirt blown through her screen onto the glass by the weekend rain.

Since then, worshipers have trampled her lawn to mud, covered a white-draped table outside the window with flowers and candles and trooped respectfully into her kitchen to touch theimage.

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Smiling, she welcomed them into her home.

“It looks a lot better in here, and they want to touch it--it makes them feel good,” said Vaca, a 42-year-old homemaker and mother of three. “It’s just dirt that blew in like that and stopped. What fascinates everybody is it’s shaped like that. . . . It’s more than just dirt in the window.”

Twice before in previous winters she wiped a similar shape off the window, thinking nothing of it, Vaca said.

“This year, when I saw it, I said, ‘Oh my goodness, it’s the Virgin Mary,’ ” she said. Now, she plans to attend church more often.

“We don’t know what it means,” said Maclobio Vaca, 67, almost shouting to be heard in his daughter’s living room over devotees who sang Spanish hymns in loud voices left ragged by crying.

“Our family has been having problems,” said the elder Vaca, beginning to weep himself. “Brothers and sisters were fighting. To me, this is bringing our family together.”

Marty Vaca’s estranged husband, John Cortez, said he wants to patch things up with his wife because the image gave him chills the first time he saw it.

“All of a sudden, I saw an image of her eyes, and it looked like she was crying,” said Cortez, smiling occasionally at Vaca. “I’m going to change. . . . I’m going to be more of a father to my kids.”

“Why us?” he asked. “Why out of all the apartments, us?. . . . It’s a miracle of God. It’s telling us to wake up, I guess. Wake up and smell the coffee.”

Visitors also saw it as a message to repent--particularly in the Oxnard area, where six people have been slain in the past two weeks.

“With all the killings we’ve had . . . I think it could be a sign for all of us to change, to be good,” said Carmen Cabral, 43.

Cabral said she does not consider herself devout, yet she stood with her 8-year-old granddaughter, Guadalupe, in the Vacas’ back yard, joining the long, quiet line of those waiting to get inside.

“I was looking at it, and I felt something,” she said. “But I’m not sure what.”

Inside, some held young children up to kiss the glass. Others touched the outline and made the sign of the cross over sons and daughters too young to understand.

Maria Diaz and Maria Sanchez joined friends singing--at top volume--the Spanish hymn “The Virgin of Guadalupe--Goodbye, Queen of Heaven.”

“The Virgin is very sad because we don’t get ourselves to church,” Diaz said later. “The Virgin wants us all to be united as a family and pray the rosary, because the end of the world is coming close and we all need to get together.”

Church representatives have balked at visiting the Perkins Road apartment near Jane Court, saying they do not want to give credence to something that might not be a sign from God.

“We haven’t checked it,” said Father Albert Polt of the nearby Mary Star of the Sea Church. “It could be that it is not genuine, and we don’t want to attract people, because there’s so many people there now that you can hardly drive there.

“We figure if it’s genuine, we’ll get called,” he added, but by whom, he could not say.

“I think it has a lot to do with faith,” said Kathy Perkins, 50, a friend of the Vacas.

“I was born and raised Catholic, and if this is what it portends to be, it’s the closest I could ever get to a sighting of the Virgin Mary,” she said, smiling at the image and the steady parade of worshipers. “You can hear the faith of the people outside that are praying and singing.”

Neighbors seemed not to mind the fuss.

“It doesn’t bother them, they think it’s nice,” Clara Jimenez said of her Spanish-speaking relatives who live next to the Vacas.

Vaca said, “This is making us true believers.”

As night fell and a nearly full moon rose Tuesday, the crowd outside swelled to several hundred, and police had cordoned off the street to control traffic.

While teen-age girls thrust long-stemmed roses at the shape to trace its outlines with the blossoms, others passed Polaroids from hand to hand to compare the photographic image with the real one.

Late Tuesday evening, Vaca said the calm was broken briefly when gunshots were heard coming from a house down the block, about four or five doors down. “Everyone just stayed where they were, it didn’t seem like anyone was afraid,” Vaca said.

Police said two people suffered minor wounds, but no details were available on a motive for the shooting. The shooting apparently did not involve the crowds flocking to see the window.

Earlier Tuesday, Vaca was considering closing the door for good by mid-evening and letting the faithful view the window from the outside today.


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