Virgin
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In search of a holy image

At a recent Our Lady of the Rock gathering in the desert near California City in Kern County, Elaido Chavez takes a Polaroid photo of the sun in hopes of seeing an image of the Virgin Mary. The ceremony takes place on the 13th of every month. About 1,000 people attended the April gathering. (Brent Foster / Los Angeles Times)
Believers march in a procession at April’s Our Lady of the Rock gathering. The gatherings have been going on for nearly 20 years, ever since Maria Paula Acuña, formerly of Pacoima, said the Virgin Mary appeared to her while her daughter was sick with leukemia, curing her. Acuña spends time greeting and blessing visitors at each ceremony. (Brent Foster / Los Angeles Times)
Maria Paula Acuña reaches out to bless a child as hundreds gather April 13 in the Mojave Desert near California City to attend her religious ceremony. She has been conducting the monthly Our Lady of the Rock gatherings for nearly 20 years. (Brent Foster / Los Angeles Times)
Maria Paula Acuña blesses a baby at April’s Our Lady of the Rock gathering. (Brent Foster / Los Angeles Times)
Maria Paula Acuña blesses Cynthia Muro, 21, and leads her through an exercise at April’s Our Lady of the Rock gathering in the Mojave Desert. Acuña told Muro’s family that the young woman has a nerve problem and needs physical therapy. (Brent Foster / Los Angeles Times)
Jesus Gellmo, left, looks at a Polaroid with his family at last month’s Our Lady of the Rock gathering. Many followers take photos of the sun at the gathering in hopes of seeing a holy image. (Brent Foster / Los Angeles Times)
Maria Paula Acuña, holding rosary, leads a prayer at last month’s Our Lady of the Rock ceremony. Followers believe that the Virgin Mary appears to Acuña at the Mojave Desert site on the 13th of every month. (Brent Foster / Los Angeles Times)
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