From the Back Pew: Finding miracles within miracles

So-called miracles and apparitions seem to be a dime a dozen, popping up all over the world in some way, shape or form — from the appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe on a grilled cheese sandwich, to an appearance of Jesus Christ on an oil stain on a garage floor.

A movie was even made about it in 2008, "Henry Poole Is Here," starring Luke Wilson, that focused on the protagonist's acceptance that miracles may just be possible — in the form of a stain shaped like Jesus on the side of his garage.

Whenever I hear stories about grilled cheese and oil stains, I can't help but roll my eyes. But a story about a local statue "weeping" piqued my interest as a reporter because I wanted to chronicle the family's reaction to this event. As a person of faith? Not so much. I take comfort in the lessons I've been taught that the best kind of faith is the kind you need not see to believe. It's the greatest mystery of our faith.

As such, many questions raced through my mind as I drove toward the home of Anahid Sallakian on a quiet street in Glendale.

But the one thing that I was itching to ask her was, "Is this a hoax?"

Sallakian is the owner of a roughly foot-tall statue of the Virgin Mary. Late on July 19, while Sallakian was reciting her daily prayers to Mary, the figurine began to secrete oil from its porcelain skin.

When I arrived at her house, Sallakian seemed to be suffering from borderline exhaustion after receiving visitors all day, fielding similar questions. I knew I had to approach the question tactfully, lest I get kicked out of her house for being rude. (We faithful can sometimes be sensitive!) Nevertheless, I wanted to take a peek at what could be the first event of its kind in Glendale.

So I asked her: "What would you say to people who believe that this could be a hoax?"

"I don't say nothing," Sallakian said. "If you don't believe, I'm not sending you an invitation to come and see."

What she means is that she's not forcing anyone to come view her statue, although she has received at her home believers and nonbelievers alike.

The statue, Sallakian says, was given to her by her sister-in-law after a visit to Our Lady of Harissa Church in Beirut, Lebanon, about a decade ago.

She explained to me the details of what transpired the evening the supposed miracle began: She saw a tiny star on the statue's shoulder, and then the statue began secreting oil, and its tiny fingers slowly moved. Such was the outpouring of oil the first few days that a bowl had to be placed underneath the statue to collect the overflow.

Oil flowed for eight days. Why eight? I asked her. Does eight have a significant meaning for you?

"No," she said.

Then I asked her, "Why you? Why this statue?"

"Miracle," she said. And with that, she set the theme to an event her family, friends, visitors and media have been privy to for the past two weeks.

"It sounds foolish to believe it," said Sallakian's son, Harout. "But you have to see it to believe it."

OK, then, I thought, as I stood up to look at the statue. Come on, Mary, I thought. Move your fingers for me. Do something. Anything.

Nothing happened.

I figured as much. And that's just fine with me.

Call it a hoax, an apparition, a miracle or whatever you want. For Sallakian, the experience has made her enter into a deeper level of prayer, has brought her family closer, and has allowed her to open her house to total strangers, an act Jesus, throughout scripture, encourages the faithful to do.

And that is a beautiful thing. Maybe that's the real miracle.

"She just did this to show people, to make people to have more belief, to have faith," said Sallakian's daughter, Linda. "To keep them out of the wrong track."

Linda, however, did leave me with some haunting words.

This miracle ,she says, is a sign that Mary has something to show the people, all of which will be revealed in due time.

"Right now, we're waiting for an answer," Linda said.

MICHAEL J. ARVIZU writes for the La Cañada Valley Sun. Reach him at (818) 637-3263, or e-mail

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