There's Something About Mary
By Nick Gerlich

Is it just a freaky combination of outdoor elements, or has the Virgin Mary revealed herself on the glass wall of a Clearwater FL office building? It doesn't matter...the faithful have made a shrine of the place, complete with altars, candles, and even a PA system broadcasting the holy message.

The Virgin has appeared on this building for several Christmases (as well as throughout the year). What was once an office building housing the Ugly Duck car rental company has now become "The Virgin Mary Building," complete with a gift shop (the building is located on US Rt 19 just north of Drew Road). The southern exposure, on which the Virgin resides, is now viewable from a cordoned area of the parking lot. Inside the fenced-in area are chairs, religious artifacts, and an information booth. A large crucifix is under construction, presently under wraps until its completion.

To the faithful, the appearance of the Virgin is a sign of her unceasing presence. To the skeptical, it's just another case of mistaken identity.

A quick walk around the building reveals there to be similar streaks on all of the building's windows, although none are in any recognizable shape or pattern. The streaks are essentially a greasy build-up on the windows, caused by the nearby (and plentiful) palm trees. But don't count on anyone cleaning that southern window any time soon.

The Virgin has spawned a large non-profit ministry now headquartered in the building. A flyer in their information packet outlined their financial needs as well as business objectives. With plans to buy the building outright, they hope to stock their gift shop with prayer manuals, message books, mass books, and other items of interest to Roman Catholics. Shepherds of Christ Ministries, the caretaker of the site, even claims that since July 8, 1998, Mary, Jesus, and the Heavenly Father have been providing daily messages for everyone to heed. (As a service to the public, they've published these messages on their web site.)

While it is not our province to ridicule people for their beliefs, it is our province to be skeptical and to demand evidence. Finding faces on a greasy window is a lot like looking for faces in the clouds--a highly subjective game, but amusing nonetheless. That the greasy streaks faintly resemble the Virgin's familiar outline, is merely coincidental. That many choose to believe it is a sign, is a choice made with religious conviction.

I, however, am not convinced. It appears that faith has been confused with fantasy. The following limerick captures the essence of the event:

Mary, Mary, quite contrary
How did your image bless us?
Start with a glassy view,
add some palm tree residue,
and the imagination of the masses.