Friday, October 2, 2009

Hondurans Turn to Virgin Statue for a Miracle

Article from The Wall Street Journal online October 2, 2009 At 3 Inches Tall, La Morenita Casts a Big Shadow in Honduran Crisis When All Else Fails, Nation Turns To the Virgin of Suyapa for a Miracle By NICHOLAS CASEY SUYAPA, Honduras -- In the past three months, a slew of Latin American presidents, foreign ministers, ambassadors and even a Nobel Peace Prize winner, have failed to find a solution to the political standoff that has split Honduras. Now, many despairing Hondurans say, may be time for a little divine intervention. So every day, more and more Hondurans are calling on the Virgin of Suyapa, a 3-inch statuette of the Virgin Mary, made of dark wood and nicknamed La Morenita, or the Little Dark One, for help. Over the centuries, La Morenita, which was found on a hillside in 1747 and now makes its home at a small whitewashed colonial church near the capital, has been credited with sundry miracles, from curing kidney stones to ending a brief war. "I've asked her to intervene," said Abad Zelaya, 42 years old, a pharmacist and no relation to ousted President Manuel Zelaya, who has been holed up in the Brazilian embassy for more than a week since he sneaked back into Tegucigalpa. Mr. Zelaya's ouster three months ago has led many countries, including the U.S., to suspend aid to one of the hemisphere's poorest countries. "The Virgin can perform this miracle," said Gustavo Sauceda, a teacher waiting in a long line to pray to the Virgin, the patroness of Honduras and its armed forces. "She has resolved some of our people's largest problems in the past, and she can fix what's happening now." Mr. Zelaya is still in the Brazilian Embassy, alternating calls for dialogue and popular insurrection and sounding increasingly erratic. Last week he accused unnamed Israeli mercenaries of bombarding his refuge with high-frequency radiation. A short drive from the embassy, interim President Roberto Micheletti says that if Mr. Zelaya steps out of the haven he will be arrested and sent to jail while he faces charges of treason. If anyone can put Honduras back on the right path, believers think, La Morenita is the one to do it. Over the centuries, she is said to have cured the blind and made cripples walk. It is said that she appeared in white robes to aid Honduran soldiers during a bloody conflict. The challenge now is to get Mr. Zelaya and his foe, Mr. Micheletti, to settle their political differences. The political crisis began in June when Mr. Zelaya, a mustachioed, Stetson-wearing leftist nicknamed "Commander Cowboy," pushed for a national referendum that his critics say was a bid to stay in power past the legal limits. The country's Supreme Court said the poll was unconstitutional and sent the army with a warrant to arrest Mr. Zelaya. In the wee hours of June 28, soldiers rousted Mr. Zelaya from bed at gunpoint and put him on a plane to Costa Rica in his pajamas. Honduras has been in an uproar ever since. The tensions that have split the country have even sent tremors into this quiet, 18th-century sanctuary. Early on, Honduras's Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez, who had taught Mr. Zelaya as a teenager, went on television to tell him not to come back to Honduras. Doing so, the cardinal said, would risk causing a bloodbath. The cardinal's admonition didn't sit well with Mr. Zelaya's supporters. Since then, Father Víctor Ruiz, the pastor of the Virgin's church, said he has received four death threats. The statue was initially squirreled away. Last week, shortly after Mr. Zelaya's return, an angry mob of his supporters who call themselves La Resistencia stormed the square in front of the church, clashing with police. Shots were fired, but no one was injured. "Another miracle of the patroness," said Hilda Díaz, the church secretary. Legend has it that the statuette was discovered one February morning in 1747 by a laborer named Alejandro Colindres who was out clearing a corn field the day before. But darkness fell suddenly, and the farm worker went to sleep by the side of the road. When he rolled over, there was something poking at his side. Half asleep, he threw the object into the night -- only to find it poking at him yet again in the morning. It was the tiny statue of La Morenita. Her first supposed miracle took place in 1768, when Capt. José de Zelaya, perhaps an ancestor of the ousted president, was suddenly relieved of incurable kidney stones. Grateful, the captain had a church built to house the Virgin. Pilgrims -- some saying the Virgin had visited them in the night -- arrived from across the land. More miracles were reported. By the 20th century, the Virgin of Suyapa was Honduras's most loved symbol. Songs were written to her, daughters named after her. In 1969, La Morenita was even given the battlefield commission "Captain of the Armed Forces" when Honduras went to war with neighboring El Salvador after violence broke out in the stands in a World Cup qualifying match. The brief, bloody war took four days and cost 2,000 lives. A draw, it went down in history as the "Soccer War." "We were outnumbered," said Ms. Díaz. "But the patroness appeared in a white gown to our soldiers, guiding them along, giving them food and water." The pastor chimed in with an anecdote of his own. It was last February, and a family of three from near the Guatemalan border made the grueling journey across the mountains to visit the figurine. But the church had already closed that day. When he returned, "the church doors were open and they were all inside praying to her," said the priest who insists it was none other than the Virgin who let the pilgrims in. "I had locked the door myself." Last Sunday, parishioners gathered for the first Sunday mass since Mr. Zelaya's surprise return to the country. Two policemen on motorcycles circled the basilica, their rifles pointing toward the heavens. Inside, the church was overflowing with worshipers. Many stood before the altar, waving framed portraits of the Virgin as an assistant sprinkled holy water. Father Ruiz led the services, dressed in long white robes and a green cloak. "With all of the uncertainty now in the country, we beg for your help," he said. Honduras, Father Ruiz whispered, is like the baby held by King Solomon, in danger of being split in two by its current president and its ousted one. "Maybe the Virgin should be president. She is only 6 centimeters tall, but she has greatness," said the priest, gazing out the window of the church.
The story of the "Dear Dark One" - the Virgin Suyapa Check out comparable statues (although I do not know how large or small any of these Goddess-Virgin Mary statues are) and their legends:

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