Bleeding Crucifix Marshall, Alaska
April 17, 2004 - Reported in the [news-miner.com]. Written by Mary Beth Smetzer. Faithful flock to 'bleeding' crucifix. Catholic Bishop Donald Kettler is taking a cautious wait-and-see approach regarding reports of a crucifix with a bleeding Christ figure at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in the lower Yukon River village of Marshall.
Some faithful in the isolated Central Yup'ik village of 360 are hailing the inexplicable occurrence, which was first noticed during a midnight Easter vigil service, as a wake-up call if not an outright miracle. The statue reportedly leaks blood from classic stigmata points of the crucified Christ. Soon after Kettler was informed of the controversial crucifix, he sent an unidentified diocesan delegate to Marshall to investigate.
Friday, Kettler sent a letter to each of the 48 parishes throughout the sprawling Fairbanks diocese, saying a diocese representative visited the village "and this person reports (along with other members of the village) that they could not tell if anything did or did not happen. "I will continue to gather information and will proceed slowly, carefully and prayerfully,"
Kettler said when events of this nature surface, the church proceeds carefully. "If people's faith grows in light of these reports, and they feel themselves growing in faith, I don't object to that," he said. But, Kettler added, "I am not suggesting some kind of devotion to this crucifix be promoted at this time." Clara Shorty, parish administrator at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, said she was busy during the Easter vigil service and didn't notice any change in the statue.
It wasn't until she was helping clean up after a post-service gathering that another church member told her and a priest visiting from Philadelphia that there was a change in the crucifix. "We all went up to look at it," Shorty said in a telephone interview. "It did seem to me the colors were more vivid and the bruised colors more vivid. "But there was no dripping," she said. "There were more blood spatters on the loin cloth. There were blood spatters before, but you could tell there was a difference."
Shorty said the church is locked at night but has remained open all week during the day as villagers and people from communities upriver and downriver from Marshall have journeyed over on snowmachines or chartered airplanes to get a look for themselves. Shorty said she worries about snowmachiners traveling the river this time of year. "It's starting to get dangerous," she said. "It's been raining at Marshall." A spokesman for Hageland Aviation Service in nearby St. Marys said the company flew several charter flights over to Marshall this week for people who wanted to see the statue. Friday, a charter of nine from Emmonak arrived on the same mission.
Shorty said she has prayed in front of the controversial crucifix ever since she was a young girl. She doesn't recall anything remarkable about it. The only noticeable recent difference from then to now are a few chipped edges she said probably occurred during the move into the new church building, which was dedicated in late 1997. This past week Shorty said she has scrutinized the crucifix daily. "Sometimes when I go up there, there is a little difference--seems like there is another streak (of red)," Shorty said. "Yesterday, to me, it looked like it was getting back to its normal state." Marshall resident Maureen Fitka-Larson, who belongs to the local Russian Orthodox church, also has been visiting Immaculate Heart daily to pray and watch the statue.
"You wouldn't see it dripping or anything, but over a period of time," Fitka-Larson said. "You go up and check it the next day, you notice." As church caretaker, Shorty said she has had to say no to people who want to wipe the crucifix with a cloth to see if there is blood, to see if it could heal. "People are going to take pictures. And I do encourage them to pray because it is a church, and I asked them not to touch because it is a church," she said.
At the request of parishioners, the Rev. Max Isaac of the village Russian Orthodox church, went to view the Catholic crucifix. He didn't get too close, he said, "but between Sunday and (Wednesday), I did notice that even more color was evident." The village is "a melting pot of emotions" over the crucifix, Isaac said. "There are some people who are scared, some people are glad. I can only say we've had an increase of telephone calls from many different villages throughout Alaska and in this region."
Isaac and Fitka-Larson rejected the possibility that someone in the village might be doctoring the statue so it appears to bleed. Nobody, out of respect, would go into the church and do this," Fitka-Larson said. The positive side to the church's sudden notoriety, said Shorty, is the influx of people who have never been in church before. "They say it kind of woke them up from their sleep from their faith," Shorty said. "Before this happened attendance in both Russian Orthodox and Catholic Church had dwindled, and I have seen more crime and drug and alcohol abuse here. "This is a strong message from our creator that we need to adhere to his commandments because we are slowly and steadily moving away from practicing our faith," she said. Fitka-Larson said she has accepted the miracle and believes the blood is a message from Jesus. "I think in his own way he is trying to tell us something--to go to church more, to pray more, to love more," she said.
[Visit] the Diocese of Fairbanks Marshall - Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church section.