Jesus wept/Mysterious pictures draw flocks of pilgrims





Reported at [] on January 11, 1992 - They come from across Houston, across the nation, across religious boundaries. They come to the southwest Houston home of Tharwat and Nahed Ayoub to see Jesus weep. A corner of Nahed's former bedroom has become a mini-shrine. There devout pilgrims and the curious gaze at a dozen pictures of Jesus and the Virgin Mary which appear to shed thick, copious tears. The tears began Nov. 11, a Monday afternoon, Nahed Ayoub said, when she momentarily left her leukemia-stricken son, Isaac, resting in the bedroom. On one wall was a small portrait of Jesus, a gift she had received nine years ago from a friend.

Isaac, who turned 13 on Christmas Eve, said he was reaching for a tissue when he noticed that the eyes of Jesus of the picture followed him. He ran to his mother. "He was screaming and screaming," said Nahed Ayoub, co-owner of a downtown restaurant. "I tried to calm him down. He said the eyes of Jesus were moving. He said, "Don't go back to the room.' But I left him and I put my hand on the picture and my palm filled with the oily tears." The family was frightened by the heavy flow of tears, Tharwat Ayoub said. A veterinarian for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he works in Shreveport, La., and commutes to his Houston home on weekends.

A priest from [St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church], the family's church, examined the Jesus picture the following evening. He led prayers for several hours to assure that the feat was not the product of evil. "After the prayer, the tears were flowing even harder," Nahed Ayoub said. Since the tears began flowing, additional pictures have been sent to the Ayoubs by family and friends. Some were sent from Nahed Ayoub's native Egypt by people who asked that they be placed beside the original portrait of Jesus.

The pictures, which are typical devotional images, appear to exhibit tears flowing from around the faces of Jesus and Mary. The oily tears flow downward and appear to have produced stains on the wall. Some experts say Roman Catholic and Orthodox believers are more receptive to an anomaly of nature such as a weeping icon. Such an icon recently was stolen from a New York Greek Orthodox congregation and later returned -- minus its gold, jewel-encrusted frame. Weeping icons or pictures are not unusual among the Orthodox, said the Rev. Louis Christopulos of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Houston. The Western European-based Protestant tradition usually is more skeptical of such things, he said.

While he has not viewed the Ayoubs' pictures, he has seen other weeping icons. "Some people say the tearing is God's crying for the state of the world. Others say it is a deep compassion of God, either directly or through his saints, for us, his people." Nahed Ayoub believes the tears are God's affirmation of the family's faith that Isaac's leukemia would be cured. Isaac was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia early in 1989, according to his physician, Dr. Atef I. Rizkallah.

During the past three years he received periodic chemotherapy treatments at Texas Children's Hospital. Rizkallah says Isaac is in remission, a recovery he describes in a signed statement as a miracle. The Ayoubs do not devalue the importance of medical treatment, but believe God ultimately cured their son. Since the picture began weeping, it has been examined by a Coptic Orthodox bishop at the request of the Coptic Patriarch, Shenouda of Alexandria, Egypt. To certify its miraculous qualities, the picture was moved to St. Mark's Coptic Church at 424 Mulberry Lane in Bellaire this week.

Deacon Sam Ghattis said the picture continued to produce tears after it was installed in the church Monday evening. The transfer is not likely to dampen the enthusiasm of pilgrims visiting the Ayoub home to see the remaining weeping pictures. Despite the family's effort to limit viewing to Wednesday and Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons, people come daily. The Ayoubs prefer not to have their address published.

Nahed Ayoub estimates that 20,000 people have filed through her former bedroom in the past two months. She now sleeps on the living room floor. The crowds wait in long lines before being allowed to briefly view the pictures. The Rev. Isaac Soliman of St. Mark's Coptic Church tries to attend during the viewing hours and anoints pilgrims with oil collected from the pictures' tears. It has been mixed with olive oil, the family says, because the tears are too few for anointing so many visitors. The family accepts no donations. Its members are resigned to having no privacy because they believe the weeping pictures have a message for modern Americans.

"This is from God, telling us we have to go back to him," said Tharwat Ayoub. Mary Ethel Rafferty, a Roman Catholic who made a second trip to view the pictures, agreed. "I think it is God trying to show us that we have to mend our ways and listen to him," she said. Mark Jaroudi, a Muslim, came to view the pictures after a co-worker told him about them. Afterward, he said he was not disappointed, but would have liked more time to examine the pictures.

Many come to silently pray before the pictures or to petition God for a miracle. Enzy and Doris Iskendar of North Carolina brought their 9-year-old son, Kevin, asking God to cure the boy of cerebral palsy. The couple, members of St. Mary's Coptic Church in Raleigh, heard of the picture through their family. The Iskendars arrived New Year's Day and visited the Ayoub home daily through Tuesday. Kevin, wheelchair-bound and unable to speak, was anointed with the oily tears.

"We expect a big miracle," Enzy Iskendar said. "If it doesn't happen...well, at least we get the blessing."