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Thousands Visit Church Where Crucifix Closed Its Eyes

April 1, 1989 GMT

AMBRIDGE, Pa. (AP) _ The curious, the devout and the doubting Thomases are flocking by the hundreds to a Roman Catholic church to gaze upon a life-size crucifix, whose once-open eyes reportedly closed during a Good Friday service.

″I brought everyone who could fit in my car,″ said Evelyn Borrelli, 44, of Glassport, who drove about 40 miles with two children and five other adults to this Ohio River mill town on Friday.

″I wanted to be as close as I could be, and I wanted my children to experience it too. I truly believe it was a miracle,″ she said.

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Since Easter, when the Good Friday occurrence was reported in the media, more than 1,000 people from several states have been visiting the Holy Trinity Church each day, according to the Rev. Vincent Cvitkovic, the church pastor.

The parking lot has been continually full, and there’s a constant stream of traffic on the narrow, brick street in front of the white church 15 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.

A spokesman for Bishop Donald Wuerl, head the Roman Catholic diocese of Pittsburgh, said church officials are withholding judgment on the event until they can complete an investigation.

But many of the worshipers say that, miracle or not, they feel better after gazing at the luminescent statue suspended on a cross 15 feet above the altar.

″It’s touching. You feel cleansed,″ said Joanne Smallwood, 66, of nearby Aliquippa.

″I feel a little bit calmer within myself,″ said Louise Zbihley, 51, also of Aliquippa. ″It just made my faith a little bit stronger.″

The downcast eyes, which now appear as small slits that conceal the pupils, were about one-third open when the plaster crucifix was moved in January from a corner of the church where it hung at eye-level. It was suspended in a more prominent position in front of a modern stained-glass window depicting a resurrected Christ.

Cvitkovic said he often pointed out the crucifix to his congregation of 300 families, saying it was unusual in that it depicted a still-living Christ, with open eyes and mouth.

Domenic Leo of Beaver, an artist who helped restore the 58-year-old statue in January and had touched up the eyes with acrylic paint, confirmed the eyes were open when the crucifix was hung.

But during a three-hour prayer meeting on Good Friday, worshipers noticed the eyes had almost closed.

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Cvitkovic said it would be nearly impossible for someone to have tampered with the crucifix because the church is locked when services are not held.

″I don’t know how to explain it,″ said Don Otto of Coraopolis, who attended the Good Friday prayer meeting. ″It was like electricity running through you. It was an overwhelming experience. Tears came to me.″

A member of the Queen of Peace prayer group, which studies the Virgin Mary’s reported manifestations in the small Yugoslavian village of Medjugorje, claimed he then received a spiritual message while on his knees praying following the service.

Those who have come to Holy Trinity since the Good Friday event sit quietly, hands folded and eyes transfixed on the crucifix.

Some, like Clare Paonessa who brought her 4-year-old deaf daughter, seek religious healing.

″She can use all the help she can get through the Blessed Mother,″ said Mrs. Paonessa, of Sharpsburg.

Some people are clearly moved, breaking into tears, while others come only out of curiosity.

″I’m kind of skeptical,″ said Betsy O’Donnell, 50, of Pittsburgh. ″People want miracles because of all the unhappiness in the world.″