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Thousands Return To Chicago Church To View ‘Weeping’ Icon

September 15, 1988

CHICAGO (AP) _ Costandini Cosma says her eyesight was so poor she could hardly see, before the Virgin Mary began ″weeping″ at St. Nicholas Albanian Orthodox Church. Now, her eyes feel much better.

″I believe,″ the 74-year-old parishoner said Wednesday.

She believes the icon that appears to be shedding tears rewards those who have faith. And like thousands of others, she has stood in line for hours to get a look at what St. Nicholas’ pastor calls a ″phenomenon, a miraculous sign.″

It’s the second time the icon shows wet streaks under the eyes. The first time started in December 1986 and lasted seven months, attracting millions to the small, 17-pew church on Chicago’s Northwest Side.

Last week, a man who entered the church to pray spotted the streaks.

″We had just finished a prayer service and I was in the banquet hall,″ said the Rev. Philip Koufos, the pastor. ″He came running in saying he saw something strange in the eyes.

″We feel very blessed,″ said Koufos. ″The mother of God is saying ’I’m still with you.‴

The church is open only three days a week, and despite the interest in the icon, Koufos says he has no plans to extend the hours as he did in 1987.

So at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, the line starts at the altar rail and snakes to the back of church, through the vestibule and into the adjacent banquet hall.

When the viewer gets to the rail, the icon hangs about 10 feet away behind a plexiglass shield. An usher helps visitors get the best angle to see what Koufos calls the ″trickles of tears.″

After a few seconds, another viewer steps up.

″People sometimes go around a number of times,″ Koufos said. ″Some stay in the church for hours.

″They come for all sorts of reasons,″ he added. ″Some come looking for consolation, contrition, out of curiosity - for every possible reason. Some are looking for cures.″

The queue has parents carrying children, people toting Bibles and the devout clutching basil leaves, an Albanian Orthodox practice. All bear a desire to witness what most consider a bizarre yet pious mystery.

″I believe it,″ said Eleanor Chiczewski of Elmwood Park. ″I need help. I came here hoping she could help me. I’m Roman Catholic but it’s God, Jesus and Mary; it’s all the same.″

Patricia Slove, 22, of Chicago considers the tears a miracle.

″When I came here I saw a streak,″ she said. ″On TV I saw a stream of water. Maybe she was crying harder then. It’s a mystery to me. Why is there glass in front of her? Is it for reflection? You can’t study it. They move you right along.″

Dorothy Duke of Niagara, Wis., stopped at the church while visiting her sister.

″Not for any deep faith experience,″ Ms. Duke, 54, explained. ″But I had hoped to feel a little different. Maybe I’ll come back.″

A collection basket is kept at the rear of church and all donations go to the poor, Koufos said. Many people drop dollar bills at the altar rail after viewing the icon.

In 1987, when the tears lasted more than half the year, an archbishop of the Eastern Orthodox faith visited the church and pronounced the weeping an ″inexplicable sign″ of religious importance.

Koufos says the icon’s significance is mostly personal, determined by the people who pass through the church.

″I see miracles all the time on people’s faces. It’s beautiful,″ he said. ″I feel the mother of God is preparing us, strengthening us for something. It’s a very positive thing.″

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