Silvia Sinchi and Eva Copantitla sat opposite of each other on the inside of a police barrier set up around what for years has been a simple, small tree outside of the West New York McDonald’s on Bergenline Avenue and 60th Street.
Between them were hundreds of elaborate flower arrangements and votive candles, photos and letters, and a large framed and adorned image of La Virgen de Guadalupe (Mexico’s version of the Virgin Mary).
It was early Tuesday morning, so the crowd near the tree was smaller than usual. It had grown exponentially since a week earlier when Copantitla discovered an apparent image of the Virgin in the middle of the tree’s trunk. Just about every major media group in the Tri-State area and a few nationwide picked up the story, and the crowds grew larger.
“Here I think many people need her.” – Silvia Sinchi
Ever since Sinchi visited the tree the day after it was discovered, the North Bergen resident has walked to and from the site daily. A few nights ago, despite her son’s protest that she had not been sleeping enough, she decided to spend the night in vigil in the rain.
“I am not tired. I am full of energy,” she said as locals and visitors of every age, denomination, and religious affiliation passed what by now is a destination for those seeking strength and a few extra blessings. “I wanted to sit by her all night, and even though it rained and I was wearing white, my clothes dried in no time at all. Everyone else had umbrellas, but I had her.”
Tuesday morning, West New York resident Geraldine Radiano walked to the railing with an iced coffee in one hand and a rosary in the other. After a few prayers, she explained she had come to visit the Virgin every morning before she went to work at 10:30.
“It’s a miracle,” Radiano said. “You should see her at night. If you look closely, you can see that she glows blue.”
History of healing
Sinchi explained how her sister was a breast cancer survivor, but two weeks ago she wasn’t feeling well again and found it difficult to walk. She told her sister to pray to Madre Santisima (another colloquial name for the Virgin Mary) before the tree was found and when her sister began to feel better, Sinchi said it was an example of the healing powers of faith.
During one of her long vigils by the tree, Sinchi spoke with a woman who had moved to the area from Mexico. Her father was still in her home country, and was very sick. Sinchi asked her to bring her father’s picture to the tree, and she held hands with the woman.
“Open your mind,” Sinchi told her, and they prayed together. Later the woman returned saying “La Madre Santisima hace un milagro!” (“The Virgin Mary has performed a miracle!”) and reported that her father had gotten out of bed and planned to go back to work soon.
When it was suggested that perhaps Sinchi may have healing powers of her own, she became a bit shy.
“I don’t really talk about it much,” she said. “I’ve had many dreams and things happen like this but many people tell me maybe there’s something wrong in my mind. But it’s okay if they think this way. I accept it.”
She said the appearance of the virgin can bring people together for a good cause during a time that, she said, is quite difficult for many.
“Here I think many people need her,” Sinchi said. “Every single person I know – some with faith, and some without faith – but still, she is for everyone. She is love.”
Local resident Stephanie, 11, came to visit the tree on Monday, and returned the next day with her 9-year-old sister Evelyn to see what she had seen. They were accompanied by their mother, who raised her children Catholic.
“People come here to get blessed, and I believe it’s real,” Stephanie said. “Things like this happen all over the world, like in Columbia it happened already. My mom thinks it’s a sign, like she’s here to help us.”
“We’re having some family problems right now, and maybe she will help,” Evelyn said, and proudly displayed the new necklace of the Virgin she was given for her birthday on July 14.
Evelyn then turned to Copantitla and asked for a flower. Before her request was granted, Copantitla said a prayer, waved the flower around the image on the tree, and gave it back to her.
As the three walked away, the mother had tears in her eyes.
Costing police overtime
“We’re trying to respect people’s faith and beliefs,” West New York Police Director Michael Indri said Tuesday afternoon, “But it’s our job to be aware of the safety and concerns of local people and businesses.”
He reported that the numbers of visitors was beginning to dwindle, and the police worked overtime last weekend to accommodate the crowds.
As for how long the police barriers will stay up, he said, the department and the town will make that decision together.
“We’ll try to see how this thing plays out,” Indri said, “But we can’t afford to take officers off the streets on weekends for much longer.”
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org