WEST NEW YORK — Despite the heat this afternoon in West New York, dozens of people flocked to see the “Virgin Mary tree” near the corner of 60th Street and Bergenline Avenue.
Crowds of people surrounded the tree, which appears to carry the image of the Virgin Mary, all afternoon. Since the image was first discovered in the tree last week, a large shrine of candles and flowers has grown around the tree.
The tree has been cordoned off by the town’s police, along with a section of the street so passersby can stop and view the tree.
Today, a framed photo of the image was a new addition to the shrine, hanging from the tree during most of the early afternoon so passersby could see a larger image.
The image has touched off a worldwide craze, with outlets across the country and the world picking up the story of the “Virgin Mary tree.”
The media sensation has caused a local pilgrimage to the tree, so people can decide whether or not the image is truly the Virgin Mary.
Hoboken resident Maria Medina was one of the people who came to look at the tree, deciding to make the trip to see the tree after she saw it on the news over the weekend. A Catholic, her opinion was reserved on what the tree actually showed.
“I’m not really sure if it’s actually her,” she said.
Since the vigil first started last week, West New York police have placed an officer round the clock at the tree to safeguard it and the people viewing it.
The police aren’t the only 24-hour presence there, though: a group of volunteers has worked round-the-clock shifts at the shrine since it started last Tuesday.
Silvia Sinchi is one of those volunteers and was at the shrine on Monday.
“There are many of us who help keep up the shrine,” she said. “Some of us work all day to take care of it.”
Not everyone seems to be enthralled by the image, though. A jogger passing by, Michael Oquendo, incensed some of the crowd when he shouted that the vigil at the tree was “idolatry” and compared it to sins referenced in the bible like adultery.
He ended by saying “may a lightning bolt strike that tree down,” prompting cheers of “Amen” from the crowd as well as angry comments from some of the other onlookers.
Oquendo’s comments particularly annoyed two older men, who began shouting at him in Spanish; Oquendo said the men were shouting at him to keep running and “get out of here,” before one of them grabbed Oquendo’s hand and tried to push him away from the scene.
The exchange prompted the police officer stationed there to break up the shouting match. Oquendo said he was just commenting on the scene as he passed by.
“I was simply preaching the word in the Bible,” he said. “I respect other people’s faith and their right to their beliefs, but this is a little crazy.”
West New York Police Director Michael Indri said only one incident had been reported near the tree so far, a disorderly conduct arrest over the weekend.
Indri said the police officer stationed at the tree arrested an 18-year-old male after he began throwing things near the shrine and then became belligerent once the officer asked him to stop.
The all-day police presence may not last for long though; Indri previously said the town may have to pay overtime to officers stationed at the tree overnight.
That’s a practice resident Mario Garcia doesn’t see lasting long, despite the seemingly divine intervention that has occurred around the block from police headquarters.
“Once taxpayers get wind of it, that will probably stop,” he said.
Garcia also agreed with Oquendo’s comment on the vigil and its onlookers.
“I’m a hardcore Catholic, but I’m not going to pray to a tree,” he said. “All of the trees have the same thing. It’s just some discoloration.”
Local businesses aren’t too happy with the tree’s large following either.
“Business has died since this started,” Moshe Ferrnando said. “No one stops anymore.”
Ferrnando owns the T-Mobile shop directly behind the tree on Bergenline, which he said has had virtually no business since Wednesday, when the tree first made news.
He said police have given him no indication on how long the police barricades and the throngs of onlookers will be allowed to stay, but he hoped it wouldn’t be much longer.
“A priest already has said it’s not a miracle, and yet it’s the seventh day this has been going on,” he said.
The Star-Ledger – NJ.com