Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Catholic Women Startled by Experience at Retreat Jesus' Image Reported Seen at Mandarin Church

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Catholic Women Startled by Experience at Retreat Jesus' Image Reported Seen at Mandarin Church

Article excerpt

As a Catholic, Denise Wassmer believes the consecrated flour-and-water wafer that serves as the host in Holy Communion is the body of Christ.

Even so, the 30-year-old Jacksonville woman was unprepared for what she saw Nov. 6 at St. Joseph's Chapel in Mandarin.

While praying in private devotion during a weekend retreat for women, Wassmer said she saw a shadowy silhouette of Jesus in the off-white colored host on display.

"I saw him on his knees looking up to heaven and praying," she said.

Dozens of parishioners saw an image of Christ in the host that Saturday, said the Rev. Bernard Ahern, associate pastor of St. Joseph's Catholic Church, who also witnessed the apparition.

Wassmer said she rubbed her eyes in disbelief then looked up again at the candlelit altar, where the host is displayed on a ceremonial stand.

This time she saw an image of Jesus' head and shoulders.

Ahern was reluctant to comment on the incident. Both he and the Rev. Daniel Cody, pastor of St. Joseph's, wanted to avoid the sensationalism and attention that accounts of such appearances bring. Cody declined to discuss what he saw.

Ahern, however, offered a description.

"It wasn't like a black-and-white photo," said Ahern. Rather the image appeared as portions of the host darkened slightly to reveal an outline of the head and shoulders of a bearded man that Ahern understood to be Jesus.

The image, not visible to all of those who entered the chapel, disappeared by the following day, Ahern said.

Most of those interviewed recounted seeing Jesus' head and shoulders, though the level of detail varied. Some said they saw features -- ears, eyes, mouth; others glimpsed a less distinctive silhouette.

Neither the priests nor other laypeople who saw the apparition used the word "miracle" to describe what they saw. But witnesses recalled Cody moving devotional candles to see if the image resulted from a light effect on the altar.

Neither Cody nor Ahern could remember a similar incident occurring in their parish. Nor could officials in the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine, which oversees all parishes in Northeast Florida, said spokeswoman Kathleen Bagg-Morgan.

While such apparitions are not unheard of in Catholicism, they are fairly rare. Often they involve someone reporting having seen an image of the Virgin Mary.

Reports of sightings in Conyers, Ga., and Clearwater have drawn crowds.

But the best known recent apparition of Mary occurred in 1981 at Medjugorje in the former Yugoslavia, where six children reported seeing her.

Despite visits from devotees from around the world, the Catholic Church has refused to authenticate the appearance. The church classifies such events as private revelation, said James Wiseman, a professor at Catholic University in Washington whose specialty is Christian spirituality. …

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