By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Gloria Martinez called in sick this past July 12. A blood clot in her leg hurt so badly that, for the second week in a row, she couldn't get out of bed. The 45-year-old Dominican mother of two feared that her health would force her to quit her weekend job at Jackson Memorial Hospital and to drop out of school. For seven years, she had been a kind, sweet, competent voice on the other end of the line when people called the hospital's poison control hotline. During the week, she studied for a master's degree in mental health counseling at Nova Southeastern University. "I am a very busy woman," she says.
It all seemed threatened by the pain.
For six weeks, she had been going to doctors. Ultrasound after ultrasound turned up little. She suffered from a superficial clot in a vein, the doctors said. Apply a heating pad. Take anti-inflammatory drugs. Use pain pills.
But nothing helped.
The leg was so bloated that she couldn't bend it. And as soon as the effect of the narcotics wore off, the torment would return. "It bothered me so bad," Martinez says. "I had so many sleepless nights." After spending the day in bed on Saturday, she was again racked with pain that night, again unable to sleep. She couldn't touch her leg without crying out in pain.
When morning arrived on Sunday, July 13, Martinez decided she had one last hope for a cure. For years, Martinez had heard that the Virgin Mary appeared on the 13th of each month to a Cuban woman in Hollywood named Rosa Lopez. People said miracles happened there.
"I said to myself, ´This is my last resort,'" Martinez says. Around 7 a.m., she jostled her husband, Julian, awake. "Come with me to the place where the Virgin appears," Martinez urged him.
But Julian didn't want to wrest himself from bed. "No, no, I'm too sleepy," he grumbled.
So, while he stayed beneath the sheets, Martinez put on an ankle-length blue-and-green print peasant dress and brushed her thick, waist-length, deep-brown hair into a barrette. She hoisted herself into her car and drove across town to Lopez's home off Sheridan Street, at 1301 N. 66th Ave.
Lopez lives in an architectural no-man's land, where a sprawl of nondescript single-story ranch homes with tiny front yards and scrappy foliage stretches from the Florida Turnpike west to new suburbia. It could be anywhere in Florida.
Traveling down 66th Avenue toward Lopez's blue-and-white cinderblock home, one slows down and rubbernecks, hoping not to overlook the house. Then out of the rows of creeping, almost viral sameness, a phantasmagoric religious sculpture garden jumps above the landscape. In the middle of the yard is a white, four-tier, wedding cake-style fountain with a gigantic base almost eight feet in diameter. Six cherubs spewing water perch on the lowest rim, and a white statue of the Virgin Mary caps it. A cross, at least 15 feet high, thrusts above the one-story house with a life-sized bronze-toned Christ; his head is encircled by a crown of thorns, his eyes are closed in pain, his wounds drip blood.
Around 9 a.m., Martinez limped past the garden, leaning on a cane for support, and made her way to the side of the house. Rows of plastic lawn chairs had been set up on the driveway and on a cement patio. Volunteers from a group that helps Lopez manage the event expected a large crowd, but when Martinez arrived, only a couple of people milled around outside.
Martinez walked through a sliding glass door into a room plastered with pictures and statues of Mary and Jesus. Then she sat down on a straight-backed chair. A family from Thailand clustered in front of an image of the virgin. At an altar, candles flickered. The perfume from hundreds of red, yellow, and pink roses saturated the air. Roses are the Virgin's flowers. To pray the rosary is to give a wreath of roses to her.
Until 1993, the room where Martinez found herself had been Rosa Lopez's bedroom. Lopez had been sick for ten years and had spent her days lying in bed or sitting in a wheelchair. It was in that room in May 1993 that Jesus and Mary anointed Lopez their spokesperson. "I am going to heal you because I want this place to be holy, and I want you to be a prophet for these times," Lopez says Jesus told her during their first visit. He also instructed her to dig a well in her backyard. The water would have the power to heal the sick.
By 1994, after Lopez opened her home to the public on May 13 and word spread of the Virgin's appearances, more than 4,000 people crowded the neighborhood, set up lawn chairs in the street, and clustered in the neighbors' yards. Soon, the City of Hollywood sent 50 cops to Lopez's house monthly just to control the crowds. People raved about the miracles the Virgin performed, from causing the sun to spin in the sky to curing cancer.
It turned out just as the Virgin told Lopez. "Great events will happen here," the Virgin predicted in February 1994. "There will be many witnesses, and those who do not believe will have to lower their heads and accept that I, my son, and the Holy Spirit are here..."