In 1995, Lopez repeatedly received visions that her followers believe predicted the attack on the World Trade Center, says Christine Ruffolo of Sunrise. Ruffolo is secretary of a nonprofit organization, Our Loving Mother's Foundation, a group that helps Lopez spread the word. In a book recording Lopez's visions that the foundation published several years ago, Mary warned of an explosion of towering buildings and said that "the situation with terrorists is serious" on August 14, 1995.
Because there is no time in heaven, it was impossible to say when the warnings would come true or whether there was anything people could do to prevent them. "You can pray to change things," Ruffolo says. "Maybe even the most difficult or horrible things can be stopped completely or changed so that it is not so bad."
Tom Ryan, chairman of the department of religious studies and history at St. Thomas University in Miami-Dade County, says that the Catholic understanding of God may explain the seeming hocus-pocus of weeping icons, branding of objects, and visitations. God came into the world in the body of a man, according to the Bible. He parted the Red Sea. During Mass, Catholics believe that a simple wafer becomes the actual body of Christ and that wine turns into his blood. "Apparitions like this maybe kind of flow from that sense of God communicating through our senses," he says.
As Martinez prayed on that Sunday morning, Rosa Lopez took a seat in a corner of the room. A diminutive 65-year-old grandmother wearing a long, pale, blue-flowered dress with her gray hair cropped short, Lopez issued greetings and pecked the cheeks of new arrivals as though they were guests at a gigantic family reunion. Her pet dogs Chile, a Chihuahua; Piccolo, a tiny mutt; and Papito, a Pomeranian, wandered in and out of the room as the sliding door opened and shut. In halting English, Lopez spoke to the crowd, which by then included about 30 people.
"Attention please, please," Lopez shouted above the din of the crowded room. "The significance for the apparition, for the mother coming is for conversation. The mother is coming for to bring the love to the Jesus for the conversion to the people. The people no make attention to the sick. All the family is distant and separate. There is no love, no respect to the father, to the old people abandoned in hospitals. Nobody attends to them. Nobody loves them."
Before she began having visions of the Virgin Mary, before she became sick, Lopez had a glamorous life. As a child in Havana, she performed as a singer with her brother Robert. The pair appeared on television and radio, she says. As a young adult, Lopez continued to perform her own songs.
In 1957, she married Jacinto Lopez, who had been enamored of Rosa since she was 16 years old. They had a daughter named Caridad in 1958 and a son, Alejandro, in 1963. Jacinto was a sergeant in the military of dictator Fulgencio Batista until Fidel Castro took power in 1959. After the revolution, the couple found the conditions intolerable. The only role for a singer, Lopez recalls, was to praise the revolution in song. "Never!" she says.
The couple fled the island in 1967, settling in Passaic, New Jersey. Jacinto worked in manufacturing, and Rosa took whatever jobs she could find. For a while, she worked in a sewing factory. "Anything to help the family, we did," she says.
After moving to Hollywood in 1972, Lopez began singing again, this time for the Cuban exile community that crowded Miami's Little Havana. Performing under her maiden name, Rosita Rondon, she thrilled audiences with her long, thick, blond hair and sultry mischievous air. "Life has taught me to value all things and all moments," she sang in the song "Amor Desesperado" ("Hopeless Love").
"I was a beautiful woman," she says. "Beautiful."
Lopez gave her last performance on September 12, 1982, at 1 p.m. at El Bosque Restaurant on Calle Ocho and 27th Avenue in Miami. She was the headline performer on a packed bill.
In December of that year, Lopez developed severe pains. Her stomach swelled up so big, she looked pregnant, she says. She had five hernias, five surgeries, hepatitis, colitis, and an operation to remove her gall bladder. For ten years, she endured physical agony. At first, she tried to change careers. She went to beauty school and hoped to open her own salon. But the pain made it impossible to work. By 1992, she spent most of her time in bed or a wheelchair. "I lost everything," she says. "Everything."