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Our Lady of Hollywood

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Her life changed when a friend brought Lopez a bottle of holy water from the apparition site in Conyers. Lopez says when she opened it, the scent of roses filled the room. Although she had been raised Catholic, she says she attended Mass more out of duty than understanding. In October 1992, Lopez took a bus with a group of Catholics to visit Virginia Fowler in Conyers. Lopez says she received her first visions there when she saw an image of Mary in a tree. She started making monthly pilgrimages.

In May 1993, as Lopez sat in a wheelchair on her back patio, a cloudy apparition appeared in an orange tree next to her. Lopez says there were no words spoken, but a feeling of peace came over her as the shape hovered in the tree. It was Mary.

A few days later, as she lay in bed saying her rosary, Mary -- this time accompanied by Jesus -- made a second visit. The house calls became almost daily occurrences after that.

Mary gave Lopez specific instructions. Under her tutelage, Lopez converted her house into a Marian shrine. She rid herself of the Oriental-style furniture she coveted and of all her knick-knacks, replacing them with images of Mary and donated furniture. The only personal effects Lopez has today are stuffed into a small bedroom.

Jacinto wasn't too happy about the transformation of his house into a sanctuary.

"I've lost my privacy," he complained. "You've taken my house away from me."

Lopez says she often had problems convincing Jacinto that what she was doing was right. "You want to question to me?" she told her husband. "Question to the God!"

Jacinto thought his wife had lost her mind. He asked for a divorce. "You are crazy, and you are trying to make me crazy too," he told her. For a time, he convinced the couple's children that his wife had gone berserk. Then, after seeing an image of the Virgin in the window of the couple's bedroom, Jacinto had a slight change of heart. Even after that experience, though, he still grumbles about the upheaval in their lives. "I have a lot of problems with my husband," Lopez says now. "A lot of, a lot of problems."

After appearing for a year, on May 13, 1994, Lopez says the Virgin Mary told her to open up her home and deliver a message. About 50 people came that day. The crowds snowballed as stories about Lopez appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and many other papers in the United States and Canada. There were also broadcasts on CBS News.

Soon, her followers set up Our Loving Mother's Foundation. They sold T-shirts, videocassettes, rosaries, and crosses. In 1996, the foundation paid for posters to be placed on the side of Miami-Dade buses featuring Lopez's address in Hollywood. The response swamped Lopez's neighborhood with thousands of pilgrims. Dozens of police officers were dispatched in those early days for crowd control.

These days, the number of people visiting has dropped considerably. If the 13th falls on a weekend, 200 to 300 people usually attend, Ruffolo says. If the 13th falls during the week, Lopez receives 30 or fewer visitors.

The foundation publishes a free newsletter monthly that reprints the messages from Mary, one in English and one in Spanish. Donations to the foundation and money from the sale of small statues, religious cards, and rosaries help pay the printing costs, Ruffolo says, but nobody is getting rich from the shrine. Lopez pays the electric and water bill, often from her Social Security check, she says. Jacinto, who works for a patio furniture manufacturing company, forks out the money for the mortgage on the couple's home, which was valued in 2002 at $131,700. It's not easy for them to make ends meet, Ruffolo insists. In June, Jacinto had quintuple-bypass surgery. "If Rosa could stop it," Ruffolo says, "she would."

Diane Mowatt bought a five-bedroom house next door to Lopez two years ago. When the 13th of the month rolled around, Mowatt was dumbfounded as she watched people haul lawn chairs down her street and set them up right in the middle of the road. The neighborhood was clogged with people. Even her front yard was filled with them. When Mowatt learned that Lopez didn't have a permit for the activity, she was angry. She still is. "I think they should make her get a permit or shut her down," she says.

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Susan Eastman
Contact: Susan Eastman

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