GRIFFITH | What appears to be a tear-stained cheek on a statue of Mary on the grounds of St. Mary Catholic Church is moving some people to tears as others caution against a rush to judgment.
Among the skeptics is the church pastor, the Rev. Theodore Mens.
"There must be a natural explanation — the cold, the melting of the snow," he said. "Whenever we see something, we always look for a natural reason first."
The white statue, about 4 feet tall, depicts Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. Surrounded by tulips waiting to bloom, it stands in what parishioners call the "sunken garden" along Broad Street and is the site of the annual May crowning.
Mens said the statue has been there for at least as long as the 21 years he has been at St. Mary Church.
Majdolin Haddad, religious education secretary at St. Mary, said her daughter Reta, an aide in the fourth-grade Monday night class, told her about the tear.
Students in the class had left the church after confession, paused at the statue to pray and noticed a droplet of water clinging to the chin of Mary's face, appearing to originate from the right eye.
A photo snapped Tuesday morning shows the droplet intact. It was gone by early afternoon.
Mens saw the photo but was reluctant to read anything into it.
"Everything we need to know for our salvation has been made known," Mens said.
Proven occurrences elsewhere in the world are signs of added grace from Mary, he said.
"The message of Our Lady throughout history wherever appearances have been proven has always been the same, which is the scripture teaching of: repent, stop sinning, be baptized, believe in the Gospel," he said.
Mens said he is not necessarily a nonbeliever.
"I'm not going to say anything against a possible further sign of God's love for us through Mary," he said. "I just don't want to fall for anything. I am formed and shaped by the scriptures and the teachings of Jesus, not necessarily by a tear that somebody sees on a statue."
If the statue brings people closer to God, that's wonderful, he said.
Mens has no plans to further investigate the statue, and the Diocese of Gary has not issued a statement.
"The diocese has just found out about it and is not prepared to comment at this time," said Debbie Bosak, director of communications for the Diocese of Gary.
As word spread Tuesday, people visited the statue.
Chicago resident Chris Kovich, who was in Griffith on business, theorized rain water may have followed the curve in the statue's veil, dripping on its face.
Kovich, who described himself as a lapsed Catholic, said it is premature to make assumptions about the appearance of tears.
"It is what it is," he said.
Lupe Figueroa ran her hand along the cheek and jaw of the statue.
A member of the Altar and Rosary Society at St. Mary Church, Figueroa had heard of the statue's supposed tears Tuesday morning and stopped by.
She visited again in early afternoon for another look.
Griffith resident Jason Seitz heard from his mother about the statue.
"You can definitely see the dry teardrop," he said.
Seitz said he was undecided.
"I'm a realist, but I'm also a believer and Christian," he said.
Mens doubts the statue will reach worldwide fame as other occurrences, such as Marian apparitions.
"I don't think this will become Lourdes or Fatima or anything," he said.