Office Building with Virgin Mary Image Leased to Catholics


CLEARWATER, Fla. (Reuters) - An office building where many people believe they can see the image of the Virgin Mary was leased Friday to a Catholic group that wants to turn it into a religious center.

The rainbow-colored image on the windows of the building has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors since it was discovered in December 1996.

The building was earlier used as the offices of the Ugly Duckling used car company, which moved this week. Ohio-based Shepherds of Christ Ministries took over the building and plans to open a religious bookstore soon, Executive Director Paul Rush said.

Rush said the ministry has 2,000 members across the United States and publishes a newsletter for priests.

``We want this to be for everyone,'' Rush said. Asked if he believed the image was that of the Virgin Mary, Rush replied, ''There is no doubt in my mind.''

The group has put a statue of Jesus in the parking lot in front of the image and is holding daily evening prayer services. They hope to raise money to operate the building through donations and by selling tiles that will be displayed with the names of donors, Rush said.

Rush, who is not a priest, said his group would need permission from the local Catholic diocese before it could open a chapel at the site. The diocese has not taken any position on the authenticity of the image, which covers nine panes of glass and appears to show the outline of a person's head and upper body.

Experts who have examined the image say they believe it was created by corrosion of the metallic elements in the glass. There are other rainbow-colored swirls on the building, but none in any pattern.