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Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 12:15 GMT
Bangladeshis flock to 'weeping Virgin'
Weeping Virgin Mary statue in Ienne, Italy
This statue in Italy was said to weep blood

Thousands of people in the Bangladeshi port city of Chittagong are flocking to a Roman Catholic church where tears are reported to have been seen on a statue of the Virgin Mary.

The marble statue is kept in a glass case which scientists say could lead to condensation appearing on the Virgin Mary's face

Many of those visiting the church are Muslims, eager to see what some locals believe is a sign of the Virgin's dismay over the recent outbreak of violence in the country and elsewhere in the world.

Roman Catholic believers say it is the first time in Bangladesh that tears have been seen on a statue of the Virgin Mary.

In a country which is overwhelmingly Muslim, it is unusual for a symbol of the Christian faith to attract much interest.

But so many people are gathering outside the Chittagong church that police have been deployed to ensure law and order is maintained.

'Inquisitive'

Muslims are queuing to see the statue even though the Koran warns believers against showing an interest in religious idols.

Roman Catholics in Chittagong say that most people are queuing up to see the statue because they are inquisitive.

Around 90% of Bangladesh's 130 million population is Muslim.

In Chittagong, the second-largest city in the country, there are only around 8,000 Christians in a city of over four million people.

Many churchgoers claim the cause of the Virgin Mary's tears is recent outbreaks of violence in Bangladesh.

They point out that she has had a lot to be upset about in the last week alone.

On Monday, five people were gunned down in local election violence in the south-western district of Jhenida and, before that, there were a series of bomb explosions in the northern town of Dinajpur.

Scientists have already said that one possible explanation for the tears is the fact that the marble statue is kept in a glass case, which could lead to condensation appearing on the Virgin Mary's face.

See also:

13 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
11 Oct 01 | Entertainment
06 Sep 00 | Middle East
19 Oct 01 | South Asia
25 Jun 02 | Country profiles
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