Icons at a third church have shed what appeared to be tears in the presence of a Prince William County priest, four witnesses said yesterday.
During a tour of St. Columba Catholic Church in Oxon Hill Friday, the Rev. James Bruse, associate pastor at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Lake Ridge, joked with other clerics that he would not touch the statues because it might cause them to weep.
Minutes later, a stained-glass window with a likeness of the Virgin Mary that he had touched appeared to drip water, as did two statues that he did not touch, the four witnesses said.
Earlier this month, Bruse was associated with statues that appeared to weep at two Prince William churches.
"He touched the etched glass, and after several minutes, tears . . . came running down from the eyes -- right where the tear ducts would be," said the Rev. Fidel de Ramos, associate pastor at St. Columba. "And there was a lot of it. Not just one drop or two drops, because it ran all the way down. Then I would say simultaneously, two statues in the chapel cried."
The four witnesses said the incident occurred shortly after a morning funeral Mass for the father-in-law of Bruse's sister. After most people departed for the cemetery, Bruse, who was accompanied by his parents, asked to tour the church, de Ramos said.
"We hesitantly showed him a statue because we thought if he went to it, it would weep," said the Rev. Rick Fisher, a deacon at St. Columba, another witness. "He said, 'I'll keep my hands in my pockets.' "
At one point, Bruse left the group in the chapel. When he returned, a woman screamed that "the window was crying," Fisher said. At the same time, the two statues appeared to begin to weep, the witnesses said.
About 250 students from adjoining St. Columba Catholic School later were brought into the church to see the statues, which had no water coming from them by that time, de Ramos and Fisher said.
Bruse's mother "was upset in a way because evidently his bishop is not too happy with the events," Fisher said. "I heard her say, 'I wish this hadn't happened because you may get in trouble.' "
Reached by telephone at her Stafford County home yesterday, Bruse's mother, Ann Bruse, declined to discuss the incident in detail but confirmed that she saw the icons appear to weep.
"It was very nice," she said. "I've been told by my son not to talk. Some people think it's very nice, but some want to criticize."
When asked what it was like to witness the scene, she said: "I've seen it happen before. I've seen it happen and happen and happen and happen."
Two acquaintances of the Bruses have said Ann Bruse has a statue in her home that now sits in a bowl because it has wept several times.
Another witness to the Friday incident, 20-year church member Judy Smith, of Oxon Hill, said: "The Virgin's eyes were weeping. Nothing else on the windows was wet." At least eight people, including Bruse, were present at the time and witnessed the incident, de Ramos and Fisher said.
The incidents involving Bruse have left Catholic authorities in an awkward position, several priests said. Bishops and other officials are reluctant to confirm "miracles" out of fear that they are hoaxes, but they are equally hesitant to ignore the incidents, which generally result in news media attention and a surge in church attendance.
"I pity the poor bishop who has this happen in his diocese," said the Rev. Tom Reese, a Jesuit priest at Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, "because he does not have a whole team of experts on hand to examine this as it should be."
Several priests said it is common for authorities to conduct investigations into phenomena such as weeping statues and stigmata, wounds that appear on believers similar to those Jesus suffered when he was crucified, according to the biblical account. Bruse has said he has suffered stigmata on his hands, feet and sides. Three acquaintances said he has trouble sleeping and is in pain.
Three church sources said Bruse has been told by Arlington Bishop John R. Keating not to talk to reporters.