French island gripped by 'Christ face' on church cushion
SAINT-DENIS, Reunion (AFP) — Thousands flocked to a Roman Catholic church on the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion Saturday after believers said they saw the "face of Christ" in the pleats of a church cushion.
Church officials limited access to the Jesus-Misericordieux church in eastern Saint-Andre's Cambuston district to a few minutes per visitor as traffic in the area ground to a halt.
Believers and curious onlookers pulled out cameras to take pictures of the cushion attached to the priest's chair.
Antoinette, an 82-year-old parishioner, said the face was a "divine phenomenon" as tears welled up her eyes.
"This church is a holy site," added Lise-May, another worshipper.
Saturday afternoon Saint-Andre authorities put up four tents outside the church so the faithful could follow mass.
A group of about 30 parishioners who had joined a Christian ceremony ahead of the Easter holiday had been the first to notice the particular setting of the cushion.
"This is not a miracle, it's a sign of God," said parish priest Daniel Gavard.
Reunion Bishop Gilbert Aubry has so far not commented on the occurrence which came within days of outbursts of violence over the high cost of living on the island whose economy depends on tourism and subsidies from the French state.