'Virgin Mary Tree' Costs NJ City $1,000 a Day, Criticized as Idolatry

A tree in New Jersey, which some say has a knot that resembles the image of Jesus' mother Mary, is sparking some controversy after it was revealed that the price of keeping the tree safe was costing tax payers $1,000 a day.

"This has united all the Hispanic communities," said Mayor Felix Roque of West New York, N.J.

"I have to allow them to express their faith," he added, sharing that the tree needed to be guarded by police officers throughout the day to prevent it from being vandalized. The presence of police officers also ensures that there is no trouble between people coming to observe and even pray at the knot that many say resembles Our Lady of Guadalupe, a venerated Roman Catholic apparition of Mary, mother of Jesus.

"We're hopeful that even though this is just a knot in a tree, it will spark people to examine themselves and find a deeper understanding of their faith," added James Goodness, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark. He also revealed that the tree had been examined and it was determined that the image was a natural occurrence.

The Virgin Mary, as she is also known, appears in a black cloak in the tree knot, and is not unlike the apparition seen in the 16th century by Juan Diego, an Aztec man who converted to Catholicism – and whose story was used to evangelize Latin America and the Hispanic community at large.

In order to protect the tree, the City of West New York has set up barricades around it to make sure it's not damaged intentionally or otherwise. Many believers have placed bouquets, candles and tapestries next to the tree. Plans to relocate the tree to a city park have been shot down by people demanding that it stays put at its present location.

Still, some have questioned why the city is spending so much money on protecting what is essentially a tree – some Christians have failed to see the significance of the image and have even called its veneration idolatry.

"This is witchcraft; you are worshiping devils!" a man identified as Mr. Domenech said recently to a crowd gathered at the tree, according to The New York Times.

"We are evangelical Christians and we believe the Bible forbids idol worship like this," said another woman who refused to be identified. "What these people are doing is a sin."

Others, however, insist that what they see in the knot is definitely an image of Mary.

"It's the shape of the Virgin Guadalupe," said Maria Alava from Union City, N.J. "I see it clear."

"You can tell it's the Virgin of Guadalupe by the way she is dressed in a cloak," added in Spanish Maria Julieta Baez, a West New York resident.