Is Audrey Santo a Saint?

The miracle of statues weeping tears of oil, and the power of a mother's love.

ByABC News
September 16, 2008, 5:21 PM

May 10, 2007 — -- At Audrey Santo's funeral on April 18, mourners filled the cavernous St. Paul's Cathedral in Worcester, Mass.

Not one but two bishops attended the service befitting of royalty. Hundreds -- many, complete strangers -- filed past her casket.

"To a very large percentage of people in this society and around the world, a person like Audrey doesn't count," said the Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy from the dais.

But somehow Audrey Santo did count. What drew these mourners and millions around the world to the life of a bedridden 23-year-old?

"20/20" first reported on Audrey nine years ago, when 10,000 people piled into a stadium to pray and to mark the anniversary of the day that Audrey almost lost her life in her family's backyard pool.

Because she nearly drowned at the age of 3, Audrey was trapped in a comalike state. For two decades, she never spoke a word and never walked, but people believed she was a messenger of God who had the power to heal the sick and inspire the hopeless. Many believed she whispered in God's ear, asking for miracles.

The story of her supposed powers drew throngs from around the world, and her family's modest home became a mecca, where mysterious things were said to have happened. Statues moved, pictures bled and icons inexplicably wept oil.

"We are not really here to prove it. We're here to tell you that it's happening and it's in our house," said Linda Santo, Audrey's mother. Linda says she never expected the pilgrims or the prayers, never asked for her daughter's room to become a holy shrine.

"People talk about people like Audrey and they say, 'Well, they're in a vegetative state,'" her mother said. "My question is: What vegetable do they take on? Are they a turnip? Are they an eggplant? What are they? They're human beings. God has put a soul and a mind and everything in them. How can you say they're vegetables?"

On Aug. 9, 1987, Linda realized that all her children were with her except one.

"I looked around and I looked at them and I said, 'My kids are here. Where's my baby?' We all kind of rushed to a side door, and 36 feet beyond that, Audrey was floating face down in the pool," she said.

At the hospital, while her family held a bedside vigil, Audrey slipped into a coma. Soon after, doctors suggested that Linda place her child in an institution.

"They came in and asked me where I was going to place her, just like that. I said, 'I'm going to place her in my arms. We're going home.' They said, 'No, you can't. She'll be dead in two weeks,'" Linda said.

Linda brought Audrey home and turned her bedroom into an intensive-care unit. To complicate matters, Linda's husband left her and their four children, not once, but twice. "I didn't have time to be hurt," she said. "I just needed to do what I had to do."

"I prayed all the time. I was constantly praying," said the devout Catholic.

Years later, with no warning and no logic, Linda says oil suddenly coated a religious portrait in their living room. "It was really weeping," she said. Linda picked up the phone and called the Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, a priest who, highly skeptical, came to the house.

"Indeed, there was oil dripping out of that Lady of Guadalupe picture," McCarthy said. "I took it apart. I looked at it. There was no glass on the front. It was just canvas on both sides, in and out. And I just could not, could not see anything that was fraudulent. It was just a picture."