New Jersey mayor tears down shrine to Virgin Mary

PASSAIC, N.J. (WPIX) — A community-built, un-permitted shrine to the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe was dismantled by the City of Passaic on Wednesday, 14 years after it was erected. The elaborate and colorful site on the side of a Route 21 overpass on Hope Avenue and Madison Street was a sanctuary for many.

"We have a place to come and kneel to it," said Maria Cheaz, a city resident. "It was very spiritual."

Cheaz said she has come to light candles at the site before, but will not be returning now that it's been torn down.

"They destroyed it," she said.

Photo: WPIX

Passaic Mayor Hector Lora said community members ran illegal power lines from the shrine to PSE&G utility poles and the obstructions covered fire department water lines.

"No one is allowed to simply put up religious shrines in public areas, put up donation boxes and leave it there permanently," said Mayor Lora. "They were unlawfull​y receiving donations and money from people who were genuinely going there to express their faith."

The Bishop of Paterson put out a statement that the shrine was never condoned by the Catholic Church and any donations accepted at the site were done without the Diocese's involvement.

The shrine was erected after a local boy claimed he saw the face of the Virgin Mary appear on a wood stump. The stump was placed inside a glass case and the housing and decorations around it followed.

RELATED: See how depictions of Jesus Christ have changed through the years 

19 PHOTOS
Depictions of Jesus Christ through time
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Depictions of Jesus Christ through time
GERMANY 1899: Copy of typical catholic image of heart of Jesus Christ from Slovakia printed on 19. April 1899 in Germany. (Photo via Getty)
(Photo via BBC)
Stained Glass Depicting Jesus Christ (Photo via Getty)
ITALY - FEBRUARY 02: Christ and Doubting Thomas, by Paolo Cavazzola (1486-1522). (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images); Verona, Castelvecchio (Art Museum). (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 2010: Unknown Lombard artist (17th century), Christ Crowned with Thorns, 1600-1650, oil on canvas glued to board, 40x32 cm. (Inv. 896). Copyright Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana. (Photo By DEA / P. MANUSARDI / VENERANDA BIBLIOTECA AMBROSIANA/De Agostini/Getty Images)
FRANCE - FEBRUARY 01: Christ the judge, detail from the Last Judgement, 1585, by Jean Cousin the Younger (ca 1522-1594), oil on canvas, 142x145 cm. From the Ursuline Convent in Vincennes, France. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images); Paris, Musée Du Louvre. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
ITALY - DECEMBER 13: Risen Christ between Saints Peter and Paul, 16th century, artist from the Lombard school, oil on canvas, 138x120 cm. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images); Pavia, Musei Civici Del Castello Visconteo, Pinacoteca Malaspina (Art Gallery). (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 2010: Workshop of Guido Reni (1575-1642), Christ Crucified, 1640-1645, oil on canvas, 286x186 cm. (Inv. 1184). Copyright Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana. (Photo By DEA / VENERANDA BIBLIOTECA AMBROSIANA/De Agostini/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - JUNE 24: Christ tempted by Satan, by Mattia Preti (1613-1699), oil on canvas, 105x133 cm. Rome, Galleria Spada (Art Gallery) (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
ROMANIA - DECEMBER 09: Christ on the Cross, detail from the altarpiece of Prejmer Fortified Church (13th century), Romania. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
MEXICO - JULY 11: The savior of the world. Mexico,18th century. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images); Querétaro, Museo De Arte De Querétaro (Art Museum). (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
FRANCE - CIRCA 2002: The Virgin and Christ, detail from The Pieta, 1474, by Jean Fouquet (ca 1415 - ca 1481), tempera on wood, 146x237 cm. St Martin's Church, Nouans-les-Fontaines, France. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images); . (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
PERU - CIRCA 2003: Christ on the cross, the Virgin and St John, 18th century painting on wood, School of Cuzco, Peru. Cuzco, Museo Del Convento De Santa Catalina (Art Museum) (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
GERMANY - CIRCA 2002: The lamentation of Christ, 1480-1490, Master of the Housebook (active ca 1470-1500), oil on panel, 131x171 cm. Detail. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images); Dresda, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Gallery, Picture Gallery). (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
ITALY - CIRCA 2002: Parma, Galleria Nazionale (Art Gallery), Palazzo Della Pilotta Lamentation over the Dead Christ, ca 1524, by Antonio Allegri, known as Correggio (1489-ca 1534), oil on canvas, 157x182 cm. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - APRIL 07: The face of Christ or the suffering Christ, 1515-1525, painting by Joan Gasco (active at the beginning of 16th century) from Vic Cathedral. Catalan Gothic art. Vic, Museu Episcopal (Art Museum) (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
People followers of the Greek Orthodox Church kiss the feet of an image of Jesus crucified during the ceremony marking the Apokathelosis, the removal of Christ's dead body from the Cross, which forms a key part of Orthodox Easter, in a ceremony at the Church of the Dormition of the Virgin in Penteli, north Athens on May 3 , 2013. Millions of Greeks flock to churches around the country this week to celebrate Easter, the country's foremost religious celebration. AFP PHOTO / Angelos Tzortzinis (Photo credit should read ANGELOS TZORTZINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
The statue of Jesus, measuring 9.5 meters and tall 7.5 meters wide, and weighting 23 tons, overlooks the valley of Slovakia's Upper Orava region near the Slovak-Polish border in the village of Klin on November 25, 2010. The statue, strongly reminiscent of Rio De Janeiro's Jesus statue, was built on Gura hill in 2008 by local carpenter Peter Ganobjak and initiated by businesman Jozef Sroka. In 2009 smaller statue of late Pope John Paul II was built and placed on the same site. AFP PHOTO/JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
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"Other mayors have worked with the community about having that there," said Chaez. "He was the only one to have an issue with it and it's because he is Pentecostal."

Mayor Lora is a minister. He stated the religious shrine was removed from public property at no cost to the community members who erected it and $12,000 in fines incurred were waived. He also said he gave the group who maintains the shrine six months to move it to another location.

"I have to do what is correct," said Mayor Lora. "I can't answer as to why others did not."​

"I think it's bad what they did here," said another resident, Noel Acosta. "I believe that everybody should respect each others religion."

Police cars were stationed at the site all day on Thursday.

A new location for what stood at the shrine location is still being determined.

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