Vietnamese Virgin Mary statue "not crying": Catholic church

Hanoi, Vietnam - The Catholic church in Vietnam has been forced to deny that a statue of the Virgin Mary is crying after thousands of people had flocked to observe the "miracle" at Ho Chi Minh City cathedral.

Rumours first spread late Saturday that the statue was crying in front of the cathedral, drawing thousands of the faithful and curious and creating serious traffic jams.

Monday morning, according to a witness contacted by telephone, around a thousand people were still gathered in front of the white statue but traffic was back to normal.

Some photographers were selling pictures of it featuring a "tear" on its right cheek.

"Many people, I cannot estimate how many they are, have gathered here from different parts of the city" these last two days, said a source at the cathedral, who requested anonymity.

"This is superstitious and fabricated news," the church worker told AFP Monday. "Don't believe it!"

"Father Huynh Cong Minh, head of the church, told followers at a mass on Sunday morning that they should not listen to the words of fabricators," he said, adding the statue had been left in the open for a long time and attributed the "tears" to rain and dust.

The Tuoi Tre newspaper said Monday similar incidents had happened before in Ho Chi Minh City.

Vietnam has eight million Catholics in its population of more than 82 million, the second largest Catholic community in Asia after the Philippines. There are no official figures on the number of Catholics in China.

The Vatican and Vietnam still have no diplomatic relations.