Cover image for Silent soul : the miracles and mysteries of Audrey Santo
Silent soul : the miracles and mysteries of Audrey Santo
Felix, Antonia.
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First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Thomas Dunne Books, [2001]

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177 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Unable to move or speak after a near-drowning accident when she was three years old, Audrey Santo is believed by many to be the source of miracles in her home.
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BX4705.S32 F45 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Three days a week, visitors from around the world enter the chapel of a small home in Worcester, Massachusetts. They have come to witness the Communion host that suddenly manifested a dark stain of blood during a Mass in this very room. Most of all, they have come to be near Audrey, the teenage girl who lies in a bedroom at the other end of the house.

Unable to move or speak after a near-drowning accident when she was three years old, Audrey is believed by many to be the source of the miracles in her home. Her family reports that she suffers the stigmata- the bloody suffering of Christ-- every Lenten season. Pilgrims to the Santo home and to Audrey's annual public "outings" claim to have been healed of cancer and other diseases. Lying in her little room, she is surrounded by medical equipment, including a respirator that keeps her alive, round-the-clock care-- and the prayers of her family and countless thousands who believe she has been touched by God.

Audrey Santo, the silent soul at the center of one of America's most famous religious pilgrimage sites, touches the hearts of everyone who hears her story. The doctors who treat her are bewildered by her survival. And her mother, a devout Catholic who has never given up hope that Audrey will fully awaken one day, believes Audrey is "a statement of life in our culture of death."

Is Audrey a messenger of God, part of a divine plan to strengthen people's faith? Or is she a severely disabled girl whose devout, loving family has drawn a miraculous circle of belief around her? What are the nonreligious explanations for the strange phenomena occurring in the Santo home? What is the Catholic Church's view, as announced in the first official report of its ongoing investigation? Is Audrey a "victim soul," taking on the illness and suffering of others? Did she receive this sacred call from Mary when her mother took her to the apparition room at Medjugorje? These questions and more are explored in Silent Soul , a thoughtful, fascinating journey into one of the world's most compelling modern mysteries.

Author Notes

Antonia Felix is the author of twelve nonfiction books, including a four-book science series for children, a cultural history of Christmas in America, and several biographies, including Andrea Bocelli: A Celebration , which has been published in three languages. She lives in New York City with her husband.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Paralyzed, unable to speak, and semi-comatose since a tragic accident at the age of three, 16-year-old Audrey Santo has been a source of inspiration and spiritual strength for the countless numbers of religious pilgrims who have flocked to her Worcester, Massachusetts, home over the course of the past decade. Many of the faithful who have viewed Audrey through a window in her bedroom wall or prayed in the small chapel on the Santo property fervently believe that Audrey is responsible for generating a variety of miraculous phenomena. Statues and religious images in the Santo home appear to weep blood or oil, and perhaps most intriguing of all, hundreds of visitors have claimed they have been both physically and spiritually healed through Audrey's silent intercession. Reports of these apparent miracles have prompted the Roman Catholic Church to initiate an investigation. Taking no concrete stand on the status and the credibility of the Santo miracles, Felix provides an objective chronicle of a fascinating series of seemingly supernatural occurrences. --Margaret Flanagan

Publisher's Weekly Review

The compelling story of Audrey Santo, the comatose teen who is regarded by her family as a "victim soul," is by now familiar to devotees of religious phenomena. Audrey, who survived a drowning accident in 1987 at the age of three and is kept alive by medical technology and loving round-the-clock care, continues to attract spiritual seekers while the Catholic Diocese of Worcester, Mass., conducts an investigation into the alleged miracles surrounding her. Felix, who has written biographies of New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman and Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, tells Audrey's story from an inquisitor's point of view, attempting to explain, for example, the nature of the stigmata, or sacred wounds, that Audrey supposedly suffers. She also investigates the notion of the "victim soul" and the weeping statues and bleeding communion hosts at the Santo home, by giving readers enough information to draw their own conclusions. Her research appears to be thorough, though the presentation is sometimes ponderous, offering too much detail about tangential topics like the monastery that Audrey's mother, Linda, visited as a girl. A second weakness of the book is the author's lack of access to Linda Santo, who has shielded herself from all but avowedly friendly reporters. Felix has compensated for this admirably by using multiple sources. As a result, her treatise, despite its deficiencies, provides a thoughtful look at the intersection of faith and mystery. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Audrey Santo, a 15-year-old mute and paralyzed girl who has been in her family's care since an accidental near-drowning in 1987, seems to be surrounded by supernatural phenomena. Here, Felix (Wild About Harry, Andrea Bocelli) has made this real-life story both intimate and revelatory through a pilgrimage to Audrey's home in Massachusetts. To understand her subject, Felix interviewed those who claim spiritual or physical healing after visiting the young woman and studied press reports about them. Felix has an ability to share intimate details about individuals without intruding, and although she doesn't come up with any definite answers, her work allows readers to ponder a few important spiritual questions: Do miracles happen? Are natural laws an extension of things manifest in the miracles described? Libraries with patrons interested in modern-day supernatural happenings or collections including mysteries and miracles of contemporary life can add this title with confidence. Its easy reading style is sure to make it a quick browsing pick-up.DLeroy Hommerding, Fort Myers Beach P.L. Dist., FL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Intensive Care Miracles are happening and we don't have to go to Lourdes or Fátima or Guadalupe. It's right here in Worcester, Massachusetts. --Sister Marguerite Patient "At the end of June 1999, my cardiologist said to my wife, `I usually don't say this, but I'm taking my hat off to you both; your husband's in remission.'"     Six months earlier Vinny B., a forty-four-year-old man from Worcester, Massachusetts, had received devastating news: lung cancer. "At first they thought he had Hodgkin's," said Vinny's wife, Peggy. "Then they diagnosed lung cancer. Third stage. One step away from fourth, the worst. We had no clue he was that sick. I knew in my heart what the outlook could have been, but I didn't let the doctor tell us that." Vinny immediately began chemotherapy and radiology treatments--and visits to a house on the west side of town where remarkable things were happening.     The Santo family had turned their garage into a small chapel, complete with an altar and dozens of religious statues and pictures. Thousands of people had come through the door in the past few years to witness amazing supernatural events and receive physical and spiritual healing. Sitting with his wife in the chapel, Vinny prayed the rosary and asked a young girl inside the house to pray for him. Fifteen-year-old Audrey Santo lay in her bedroom, out of sight but very much on the minds of everyone in the chapel. Paralyzed and confined to her bed, she was the focus of the mysterious things occurring throughout the home, in the chapel, and in the lives of those who visited her home. Vinny believes that Audrey heard his prayers and helped him survive. Not only did she help him beat his cancer, she enabled him to overcome the painful side effects of his chemotherapy treatments.     "I had neuropathy," said Vinny. "I was limping around, I couldn't walk very good. I looked like I was really broken down." Neuropathy, the nerve damage caused by chemotherapy, is often irreversible and must be treated with pain medication for the rest of the cancer survivor's life. "Vinny had neuropathy very bad in his right knee," said Peggy, "to the point that he couldn't walk ten feet without bending over. They were putting him on medication, but nothing was working. I'd take him to the lake with me for our usual run, and it would break my heart because he couldn't go very far. They told him to just learn to live with it." Then Peggy decided to use some of the mysterious oil she had received at Audrey Santo's chapel. Every day oil appears on the statues and pictures in the chapel in such a constant flow that small plastic cups are attached to the objects to collect it. Cotton balls are dipped in the oil, placed in plastic bags, and given to visitors free of charge.     Peggy rubbed this oil on Vinny's chest and on his aching legs and knees. After a few days he woke up one morning without a trace of pain. "We went in for a follow-up appointment, and Vinny told our nurse practitioner that the pain in his legs was gone," said Peggy. "The nurse told us that was miraculous because it just doesn't do that, it's a chronic ailment. The neuropathy didn't gradually slow down; it was just gone. We expected it to come back because he had more chemo to go through, but he hasn't had a recurrence of it at all." A few months after he was cured of cancer, Vinny returned to Audrey's chapel and plans to visit it every now and then. "Now that I'm on the right road to recovery and things are cool, I don't want to forget," he said. "I think there was more to my healing than my medical treatment. I felt like visiting the chapel was helping me somehow. We knew that through the power of thousands of people who were going to her that her power was strong, and I just felt that maybe she would hear me. It was a hopeful feeling, like faith. I think she's a saint for our time. She's going to be a saint, I know she is. There are just too many good endings in the stories of people who have gone to her."     The list of good endings includes a woman cured of ovarian cancer, a teenager miraculously recovered from a motorcycle accident, and a woman with multiple sclerosis free of pain for the first time in fifteen years. The chronicle of inexplicable events in Audrey's home includes statues and images that weep blood and oil; chalices and other articles that fill with oil; statues that shift position; and Communion hosts that manifest bloodstains. Even more mysterious are the phenomena happening to Audrey herself: she has reportedly taken on some of the symptoms of the people who visit or petition to her, and she repeatedly receives marks on her body and endures distress that resembles the stigmata--the emotional and physical experience of Christ's suffering in the last hours of his life.     The story of Audrey Santo is a tale of remarkable events and claims that have rekindled the Christian faith of thousands of people, both laypeople and priests. What began with a tragic accident has become a growing source of inspiration for people who are looking for everything from physical healing to proof of the existence of God. At the very heart of this mystery is Audrey herself, a teenage girl who has been paralyzed and in a semicomatose state since the age of three. Is she able to hear and comprehend the people around her? Does she really respond through expressions in her eyes and by squeezing your hand, or is her family misinterpreting random gestures because they so desperately want to believe Audrey is consciously with them? Did she at some point make a decision to become a "victim soul," a person who willingly takes on the suffering of others to help in the redemption of humanity?     These questions have been answered by Audrey's family, caregivers, and some of the clergy who are close to them, and are addressed throughout this book. They are also important concerns of the Catholic diocese in Worcester, which has been studying Audrey Santo closely. The Catholic Church is extremely careful about investigating claims of healing and supernatural events such as those occurring around Audrey Santo, and it has a long tradition of healthy skepticism and rigorous research.     Audrey's fateful accident and the miraculous claims surrounding her have been reported in newspapers from Seattle to Dublin and on television programs from 20/20, 48 Hours , and Unsolved Mysteries to British TV shows such as The Miracle Police . It is a story that intrigues everyone who hears it, moving many of them to contemplate the possibility that miracles are alive and well in the new millennium.     The story begins on a Sunday morning in August 1987. Audrey's elder sister, sixteen-year-old Jennifer, picked up Audrey at their grandparents' house (where she had spent the night), so that the family could go to church together. Grandma and Grandpa Nader lived just a mile and a half away, and Audrey loved to visit them; she and her grandmother were especially close. Tiny, blue-eyed, auburn-haired Audrey had a sparkling personality that endeared her to everyone she met. Her constant companion was the family's German shepherd, Sting, who would pick her up by the seat of her pants and carry her around. In the family's eyes Audrey had a special spark, and her parents described her as "a handful." On that morning, however, the usually vivacious and chatty Audrey was quiet as she slipped into the backseat of the car. "That's very unusual for Audrey," recalled Jennifer. "Audrey's never quiet. She always has something to say." The little girl didn't say a word all the way home, much to the amazement of her sister. Looking back, Jennifer thought that Audrey sensed that it was going to be a different sort of day. "It was like she knew something was going to happen," she said.     After Audrey and Jennifer got home, they went with their mother and two brothers, thirteen-year-old Matthew and four-year-old Stephen, to Mass at Christ the King Church. Audrey's father, Stephen, was still pulling a double shift at Reed Plastics in the nearby town of Holden. After church the family had lunch at a diner, stopped in a toy shop, and were home by ten A.M. The two preschoolers, Stephen and Audrey, were outside playing together in front of the house just before eleven A.M. A few minutes later little Stephen came inside by himself, and Linda realized she was standing in the house with three of her children--but the youngest was not with them. "I looked at all three of them and I said, `All my kids are here, where's my baby?'"     Matthew quickly looked out a front window and didn't see her. Then they all rushed to the back door that led out to the deck and the backyard. From the deck they were horrified to see Audrey floating facedown in the aboveground swimming pool. The water in the sixteen-by-thirty-two-foot pool was four feet deep, and the pool was situated about ten feet from the deck. According to Detective Joseph Genduso, who investigated the accident, a ladder leading to the pool was pulled down. He said that the ladder was too large and out of reach for a child Audrey's size to move. Matthew leaped from the deck into the pool, fully clothed, and pulled his baby sister out of the water. As Audrey lay on the raised platform that encircled the pool, her sister sprang into action. Jennifer, who had been trained in CPR about two years earlier, began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. "All I was thinking was `Audrey, breathe. Audrey, open up your eyes,'" said Jennifer. "It was so unbelievable." A next-door neighbor, Mark Massey, rushed to Audrey's side and began chest compressions.     Linda called 911, and fortunately an ambulance happened to be in that part of town and arrived within two minutes of receiving the call from the dispatcher. A second ambulance was also sent to their home at 1 Rockwood Avenue and pulled up to the house shortly afterward. By calling out two ambulances, the dispatchers hoped that two paramedic teams would be able to revive the child. "They said it was a three-year-old girl who wasn't breathing," said one of the paramedics, Lance Jorritsma. "Many hands make light work. It would be a lot easier for four people." The first emergency team on the scene found Audrey very blue, with no pulse. Her eyes were fixed and dilated. One of the paramedics, John Lynch, took over the CPR that Jennifer and her neighbor had begun, taking Audrey in his arms and breathing into her mouth while giving her light chest compressions. Then his partner took over pressing on Audrey's chest while Lynch placed an endotracheal tube down the girl's windpipe in order to feed pure oxygen directly into her lungs. They strapped Audrey to a stretcher and placed her in the ambulance, feeding her oxygen and rhythmically pumping her heart the entire time. With each press on Audrey's chest, they hoped to send blood to her brain. Even though the girl had drowned, there was still a chance she could be revived; the more oxygen she received, the better her chances of not suffering permanent brain damage.     The police worked quickly to set up roadblocks along the ambulance's route to Worcester City Hospital and gave an escort from door to door. Because the paramedics were performing CPR, the ambulance was not able to travel any faster than thirty-five miles per hour, and the police escort allowed it to pass through every intersection without stopping. Inside, the paramedics hooked up Audrey to a heart monitor, and the readings were extremely weak. Ultimately the medical reports stated that she went into cardiac arrest in the ambulance. In radio contact with the hospital, the paramedics were instructed to give Audrey epinephrine and atropine to stimulate her heart. By the time they reached the emergency room, however, there was still no heartbeat.     Worcester City Hospital was close, and just seventeen minutes after the paramedics first arrived at Audrey's side, she was inside the emergency room. The medical team was able to get Audrey's heart beating, but she was still unconscious when they transferred her to UMass Memorial Medical Center about ten miles away. In the midst of all the hysteria, Linda and her children were questioned about how long Audrey had been in the pool. Although it was hard to reconstruct the exact timing of that morning, they believed she may have been in the water for five to fifteen minutes. All the medical staff, from the paramedics to the emergency-room doctors, were hoping that Audrey's mammalian diving reflex had kicked in. This reflex, also known as cold water shock, allows oxygen to be concentrated in the vital organs, primarily the heart and brain. The diving reflex is thought to be triggered by nerves in the forehead and around the nose when the face is immersed in water colder than seventy degrees. Audrey's skin was very blue when she was pulled from the pool, but no one could determine exactly how long she had been deprived of oxygen. The diving reflex is stronger in children than in adults, and everyone hoped for the best. "It's just a matter of waiting to see what happens at this time to see if the child has full neurological recovery," said emergency-room doctor Richard Larson the day after the accident.     Even though Audrey had been transferred to the highly equipped pediatric intensive care unit at the UMass Medical Center, she was still in critical condition and her prognosis was not good. She had survived at all only because of the quick response of her sister in starting CPR. "Obviously, it was the cardiopulmonary resuscitation which saved her life and without that she would not be alive today," said Dr. Alison Anderson, one of Audrey's pediatricians in the intensive care unit. She added that doctors are adamant about trying to have "as many people certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation or basic life support as possible, because even young people can save other people's lives."     The doctors had given the three-year-old various drugs in an effort to protect her oxygen-deprived brain from further damage and to give it a chance to recover. The Santo family believes that the treatment Audrey received at the UMass Medical Center in the first two days of her stay actually hurt more than helped her. Years later, standing before a group of people gathered in her home chapel, Linda explained that "they overdosed her with drugs and they put her in a coma."     Numb from shock and exhausted from the terrifying events of the past few hours, the Santo family received another devastating blow at the hospital that first evening. Audrey's accident and hospitalization had already ignited a flurry of local radio and television news stories, and the media were pressing the hospital for information. The administration set up a press conference, without notifying the family, and went on the air with a strong message about the Santos' neglect in not preventing the pool accident. That evening Linda, Stephen, and their children listened to the first implications that Audrey should have been watched more closely. A string of news reports repeated the accusation for weeks. In October, for example, Dr. Anderson stated in the local newspaper that drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death of children and urged parents to take every precaution against such incidents. "The most important risk factor is an unsupervised toddler," she said. "If we can just use this to encourage parents to keep a close watch of their child." These ongoing articles were impossible to ignore, and Linda and her family were very hurt by them. "There is no way one of my kids was out of my sight for fifteen minutes," Linda firmly told the local newspaper. "That's why they call it an accident."     After a few days the Santos were given a glimmer of hope. Audrey opened her eyes. It was a blank stare with no movement, but it was something--and certainly enough to refresh their optimism that she would recover. The medical staff was not encouraged, however, and after Audrey had been in intensive care for seven days, they suggested that the family consider taking her off the ventilator and feeding tube. The family refused. "They were telling me she wasn't going to make it," said Linda. "If she made it, maybe two years, she'd be a vegetable. It was probably the most hopeless place I'd ever been in."     As she lay in the hospital week after week, Audrey continued to open her eyes now and then. Tests proved that she was also somewhat sensitive to pain, which gave the Santos even more hope that Audrey was on her way back. But eventually the hospital staff decided it was time to move Audrey to a long-term care facility. They asked Linda where she would like to place Audrey once she was released from the hospital. The Department of Social Services had a list of nursing homes that were equipped to handle a patient who needed special medical equipment and round-the-clock care. Linda, however, had no intention of putting her daughter in another medical facility. In her opinion, much of Audrey's experience at the UMass Medical Center had done her more harm than good. She had been given drugs that damaged her brain. She had been surrounded by medical personnel who repeatedly stated that there was no hope. And a physical therapist had broken both of Audrey's tiny, fragile legs during a session--an injury that didn't get reported until the family asked that her severely swollen knees be X-rayed. Linda told the hospital staff that she was not going to place Audrey in a nursing home but, rather, in her arms. "My thought was," Linda said, "I'm not gonna let her die, and neither is God because she's gonna be home with us." The doctors thought the idea ridiculous and told Linda that Audrey would be dead within two weeks if she was brought home. But Linda insisted, stood her ground, and told them that she knew where her daughter belonged. "She's my child," she told them. "She's going home."     The decision was made, and in October 1987 the family went into high gear to prepare for Audrey's homecoming. They sold their two-story house and moved into Grandma Nader's one-story ranch-style house on South Flagg Street. Audrey would have a bedroom on the main floor that was big enough for her heart monitor, respirator, and other medical equipment and from which it would be easy to move her in and out of the house for her medical appointments. Friends of the family volunteered to upgrade the electrical system of the house so that it would have enough power to run Audrey's medical equipment. Finally, on Friday afternoon, November 13, 1987, Audrey was taken home in an ambulance after a farewell party at the hospital. The doctors did not send Audrey off with a prognosis for recovery, nor did they have any idea what to expect in the next week, month, or year. "There is no prognosis," said Linda the day after Audrey came home. "The doctors refuse to give one. At one point, they gave her no chance. Now they hope. We take it one step at a time."     The family filed a lawsuit against the hospital, claiming that the drugs used were responsible for Audrey's comalike condition. The court dismissed the suit on the grounds that it lacked substance. Linda continues to blame the hospital, however, in very matter-of-fact terms when she speaks to people about the treatment Audrey received at the UMass Medical Center.     On that November weekend Audrey moved into the bedroom in which she has remained ever since. Her mother and grandmother covered the window with airy white curtains, outfitted the bed with lacy pillowcases, strung a garland of artificial flowers along the top of the curtain valence, and placed Audrey's stuffed animals throughout the room. Small and fragile, still recuperating from her broken legs, Audrey lay motionless in the bed as everyone in her family spoke to her and kissed her in an attempt to bring her out of her unresponsive state. This would be the routine from that day forward: giving Audrey as much attention as possible and never giving up hope that she would one day wake up. Linda Santo set up a caretaker schedule so that every member of the family would have bedside duty during some part of the day. "They love her to pieces," Linda said of her other children after Audrey had been home for two months. "They just look at it like, `She's my baby sister and she is going to get better.' We're sure she'll recover, as unrealistic as that might seem. There has never been any doubt in my mind." Eventually Linda found a source of funding for twenty-four-hour-a-day nursing care, and the family schedule was relaxed somewhat. The Santos' tireless and cheerful devotion to Audrey made a profound impression on the diocese's bishop, who began investigating the claims surrounding Audrey in early 1998. After the preliminary part of the investigation was completed, he said in a press conference that "the most striking evidence of the presence of God in the Santo home is seen in the dedication of the family to Audrey. Their constant respect for her dignity as a child of God is a poignant reminder that God touches our lives through the love and devotion of others."     Audrey Santo continued to be news in her hometown of Worcester, the second-largest city in New England (with a population of about 170,000), and her story spread throughout the nation. The Worcester Telegram & Gazette ran regular updates on her condition after she returned home from the hospital. Churches and synagogues remembered Audrey in their prayers and organized bake sales to help the family pay for some of Audrey's care. A benefit, featuring music hosted by a popular Boston disc jockey, was organized at a Knights of Columbus hall. Raffle tickets were sold by schools, colleges, church groups, and small businesses from Worcester, and surrounding towns sent donations to the family. Audrey had found a permanent place in the community's heart as a fighter, and everyone was rooting for her.     Hundreds of well-wishers had visited Audrey in the hospital, and these visits continued after she was brought home. People came to the house with gifts--such as religious statues brought from Lourdes, Medjugorje, and other pilgrimage sites--which quickly filled up her room and overflowed into the rest of the house. Visitors also brought their prayers, asking God to heal the paralyzed little girl who had somehow survived but still had far to go. Some even began to pray to Audrey, believing that in her silence she had a special relationship with Jesus that allowed her to bring their prayers to him. With this transition from praying for Audrey to praying to her, the people who visited the Santo home initiated a practice that was later addressed by Bishop Daniel P. Reilly of the Worcester diocese in his press conference in January 1999: In the case of Audrey herself, more study is needed from medical and other professionals regarding her level of awareness and her ability to communicate with the people around her. This is critical to the basis of the claim of her ability to intercede with God. In the meantime, I urge continued prayers for Audrey and her family. But praying to Audrey is not acceptable in Catholic teaching.     According to the newsletter published by the Santo family, the practice of praying for Audrey's intercession continues, however. The November 1999 edition contained a prayer addressed to "wonderful little Audrey" that includes the line "I/We beg you to pray with us poor sinners for the grace and courage to bear whole-heartedly whatever cross God has chosen for us before the foundation of the world.... Your silence is more eloquent than a thousand words.... Amen." Although this prayer asks Audrey to pray with the practitioner, it is a prayer addressed to Audrey. As Bishop Reilly stated, the Catholic Church does not condone praying to anyone other than God the Father and those holy enough to intercede for humanity, such as the saints. The Catholic catechism explains that Jesus is "the only mediator" but that prayers may be sent to Mary, the mother of Jesus, because "when we pray to her, we are adhering with her to the plan of the Father, who sends his Son to save all men. Like the beloved disciple we welcome Jesus' mother into our homes, for she has become the mother of all the living." Likewise, Christians are invited to pray to the saints--holy people who live in heaven with God--because "when they entered into the joy of their Master, they were `put in charge of many things.' Their intercession is their most exalted service to God's plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world." This catechism defines prayer as "a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God" and one of the great mysteries of faith.     Even though prayers to someone who is reportedly working miracles, like Audrey, are not officially sanctioned by the Catholic Church, this prohibition has not prevented faithful Catholics and people of all faiths from voicing their prayers to her. For more than a decade, growing numbers of Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and those not affiliated with any organized religion have come to the Santo home to pray in their own way. For some, praying to Audrey is part of a personal recognition that God is working through her. By praying the rosary in the Santo chapel, Vinny B. and his wife felt a strong healing power that they believe derives from the special innocence and holiness of Audrey Santo. Sister Patient believes that the miraculous results she gains from using the oil from the Santo chapel places Audrey at the center of a sacred mystery that rivals Lourdes, Fátima, and Guadalupe. For many, contemplating Audrey's silence and physical suffering has ignited an inner spiritual flame that had lain dormant for a lifetime. Listening to volunteers tell stories of the miraculous cures attributed to Audrey and watching oil drip from statues of the Virgin Mary have given many visitors new faith that with God, anything is possible. Doctors, nurses, housewives, businessmen, priests, artists, teenagers--people of many faiths and all walks of life have found inspiration in the small Santo chapel. In the opinion of the volunteers and priests who have greeted thousands of pilgrims on South Flagg Street, Audrey's ability to bring people together in an atmosphere of love and compassion reveals perhaps her greatest power of all.     In addition to the prayers addressed to Audrey, there is another level of veneration paid her that is not well documented--if known at all--outside the Santos' immediate circle of family and friends: Audrey's ability to do more than intercede for others and bring prayers to Jesus. Linda Santo told me that Audrey, like God, knows people's hearts and that she "cuts people off" when she judges that their actions are not performed in a godly way. It was not clear whether she meant the person would be cut off from Audrey, from Jesus, or from God, but the implication was that Audrey has the power to alter one's spiritual connection in a profound way. Such claims of "cutting off" stand in stark contrast to the benevolent and nonjudgmental atmosphere generated in the family chapel and in the materials distributed about Audrey. Bishop Reilly has not yet commented on these claims; however, further statements are expected from him as his investigation into Audrey Santo continues.     What began as a terrifying accident on a warm Sunday morning has evolved into an event that draws people from throughout the world. By initiating an official investigation into the events occurring in the Santo home, Bishop Reilly has revealed that Audrey Santo's effect on the faithful warrants for a closer look. If he concludes that these events are worthy of further study, he will state his case to the Vatican, and the investigation will continue on a new level. (The Church's process of investigating this type of phenomena is discussed later.) No one knows how long Bishop Reilly will take in making this determination, as no time line has been set up to commission doctors, psychologists, and others. Some believe that these are the first steps toward sainthood for a girl with a divine mission to fulfill, a girl who made an early start on her mysterious journey to God.     Audrey Santo's drowning left her mute, paralyzed, and in a difficult-to-measure state of consciousness. After returning home from the hospital, she continued to be surrounded by loving family and friends, but her life and that of each of her family members would never again be the same. As the family hoped and prayed for her recovery, events other than Audrey's physical healing began to unfold in the following months. These unusual happenings began after Linda and Audrey returned home after a dramatic trip in search of a miracle.