Religious relics play an important role in Catholicism and the use of relics is a delicate topic among believers. Anne Armstrong is one of the leaders of West Greenwich's Healing Church, and her interpretation of the portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe includes identifying the pattern on her dress as cannabis leaves. Her use of the Virgin Mary icon has also led to time behind bars for possession of cannabis, as well as a pending religious infringement lawsuit.
The original iconic image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, according to legend, miraculously appeared on a peasant's poncho in Mexico in 1531, but a few rare life-size replicas traverse the world. Many attribute miracles to the healing power of the image. Members of West Greenwich-based Healing Church prayed to the image and used cannabis-incensed novenas.
Armstrong obtained a six-foot replica of Our Lady of Guadalupe from Dan Lynch of St. Albans, Vermont last Spring. Lynch was furious when he'd learned that Armstrong had taken the relic on tour and used it to support the use of cannabis and for LGBT-related events such as Providence's PrideFest.
"I guess didn't read my emails," Armstrong told The Providence Journal. Headlined with“Missionary image held Hostage!" Lynch wrote that Armstrong and her unmarried "cohabitant," Alan Gordon, "sacrilegiously used the image to promote their personal cause for the use of marijuana as a remedy for the healing of the world." Lynch runs a religious organization called Dan Lynch Apostolates that looks for temporary “guardians” for Catholic relics. Armstrong even sought clarification from the Cardinal of Mexico that she had the right to use the image.
On June 23, Lynch arrived with a search warrant to retrieve and reclaim the image. Sgt. Richard Brown said that Armstrong refused to return the relic Mysteriously, four weeks later, Armstrong's home was raided and she was charged for possession of 12 pounds of marijuana, 59 pot plants and 10 pounds of hash oil. Armstrong may have been a former caregiver and patient, but she lacked the proper documentation and grossly exceeded the legal limits. Armstrong spent two weeks in jail before being released.
Armstrong and Gordon are expected to file a federal lawsuit for religious infringement by law enforcement.