HOPE SPRINGS, AR—The holy and sacrosanct miracle of birth, long revered by human civilization as the most mysterious and magical of all phenomena, took place for what experts are estimating "must be at least the 83 billionth time" Tuesday with the successful delivery of eight-pound, four-ounce baby boy Darryl Brandon Severson at Holy Mary Mother Of God Hospital.

The milestone was achieved by Carla Severson, 32, an unemployed cosmetology-school graduate and homemaker, and her husband of 14 years, Dwayne Severson, also 32, a former screen-door factory worker and freelance lawncare contractor. Experts say the miracle most likely was the result of the pair engaging in an otherwise routine act of sexual intercourse at some point during late May 1998.

The miraculous birth is the couple's fifth.

Delivery-room personnel cut the umbilical cord of Darryl Brandon Severson, the 83 billionth miracle of birth and the fifth to occur in the Severson household.

"This truly is a miracle," said OB-GYN floor nurse Sandra Meese, placing Darryl Brandon in the New Births Room of the hospital's maternity ward, where he joined 32 other equally miraculous babies. "Looking down into this precious child's red, screaming face, so barely distinguishable from all the other wailing children surrounding him on all sides, one is reminded of just how special and unique the gift of life really is."

News of the landmark 83 billionth birth sparked an outpouring of good tidings from around the globe, with millions of well-wishers sending cards and letters offering blessings to the media-dubbed "miracle baby." Dozens of world leaders have phoned to express their congratulations, including Chinese Premier Li Peng, who called Darryl "a living miracle" and "a joy to all mankind." Warring factions in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Turkey have called week-long cease-fires in honor of the miraculous birth.

In a special message from St. Peter's Basilica, Pope John Paul II spoke of the miracle child.

"In our all-too-cynical modern age, the birth of Darryl Severson is proof that miracles do indeed exist," the pope said. "In this special time, it is fitting that we should offer thanks and praise to our Father in Heaven for this, the most precious of His blessings: the blessing of life."

The pope went on to commend Carla Severson for her abstention from birth control, a sin which, had it been committed, would have prevented her pregnancy and delayed humankind's reaching the 83 billion mark by as much as 1/64th of a second. The pope also noted that, with a total of five certifiable miracles to her credit, Mrs. Severson may qualify for canonization as a saint after her death.

Narrowly missing the chance to be the record-breaking 83 billionth baby were Manoj Ranaghat, born 1/16th of a second earlier to starving peasants in the drought-stricken village of Bijapur, India; Phillippe Duclos, born 1/32nd of a second earlier in Lyon, France; and Baby X, delivered just 1/64th of a second earlier than Darryl in a Bronx housing project, but unfortunately born dead.

"I'm overjoyed for the Seversons. They are truly blessed," said Marcia Ott, a neighbor of the family, reacting to the sudden crush of media attention focused on their small Arkansas town. "I've heard about miracles before, but you never think something like this is going to happen to someone you know."

The miraculous birth will likely have a major impact on Dwayne and Carla Severson, as they are expected to devote a majority of their waking hours tending to the baby's many miraculous needs. When not getting miraculously waken at 3 a.m., the couple will be miraculously occupied feeding Darryl and changing his miraculous diapers whenever he miraculously defecates.

But for all the attention, the couple remain humble about their achievement.

"It wasn't exactly like we planned it, to be honest," Dwayne said. "In fact, when Carla told me she was pregnant again, I was kinda worried, on account of me losing my job at the screen-door factory and all. Money's real tight right now, and I wasn't sure we could make ends meet. But still, us having to sell the trailer and temporarily move back into Carla's parents' place isn't so bad, if you think about it, since it's a such a miracle, I guess."

"I love my baby so much," Carla said. "He's the most precious little angel that ever flew down from heaven."

Though the 83 billion figure is the one generally agreed upon, experts concede that the precise number is somewhat more nebulous.

"It all depends on how you tabulate the miracles," Cornell University biology professor Dr. Isaac Gregson said. "Eighty-three billion includes not only all the humans who have ever been born, but also all the Cro-Magnons, Neanderthals, Australopithecines and other proto-hominids going all the way back to the first mammals. Of course, if you were to include the rest of the vertebrates in the animal kingdom, it would be even higher. And if you were to also include plankton, unicellular microorganisms and all plant life, the actual number would be closer to, say, umpteen gadzillion. But why quibble about numbers at a time like this? Darryl's birth is a one-of-a-kind special moment that has deeply inspired the world, reminding us all of just what it is that life is all about."

Noted essayist and biologist Stephen Jay Gould agreed, calling the latest addition to the Severson household "a miracle beyond compare."

"It's an amazing turn of events, no doubt about it," Gould said. "Just think: A spermatozoa from a male mammal fertilized the ovum of a female mammal, causing a fetus to develop and, in time, come to term and pass through the female's birth canal as a new being. It just goes to show that there are some mysteries even science cannot explain."