Marian apparitions have always been a sign of God’s love. It truly is one of His greatest graces, which physically shows us the Blessed Mother along with her love, words of encouragement and warnings about the world in which we live. Sometimes the Church Militant heeds her call, but sadly often it doesn’t. This article will only cover a handful of Church approved apparitions (this can be a little tricky, more on this later,) but what it will show is that often the Blessed Mother appears in lands that have experienced great suffering with often more suffering to follow. Her message to bring the world closer to her Son and live according to Jesus’ teachings is one of God’s greatest graces, something that is often met with violent, evil attacks. The miraculous events surrounding her appearances often take place in the presense of great vistas; a window of sorts into God’s loving handiwork. The said could be said about Jesus at The Transfiguration and the Sermon on the Mount.
Something to keep in mind before we begin; during the early days of the Church investigative bodies were the last thing the Church was worried about at a time when the Church was trying to literally stay alive during an array of persecutions. Following the Protestant Reformation, a more detailed structure emerged for investigating appartions. They often took a long time to investigate in order to prevent any hoaxes. Most reported modern day apparitions are not approved. In the 20th Century only 8 of the 300+ reported apparitions were approved. This link from the University of Dayton, a Marianist institution, which houses the largest collection of Marian Apparitions, might be a helpful.
The year was 1300. Though parts of Spain remained under Islamic control, a liberated area, near the Guadalupe River would reveal an amazing find. A cow herder named Gil Cordero would be told by the Blessed Mother to dig, and there he would find holy treasure. Though laughed at by his fellow villagers, his faithful dig yielded a secret burial vault that would house many relics including that of a lifelike carving of the Blessed Mother. It was said to be carved by St Luke and transported to Spain in the sixth century by Bishop Leander, a relative of Pope Gregory the Great.
The vault had been placed there as Islamic armies were making their way to Spain. The lifelike carving, which still exists today, was said to have been processed through the streets of Rome around the year 590 AD, at the direction of Pope Gregory the Great. He had been given the famous carving while he was Papal Legate in Constantinople.
The famous pontiff had ordered this procession during a terrible plague and famine that had engulfed the city, some one hundred and fifty years after the Roman Empire had collapsed. As the procession ended, the assembled crowd saw the Archangel St Michael sheathing his sword, signifying that the famine and plague were over. (One can still see the statue of the Archangel St Michael atop the Castel Sant Angelo which commemorates this momentous event.) The carved statue of the Blessed Mother was then sent to Spain where it remains today, seemingly unscathed after spending years underground during the Muslim conquest.
Years later a young Italian navigator named Christopher Columbus would come to pray at this now famous shrine. He was at the end of his financial rope in seeking backing for a “new way to India.” Soon after his prayer, he was granted an audience with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and the rest is history. Few know about this religious side of Columbus. Even fewer know that when he first caught sight of what would be known as the Americas, he had minutes before ordered his crew to pray the Rosary. In gratitude, he named one of the islands he discovered for the site at which his prayers were answered back in Spain, the isle now known as Guadeloupe.
There had been a variety of Marian apparitions in Europe and the Middle East, years before the one reported near the Guadalupe River. One of the earliest recorded Marian apparitions occurred in what is now Zaragoza, Spain, circa 40 AD. The Blessed Mother (before her Assumption into Heaven) is said to have appeared to Saint James and told him to return to Jerusalem. Now for the record, Early Church apparitions don’t have the same approval as say Lourdes or Fatima would have, simply because the Church was still in her infancy. However, as Spirit Daily’s Michael Brown notes in his book, The Last Secret, the Blessed Mother appeared in a place that even the Roman Army found evil and troubling. It appears that ritual sacrifice and murder were quite common there. It would not be the last time that the Blessed Mother would appear in such a dark and evil place to literally give light to the captives.
In 1534 a few decades after Columbus’ famous voyage, another apparition, perhaps the most famous apparition to ever grace the world occurred at Guadalupe, Mexico, near present day Mexico City. Though the modern day mainstream media may glorify the Aztecs and Mayans, especially the Mayan doomsday prediction of 2012, living under their thumb often resulted in death; ritual human sacrifice was very common in Mexico and the neighboring countries to her south.
Shortly after the Blessed Mother appeared to Juan Diego, Mexico was for all intense and purposes Catholic. The tilma worn by Juan Diego exists today and still baffles the skeptics who can’t figure out how this garment could last fifty years, let alone nearly five hundred. No one can explain the images seen in Mary’s eye (that of Juan and the Bishop.) These images aren’t painted and defy the realm of science. Yet some of the unfaithful who examine it, refuse to tame their egos and believe.
The apparition sent shockwaves through Europe who was in the throes of the Protestant Reformation. As word was reaching Europe of the miraculous events in Mexico, the shrine to Our Lady of Walsingham in England was about to be destroyed by mobs aligned with the more radical forms of extreme Calvinist Iconoclasm.
Martin Luther denounced these sorts of 16th Century Iconoclastic Movements which had their roots in the Islamic Conquests of the Middle East and North Africa. Some believe the Iconoclastic outburst that plagued the Eastern Churches in the 8th and 9th centuries arose out of secular authorities (and Eastern Church authorities as well) fear of Islam. This school of thinking surmises that by placating Islam through obeying their call for Iconoclasm, once they were conquered, Islamic rule might be more tolerant. (From 806-815 The Patriarch of Constantinople was Nicipherous. He condemned Iconoclasm and excommunicated those who pushed for it, and in the process destroyed many priceless works of art. Sadly, he was pushed out by another band of Iconcolasts, but after a short comeback they were eventually pushed out of the Eastern Church. Earlier many priests of the Eastern tradition had appealed to Pope Gregory II and Pope Gregory III to end the madness and save the beautiful Icons.)
Till the day he died, Luther always celebrated the Assumption of the Blessed Mother and believed in her Immaculate Conception. He called those radical reformers who pillaged and destroyed, “under the influence of Satan.” Sir Philip Howell’s haunting lament The Wrecks of Walsingham perhaps foretold the modern era when man claimed to know more than God Himself, thus destroying God’s monuments of Grace. This destruction set up another kind of monument; this one to man’s pride and rebellion.
For Mexico evil would always seem to attack these happy, faithful, earnest and hardworking people. Violent anti religious military leaders inspired by the French Revolution (remember Mexico was once ruled by the French) would lead to the Cristero Uprising that would give the Mexican faithful brave men like Father Miguel Pro SJ. He was assassinated in a Christ like pose, while his executioners had hoped he would grovel. The picture circulated by the military thugs only made the Cristero Movement more popular in the early part of the 20th Century.
Thousands of the faithful would be murdered and many beautiful churches would be whitewashed, but the faith remained even though it wasn’t until the pontificate of Pope John Paul II that the Mexican clergy would be officially allowed to wear their priestly blacks in public. Today a different scourge attacks the good people of Mexico, as drug cartels prey upon civilians and governmental officials. Yet, the Blessed Mother and her message remains in the hearts of most Mexicans, even as they undergo attack from the minions of the evil one.
In Knock, Ireland the Blessed Mother appeared in 1870. The Emerald isle had long had more than her fair share of troubles, ranging from the British conquest to the Potato Famine. Following the model of these apparitions, the Blessed Mother appeared in a land that seen more than her share of heartache. A few decades later, Ireland would rebel against their colonial master during the Easter Sunday Uprising of 1916, a civil war would follow and though she achieved her independence, discrimination against the faithful would continue in the North. Sadly in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, the call to arms would be taken up by leaders in the North of Ireland who more often quoted Mao and Castro than Jesus, His Apostles and the litany of Irish saints.
More recently the Abuse Scandal has wracked Ireland. Many have lent their opinions as to why such a cheerful people could be abused by priests whose lives were filled with rage and anger toward God’s most innocent; the young and the orphaned. Perhaps the Blessed Mother’s appearance was a warning that despite their generosity and warmth the Irish people were under attack, perhaps because of their display of these very special gifts.
Thankfully, there are many fine Irish priests and religious who carry on with the Lord’s work under trying times. Perhaps, today the most famous being the healing nun known as Sister Briege McKeena, who experienced her miraculous healing some 40 years ago. She recently conducted a retreat for bishops and cardinals in Rome. (On a personal note, a few years ago, I had the distinct privilege of sharing lunch and conversation with Sister Briege McKenna. The time spent with her left me very grateful that God had allowed me to meet such a holy woman.)
In modern times, France has seen more Church approved apparitions than any other country. This is more than revealing in light of the many holy saints that have come from France. Along with these holy men and women were troubling political developments, such as the French Revolution and the Political and Cultural Uprising of 1968 that led to radicals glorifying the burning barricades of Paris. These acts of rebellion have not only affected the politics of Western Europe, but emboldened radicals within the Church itself. Perhaps by giving the faithful the Miraculous Medal and appearing at places like LaSallate and Lourdes, the Blessed Mother was reminding the faithful that she is praying for us and imploring Her Son to act on our behalf, even as the western world plunges closer to political anarchy and religious paganism.
France is also the place where Charles (the Hammer) Martel stopped the Islamic Conquest of Europe at Tours in the 8th century. How ironic that Sharia Law is being talked about in Europe even though many paid for their lives to make sure it wouldn’t happen. The Anglican faithful must have been appalled when they read in the Times of London that the Archbishop of Canterbury was arguing for parts of Sharia Law in Britain. Some one thousand years ago, two young people, among many others, paid for their lives in Muslim dominated Spain. They were saints Nunilo and Alodia. These two young Spanish girls refused to live as Muslim woman were suppose to and were martyred for it.
The 1917 apparitions at Fatima, Portugal are most interesting in that it occurs in the only town in Portugal with an Islamic name. We all know about Sister Lucia, and the Blessed Mother allowing her and (her two cousins) to see frightening images of hell, along with futuristic images of a political 20th century that the little peasant girl could barely understand. Yet these events played out before her very eyes as she saw the rise and fall of the Soviet Union within her lifetime. She died in 2005.
However, have we ever thought about the Islamic implication? The town where the Blessed Mother appeared cannot be an accident. Perhaps there is a tie in with the apparitions in Guadalupe. One might recall that shortly after Guadalupe, the Blessed Mother was implored by Pope Saint Pius V, during the naval Battle of Lepanato, to save the faithful of Italy and other points further north, for they surely would be under the thumb of the Ottoman Turks if the battle was lost. The miraculous image seen in Guadalupe was hoisted on Italian Naval vessels to show their solidarity with the Blessed Mother. To this day, military scholars are perplexed as to how the superior Ottoman Naval force was defeated.
The Blessed Mother’s outreach to the Muslim world continued in 1968 at Zeitoun, Egypt. This suburb of Cairo saw one of the most miraculous images ever seen of the Blessed Mother. The event began when a bus driver, who was Muslim, noticed a woman on the church. He thought she was going to jump off the ledge, so he gathered a crowd to convince her to do otherwise. As the crowd gathered, they soon realized it was an apparition. Christians soon realized it was the Blessed Mother. For days crowds gathered, some estimate in the hundreds of thousands, and most were Muslim. The crowds gathered on a site that some believed was a place of rest for the Holy Family on their Flight From Herod to Egypt. Miraculous healings of people from all faiths took place along with some of the most amazing still pictures and television coverage ever seen. Even famed Egyptian military leader and political nationalist Gamel Abdel Nasser came to see.
One year earlier the Arab world had suffered a humiliating defeat in the 1967 Six Day War. Militants were forming radical associations under the umbrella of the Muslim Brotherhood. Many assumed their humiliating defeat to Israel was allowed by God due to their lack of religious adherence, such as enforcing Sharia Law. One might assume that if Gamel Abdel Nasser would publicly make it known of his attendance at the apparition site, some of the young radicals in Cairo might attend as well. One such radical could have been a young seventeen year old Ayman Al Zawahiri, the son of a prominent Cairo physician, known for his moderate views. Young Ayman would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a physician, but not a moderate.
Five years later the Middle East would be in the throes on another disastrous war. Thirteen years later now Dr. Ayman Al Zawahiri was behind the murder of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and many others killed that infamous day, while the Egyptian leader was reviewing a military parade. The assassination would be the genesis for gathering names and associations that would lead to Al Qaeda. With the radical Muslim world already rallying against the infidel Soviet invasion of Muslim Afghanistan, the dye was set for a toxic mix of evil and anger. Perhaps the Blessed Mother was warning the world over these impending events, which would not stop in Afghanistan but move to the Arabian Peninsula, Kenya, Tanzania, the Philippines and eventually the East Coast of the United States.
One final note concerning the Zeitoun Apparition. The event occurred at an Orthodox Coptic Church, which has approved the apparition. Cardinal Stephanos, the Catholic ordinary in Cairo, later approved the apparition as well. A papal emissary of Pope Paul VI arrived in time to personally witness the events.
For all of Radical Islam’s talk of Islamic lands under infidel invasion and control, the ancient relatives of those living in the Middle East and North Africa’s were at one time Catholic. Some of the towering figures of the Church like St Augustine called these places home. The Blessed Mother is perhaps trying to reach out and bring the modern day descendents of the Middle East and North Africa home to the Church Jesus Christ founded some 2,000 years ago.
Three of the most recent Church approved apparitions have occurred in Japan, Rwanda and Venezuela. The apparitions at Akita, Japan which warned of dissension in the Church; taking the form of bishop going against bishop and cardinal going against cardinal was approved after being reviewed by the local Catholic ordinary Bishop Ito and the future pontiff then Cardinal Josef Ratzinger. The apparitions at Betania, Venezuela have warned of similar unrest. Most interesting are some of the political and cultural implications of these apparitions.
The Rwandan Apparitions in 1981 foretold the gruesome events of the Rwandan Genocide in the 1990s. Two of the seers of the Apparitions were themselves killed in the ethnic genocide between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes. The Blessed Mother pleaded for the people of Rwanda to turn back to God and away from violence, jealousy and hatred, perhaps a foreboding of more rage to come in our modern world.
By the 1970s, Japan like their former Axis partner Germany, had become one of the world’s most prosperous democratic nations in the world. A few decades earlier their military regime killed scores in China and Southeast Asia, along with attacking the United States. The Japanese themselves suffered as the war was brought closer to home, especially in the horrific events at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Yet, the country would soon prosper. When the apparitions at Akita occurred in 1973, the Japanese economy was in boom mood. While warning the Church of deception and perhaps some of the Smoke of Satan imagery that Pope Paul VI used, maybe another part of the message of Akita is for us not to be content with the comforts of the world, where technological gadgets have become our personal gods.
The message of Betania is eerie when one considers the rise of Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela. The country has become quite wealthy and powerful due to her oil money and associations with the likes of Iran. Could this portend a dark message for Central and North American if indeed Chavez hopes to settle scores with the perceived slights by the US and Mexico?
These apparitions are important for us today because we know that if we heed the call of the Blessed Mother to live simply and be obedient to Christ’s Holy Church, all will be well. However, all too often we become enamored with the ways of the Dictatorship of Relativism (Pope Benedict XVI’s revealing term,) by obtaining ever greater numbers of personal possessions and engaging in a hedonistic lifestyle that encourages that every sexual whim and feeling be obeyed. Sadly all of this is occurring, while too many of the clergy have become enamored with being accepted and liked by the new cultural elite.
These elites often go hand in hand with today’s new social activists who claim to be in alliance with the Church’s mission. However, in reality they have always hated the Church and always will, because in their heart of hearts they are rebellious to the ways of God. The elite media’s treatment of Pope Benedict XVI is one such example. Before he became pontiff, he was hailed for his role in stopping the evil Abuse Scandal. However, once he used term the “Dictatorship of Relativism,” and was given the “keys” he immediately became a target for their vitriol and hate.
One of the common ploys of these elites is to appeal to their inflated sense of ego and intelligence, as if their intellect could save themselves and the world. This is a common ploy used to attack the likes of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. However this is nothing new, Adam and Eve were duped into thinking they would be as smart as God if they would simply eat the apple. In the New Testament, Judas seemed to have no problem letting everyone know that he fancied himself quite a scholar and leader. We see where that got him. All too often this path of hubris leads to disaster which is why William F Buckley wryly noted that he would rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the Harvard faculty.
Thankfully, there is good news as many dioceses are heeding the message of the Blessed Mother and once again obeying the teachings of her Son, Jesus the Christ who with His Apostles, Saints, Early Church Fathers and Popes have given us sound teaching and the authority to go with it. While mainline liberal Protestant churches are in a statistical free fall due to a desire for their theology to coincide with the secular world, Evangelical Churches and the Catholic Church continues to grow.
For Catholics, all of this is made manifest in ordination numbers. 64 to 6 and 14 to 4 stand out. What does this mean? In 2006 when writing my book, The Tide is Turning Toward Catholicism, I noted that even though the Diocese of Rochester had more Catholics than the dioceses of Lincoln and Omaha combined, Rochester had 6 men studying for the priesthood while Lincoln and Omaha had 64. That same year of 2006 Denver had 14 young men ordained to the priesthood (eleven in May and three earlier in the academic year) while Los Angeles had four; a staggering statistic when one considers that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has 4,300,000 Catholic residents compared to 385,000 Catholics for the Archdiocese of Denver.
In 2006 Los Angeles and Rochester were led by two of the most liberal prelates in the Church, while Omaha, Lincoln and Denver were led by three of the more conservative bishops in the US, a revelatory statistic to say the least. For more on this read my columns, If You Want the Political Left to Run Governments, Look at What the Religious Left Has Done to Religion, (Left It In Tatters,) along with my article, The Coming Open Rebellion Against God.
While liberal convents are strapped for cash because they haven’t had a postulant in years, more conservative orders like the Sister of Mary in Ann Arbor, Michigan are running out of room due to the large number of young professional women coming their way. They are not the only conservative order growing; the Nashville Dominicans among others are also experiencing growing pains.
Sadly some delusional people make up apparitional reports, which only confuse the faithful. In other cases the evil one deludes the faithful into making something out of nothing. This is why the Church often takes many, many years to investigate an apparitional report. While we all too often hear of those who claim to see the Blessed Mother in their piece of burnt toast or their weather beaten garage door, this should in no way take away from God’s grace of allowing the Blessed Mother to encourage, inform and warn us when the time is right.
The Blessed Mother was present at Jesus’ first miracle at Cana, at Calvary and is the “Woman Clothed with the Sun,” mentioned in Revelation 12. She leads all to her Son, all who will listen, but will we listen? In our cruel, cold world we often complain where is God? We often refuse to believe in His graces and blessings because somewhere along the line we have allowed narcissists and bitter skeptics to take away the joy of God’s blessings. These sad narcissists and cold hearted skeptics (so called believers and militant secularists alike ) would rather us believe in their bitter pill of anger, ego and pride than the love of God. The Almighty has given His children a mother for which we are to be thankful.
We might recall that already in the Protoevangelium (Genesis 3:15,) Jesus’ coming and that of the Blessed Mother is foretold. In The New Testament, Jesus always addressed his mother as woman, not because He was rude (remember He is the sinless Son of God, so he couldn’t be rude,) but because she is the mother to us all. Let us thank God for all we have, even as we pray for those who would try to take away God’s blessings and love.