What Do You Know About These Marian Miracles?
People love Marian Apparitions. There just seems to be something about the sites at which Mary has appeared that keep people flocking to them, centuries after the actual apparition. You’ve probably heard about some of the most famous ones- Guadalupe, Lourdes, Fatima—but there are many sites, some of which have hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year, that you may not have heard of. Places like Knock, Ireland; Kiebho, Rwanda, and even Green Bay, Wisconsin all have alleged apparitions.
However, we must always be carefully attentive to the Church’s assessment of an apparition because of the possibility that it is not real—the person may be making it up, they might have a psychological condition that causes the vision, or worse—it could be a demon trying to trick the faithful. In order to help determine if an apparition is legitimate or not, the Church has established a process. After we look at an outline of that process, we’ll look at 10 Marian apparitions around the globe, and hopefully through this we will grow in our devotion to the Mother of God.
In 1974 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released a document entitled Normae Congregationis that outlined the steps to take to investigate a Marian apparition. However, the text was kept secret until 2012 when it was released in Latin. The reason for the secrecy was to protect the process. For, if somebody who wishes to do harm by creating fervor over a fake apparition knew the process, they could more easily figure out a way to fool the process.
Before we look at the process of evaluating these apparitions, we need to remember that any Marian apparition is considered private revelation. Public revelation closed with the death of the last apostle, John. While information from private revelations may be quite useful in promoting piety and assisting people, the whole of revelation needed for salvation has been known since the first century. Thus, Marian apparitions are evaluated in the same way as other private revelations, which means the process begins with the local bishop.
The local bishop can choose to start an investigation on his own, or the country’s Conference of Catholic Bishops can start one or the Vatican may start an investigation on their own if they deem it good for the Church. The investigation would include an interview of the people involved and a theological investigation into the message given or what happened. The theological investigation is very important. A real apparition of Mary will never contradict Jesus Christ or his Church. So, if the investigators discover that the apparition said that the Eucharist was not really the Body and Blood of Christ, or if it claimed that a piece of writing needed to be added to the Bible, it would not be a real apparition.
The people investigating the apparition also need to check the psychological health of the people who claim to have seen the vision. Because there are some psychological conditions that could cause a person to see a vision that was not really there, this must be ruled out before the process can continue. Once the investigation is done, a ruling is issued. According to the document there are two possible rulings that can be made- 1) The vision is confirmed to be of supernatural origin or 2) The vision is not confirmed to be of supernatural origin. This second ruling is quite vague. It can include rulings where it cannot be determined whether or not it is supernatural and thus we can’t know if it is real or not AND those cases where it has been determined that it is not supernatural. The difference between these two is great, yet both would receive the same ruling. So, if an apparition gets this second ruling, we cannot assume which of the two reasons it received the ruling for.
Once the local bishop rules on the apparition, it may then be sent up higher if pilgrims begin to come from other dioceses and countries. Basically, the Church wants to make sure that the thousands of pilgrims coming are going to a site where Mary actually appeared. We’ll look at some apparitions that have been approved by the Vatican, and others that have been approved by only the local bishop—this means the Vatican has not ruled one way or the other on them and people are free to visit as pilgrims.
Our Lady of Guadalupe
Guadalupe is one of the most famous apparition sites and the pilgrimage site in the Americas that receives the most visitors. This apparition is often tied to Evangelization of the peoples for two reasons. One, within a very short time after this apparition, almost the entire country of Mexico and then Central and South America became Catholic. The second reason is the geography of the place itself. Mexico City is about half way between North and South America and about halfway between Africa and Asia heading west. Thus, by appearing directly in the geographic middle, Mary was letting us know that she was coming for everybody. The story is famous- In 1531 a poor man, Juan Diego, saw the Virgin Mary and she commanded him to tell the bishop to build a church. The bishop did not believe him and so he asked for a sign and the Virgin gave him a bunch of roses that were not in season. When he dumped the roses out of his tunic before the bishop, a miracualous image of the Blessed Virgin was on the tunic which has not faded since.
Our Lady of Lourdes
In Lourdes, France in 1858 a shepherd girl, Bernadette, saw a vision of a Lady who identified herself as the “Immaculate Conception.” Bernadette had no idea what this meant and reported it. When the bishop heard about it he began investigating it as the Immaculate Conception had just been declared a dogma 4 years earlier. Today, thousands go to Lourdes, paritcularly into the waters of the baths at Lourdes which have been attributed with miraculous healings.
Our Lady of the Pillar
Our Lady of the Pillar is perhaps the first Marian apparition, occurring in the year 39 AD (only 6 years after the Passion of Jesus Christ and before the assumption of Mary). St. James the Greater, one of the 12 Apostles, had a vision of the Blessed Virgin in Spain and the devotion to this vision grew from there and continues to this day.
Our Lady of Kibeho
This apparition has been approved only by the local bishop in Rwanda. This vision is quite recent, happening in 1981 in rural Rwanda in Africa. In this apparition Mary identified herself as “Mother of the Word” and warned of great violence in Rwanda. A shrine was built on the site called “Our Lady of Sorrows”. Thirteen years after this apparition, the Rwandan genocide began, one of the bloodiest civil wars in history.
Our Lady of Good Help
Our Lady of Good Help is not very well known. It happened just outside of Green Bay, Wisconsin in 1859 and was not approved by the local bishop until 2010, making this the first approved Marian apparition site in the United States. A young Belgian immigrant named Adele Brise saw the vision of Our Lady on her way to Mass and told the priest. He told her if he saw her again to ask her who she was and what she wanted. When she saw the Lady again she asked and was told that she was the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners and that she wanted Adele to teach the faith to the children.
Our Lady of Knock
In County Mayo in Ireland in 1879 Our Lady appeared together with St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist and was seen by 15 people ranging from 6 years old to 75. The vision lasted for two hours, during which the rosary was prayed together by the people present, Our Lady, St. Joseph and St. John. In 1979, Pope John Paul II visited this shrine saying it was the ultimate goal of his visit to Ireland.
Our Lady of Fatima
In 1917 in rural Portugal, the Blessed Virgin appeared to three children and these visions have prompted Popes to consecrate the country of Russia to the Blessed Virgin. Pope John Paul II had a very strong devotion to Our Lady of Fatima as he was shot on the feast day of Fatima by a professional assassin at close range and survived. When he travelled to Fatima as a pilgrim he placed the bullet with which he had been shot in the crown of the statue of Mary there and declared that “One hand pulled the trigger but another guided the bullet,” attributing his miraculous survival to Our Lady of Fatima.
Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal
St. Catherine Labouré had the Virgin appear to her and command her to strike a medal in the image given to her in Paris in 1830. Thus we have the Miraculous Medal which has a strong devotion to this day. Pope John Paul II used a slight variation of this image of the cross as his coat of arms.
Our Lady of Akita
In 1973 in Akita, Japan, our Lady appeared to a nun named Agnes Katsuko Sasagawa who had many health problems which were all miraculously healed after this visit. Although the Vatican has not ruled on this—only the local bishop has—it is reported that the Ambasador of the Phillipines to the Vatican was told privately by then-Cardinal Ratzinger, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and later Pope Benedict XVI- that the visions were authentic.
Our Lady of Zeitoun
Although not ruled on by a Roman Catholic bishop, pope, or other authority, the Coptic Orthodox Church (an apostolic church) recognizes this vision which happened in 1968 in Egypt after the Six Day War. It was witnessed by many people, including the president of Egypt and was captured by tv cameras. The Virign would appear above a Church for periods of a couple minutes to a couple hours and miraculous healings would accompany the sightings along with many conversions to Christianity.
These are far from all the approved apparitions of Mary, but they serve to show that apparitions have been happening for the entire history of Christianity and all over the globe. The Blessed Virgin Mary appears when she is most needed, like the Morning Star, giving hope in times of distress, promoting the faith and bringing people closer to Jesus Christ, her Son, as well as healing the physical and spiritual ailments of her children.