In the last several days, the Church has celebrated both the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (December 8) and the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12). This makes it particularly fitting to consider the times God has sent the Queen of Heaven to Earth to warn, guide, and help us. True, not every alleged Marian apparition is authentic; in fact, most are not. The Catholic Church upholds stringent norms in investigating of such matters, and only a small percentage of the hundreds of claimed Marian apparition gain Church approval. (See my 2017 Fatima centenary article in Catholic World Report.)
There are varying degrees of Church approval of apparitions; they are:
- partial: allowance for the devotion (e.g., prayers, medals, Masses at the site) after determining that the purported messages are not contrary to the faith;
- full: usually when the local bishop officially declares the apparition “worthy of belief”; and
- extraordinary: the Holy See is not usually involved, but rarely, various forms of Vatican recognition are also given.
However, the faithful are not obliged to believe fully—or even Vatican-approved apparitions, since they are “private revelations,” rather than Church doctrines—the latter being based on the public revelation of Jesus Christ passed on by the Apostles.
While approved visits from the Mother of God differ from each other, they also have certain commonalities, particularly the fact that they always direct mankind to God: Mary implores us to honor the Father and imitate her Son by relying on the Holy Spirit.
Appearances particularly relevant to our day
There are several private Marian revelations with partial or full ecclesiastical approval that speak amazingly to our times. First a brief chronological overview of these apparitions and their credibility, with links to more information.
Our Lady of Guadalupe (1531)
One of the most powerful and convincing of all Marian apparitions is that of Our Lady of Guadalupe, when the Blessed Mother appeared to Juan Diego, one of the few Aztec Catholic converts in newly conquered Mexico. She requested a chapel to be built; to convince the bishop that the apparition was authentic, she asked Juan Diego to cut roses that were miraculously growing at the site, in a season and place where they never grew. She arranged the gathered roses in his tilma—an Aztec-style cloak with swaths of cloth front and back. When he unfurled the tilma to display the roses, a bigger miracle was revealed—the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared on the tilma.
Though a tilma, being made of cactus fibers, usually lasted about 20 years before crumbling, Juan Diego’s tilma is still extant today, though it has been almost perpetually on display, often in the presence of lit candles, for 500 years. Scientists cannot explain the origin of the image—which consists of no-known pigments, has no sketch underneath or any brushstrokes. Moreover, more recent technology has revealed curved reflections of figures (thought to be Juan Diego and the bishop) in the Lady’s eyes, exactly as they would appear in real human eyes beholding other people. The arrangement of stars on her cloak matches the pattern of stars of that date in that place, seen from above (see MiracleHunter’s timeline of Guadalupe).
The apparition has received multiple forms of Vatican and papal recognition, one of only 15 Marian apparitions to receive any Vatican acknowledgment. The Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12.
Our Lady of Good Success, Quito, Ecuador (1594-1634):
Mary appeared under this title to an Ecuadoran nun, Mother Mariana, granting numerous miracles and giving many predictions for Ecuador and the world, not only for Mother Mariana’s day but even for later centuries. Many have already been fulfilled. The bishop at the time gave his approval and established a feast in honor of Our Lady of Good Success. When Mother Mariana’s tomb was opened, three centuries after her death, her body and habit were incorrupt.
Our Lady of America (1956-1957):
The apparitions of Our Lady of America have received partial approval. Sister Mary Ephrem (later Mildred Mary Neuzil) reported to her spiritual director, then-Monsignor Paul Francis Leibold, that Mary appeared to her under this title with messages and warnings for the US. After carefully reviewing Leibold’s letters and actions, Cardinal Raymond Burke determined they clearly demonstrate Leibold’s belief in these events as authentic and that he promoted and approved the devotion to Our Lady of America. The messages were not found to be contrary to the Catholic faith and were given Leibold’s imprimatur in booklets published in 1960 and 1971.
Leibold became archbishop of Cincinnati, but it was not under his jurisdiction to approve the messages and apparitions. They are currently under investigation. Thomas Paprocki, bishop of Springfield, Illinois, is the procurator-advocate for the bishops of the dioceses related to the reported apparitions and messages of Our Lady of America; he himself seems open and favorable to them; he led a public prayer to Our Lady of America in 2017 and encourages others to ask for her intercession.
Our Lady of Akita (1973):
The apparitions of Our Lady of Akita, in Japan, were approved by the local ordinary, Bishop Ito, in 1984 (although there have been some misleading statements and resulting confusion on this topic).
The visionary, Sister Agnes Sasagawa, experienced a bleeding wound in her right hand, and a statue of Mary at the convent was discovered to have the same wound, also bleeding. Later, the statue was seen to sweat and to cry 101 times (witnessed also by the bishop). The blood, tears, and sweat were tested by a non-Christian scientist and determined to be human. Sister Agnes was eventually healed of her incurable deafness as she said Mary prophesied; a woman with a brain tumor was also healed after praying to Our Lady of Akita.
There has been a misunderstanding of the Vatican’s role in this case. Early on, Bishop Ito consulted the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which initially did not deem the apparitions to be supernatural; Bishop Ito realized, however, that they did not have all the facts, and so he personally presented them. He also ran his pastoral letter on the subject by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who said it was acceptable to propagate. Some misunderstood and called this Vatican approval, so the CDF was obliged to state that it has never made any declarations (either way) on the authenticity of the Akita apparitions.
Ito left the dossier on the events at Akita with the Vatican, which has thus far neither formally approved nor disapproved the apparitions at Akita. But no Vatican approval is necessary, because it is up to the local bishop. (The Vatican could weigh in someday, but otherwise the approval stands.)
While the Bishops’ Conference of Japan has been dismissive of the Akita apparitions, it is not in the jurisdiction of an episcopal conference to weigh in on the authenticity of an apparition, unless requested or permitted to do so by the local bishop (See Vatican norms on apparitions.)
In addition, Bishop Sato, the successor of Bishop Ito, issued a statement (reproduced in this article, scroll to the end), saying that he would neither encourage nor forbid devotion to Our Lady of Akita and affirming Bishop Ito’s authorization to be “still valid.”
Our Lady of Kibeho, Rwanda (1981-1989):
In the 1980s, several young people claimed to have seen and heard either Mary or Jesus. The first three visionaries, Alphonsine, Nathalie, and Marie Claire, all described prophetic visions of the horrific genocide in Rwanda that would occur in 1994; Marie Claire would be one of its victims. From early on, there were healings, conversions, and solar phenomena reminiscent of Fatima during the Kibeho apparitions.
The Marian apparitions and messages received by these first three visionaries were recognized as authentic by the local bishop in 2001.
Our Lady of the Rosary at San Nicolás (1983-1990):
The apparitions in San Nicolás, Argentina, began in 1983 to an uneducated housewife and grandmother, Gladys Quiroga de Motta, and are said to continue to this day.
The visions have been accompanied by allegedly miraculous signs, including healings and Gladys’ repeated experiences of the stigmata (verified as scientifically inexplicable by physicians). In 2016, the local bishop deemed the apparitions from 1983 to 1990 to be “worthy of belief.” Later messages, since they are ongoing, are still under investigation.
While these Marian apparitions occurred on four different continents, in some cases several centuries ago, and while they each have unique facets, they share some common themes which are particularly pertinent to our situation today.
Four centuries ago, Our Lady of Good Success in Quito painted an accurate picture of our day: “The sacrament of Matrimony…will be thoroughly attacked and profaned,” “iniquitous laws” will be implemented making it “easy for all to live in sin, thus multiplying the birth of illegitimate children,” and evil groups would find “ways of introducing themselves into the very heart of homes to corrupt the innocence of children.” She also predicted, “In those times the atmosphere will be saturated with the spirit of impurity.”
Our Lady of America came shortly before the sexual revolution, stressing purity. “I desire that my children honor me by the purity of their lives,” she reportedly said, asking them to be her “army of chaste soldiers” and to comfort her by “the love and chasteness of your lives.” She even said, “I desire, through my children in America, to further the cause of faith and purity among peoples and nations.” (See “Knights of Columbus on Our Lady of America.”)
On a broader scale, Our Lady of Kibeho said in 1982: “The world is in rebellion against God. Many sins are being committed. There is no love and no peace. If you do not repent and convert your hearts, you will all fall into an abyss.” (See The Messages of Kibeho.)
Similarly, in San Nicolás in the 1980s, Our Lady is reported to have said, “The majority of mankind has allowed itself to become contaminated and as a result the world is under a warning.” (See Newly Approved Vision of San Nicolás.)
Wolves in the Church
More specifically, the Blessed Mother foretold the corruption of some clerics.
At Quito, she predicted: “The devil will work to persecute the ministers of the Lord in every way, working with baneful cunning to destroy the spirit of their vocation and corrupting many. Those who will thus scandalize the Christian flock will bring upon all priests the hatred of bad Christians and the enemies of the One, Holy, Roman Catholic, and Apostolic Church. This apparent triumph of Satan will cause enormous suffering to the good pastors of the Church.”
Similarly, Our Lady of Akita prophesied: “The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops. The priests who venerate me will be scorned and opposed by their confreres…churches and altars sacked; the Church will be full of those who accept compromises and the demon will press many priests and consecrated souls to leave the service of the Lord.”
In a recent article on Our Lady of America, who spoke so much of purity, Father Stanley Smolenski wondered, “Is our present dilemma due to a lack of proper attention and response to this message given about 60 years ago?” He encouraged the laity to pray that any obstacle to its full approval be removed and to ask our bishops to consider fulfilling her request to install her statue in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
All these private revelations also give dire predictions for our times, due to widespread sinfulness and lack of faith, and urge prayer and reform.
Our Lady of Quito concluded her depiction of prevailing impurity in our times with: “There shall be scarcely any virgin souls in the world.…Without virginity, fire from heaven will be needed to purify these lands.”
Our Lady of America warned of “a great havoc of war and incredible suffering” coming upon all nations, if people don’t reform their lives. She gave a very broad hint what form punishment might take: “If my warnings are taken seriously and enough of my children strive constantly and faithfully to renew and reform themselves in their inward and outward lives, then there will be no nuclear war.”
Our Lady of Akita gave a very similar warning on Oct. 13, 1973:
If men do not repent and better themselves, the Father will inflict a terrible punishment on all humanity. It will be a punishment greater than the deluge, such as one will never have seen before. Fire will fall from the sky and will wipe out a great part of humanity, the good as well as the bad, sparing neither priests nor faithful. The survivors will find themselves so desolate that they will envy the dead. The only arms which will remain for you will be the Rosary and the Sign left by My Son.
Alarming too are the words of Our Lady of Kibeho: “Repent, repent, repent! Convert while there is still time.” And: “The time remaining is short and you are absent-minded. You are distracted by the goods of this world which are passing…. Don’t lose Heaven for the world.” Lest we think she was addressing only Rwanda about the then-coming genocide, she explained, “If I am turning to the parish of Kibeho, it does not mean that I am concerned only for Kibeho or for the Diocese of Butare or for Rwanda, or for the whole of Africa. I am concerned with and turning to the whole world.”
Our Lady’s warnings at San Nicolás are consistent with those above: “God’s warning is over the world.… Two-thirds of the world is lost, and the other part must pray and make reparation for the Lord to take pity.… The earth is in great danger.” And “At these moments all humanity is hanging by a thread. If the thread breaks, many will be those who do not reach salvation. That is why I call you to reflection. Hurry because time is running out…!” Jesus is said to have told Gladys at San Nicolás, “If this generation will not listen to my mother, it will perish. I ask everyone to listen to her. Man’s conversion is necessary.”
What Mary asks us to do
A golden thread running through all these Marian apparitions is her request for her children to pray, especially to pray the Rosary. As at Fatima, she begs us to pray for the conversion of sinners. She also asks that we pray for clergy and for the family.
At Quito, Mary said: “Pray constantly, implore tirelessly, … beseeching the Eucharistic Heart of my most holy Son to take pity on His ministers and to end as soon as possible these unhappy times.” And at San Nicolás, “The weapon that has the greatest influence on evil is to say the Rosary.” To fight the evil in the world, she said that there should be special devotion to the Holy Rosary and perpetual novenas, “never interrupted.”
Other common themes are the need to reform our lives, fast, and perform acts of penance. Finally, she encourages us to have faith and to trust in God no matter what and focus on what really matters, the salvation of souls.
Reasons for Hope
Our Lady’s dire predictions are conditional, and she gives reasons to hope.
As Our Lady of America, she has said: “What happens to the world depends upon those who live in it. There must be much more good than evil prevailing in order to prevent the holocaust that is so near approaching.”
At Kibeho: “Do not forget that God is more powerful than all the evil in the world.”
At San Nicolás: “Those who stay in the Lord have nothing to fear,” and, “Just as in the Calvary after the crucifixion and death came the resurrection, also the Church will resurge again by the force of love.”
And, of course, at Fatima: “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.”
The messages and results of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s apparitions are also great reasons for hope. She appeared in a land where human sacrifice had long been and was still surreptitiously being practiced, and she left behind an image not only miraculously produced but rich in both theological truths and cultural significance. The image recalls Revelation’s “woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12: 1; according to the position of the star map on her mantle, the constellation known as the “Boreal Crown” would be above her head), and at the same time has a special meaning for Aztec viewers. She blocks the sun, which played a critical role in their civilization, but does not extinguish it, for its rays still shine all around her. She stands on the moon, showing that she is greater than their moon god. Her eyes are looking down, indicating that she is not a god—as their gods were always depicted looking straight ahead. She wears a black sash indicating she is pregnant, and the cuffs on her sleeves show she is royal.
Though there had been peace for 10 years, the Aztecs were planning a rebellion shortly before the apparition, and many of them viewed Christianity as a foreign religion irrelevant to themselves. (The cruelty of such Spaniards as the governor, who had been excommunicated by the bishop for it, was counter-evangelical as well.)
But when the Aztecs heard of the miracles and saw the image—the Mother of God appearing as an Aztec to an Aztec—their hearts were changed. Her loving words also made an impact:
I am the ever-virgin, holy Mary, Mother of the true God: the life-giving Creator of all people; the Lord of what is near and far, of heaven and earth. I deeply desire that a chapel be built to me here where I can show, praise, and testify to him forever. Here I will give people all my love, compassion, help, comfort, and salvation. For I am truly your compassionate Mother: your Mother and Mother to all who dwell in this land … Here I will hear their cries and listen to their complaints. Here I will console them in their suffering and relieve their pain. Here I will heal them in their anguish, their affliction and distress.
Nearly nine million converted in only a decade.
These words of Our Lady of Guadalupe are for us too today, in all places and all times, for she also called herself the Mother “to all other nations and peoples who love me and call and entreat me. I am the Mother of all who seek me and place their trust in me.”
(Editor’s note: This essay was posted originally on December 12, 2018.)
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