PART I: STUDY OF THE FACTS
- THE APPARITIONS OF THE MODERN ERA
A complete study of all apparitions would be impossible, given that the boundary between public apparitions
(Lourdes, Fatima: those recognized by important historical studies) and discrete or purely private apparitions is difficult
to establish. The first idea of Bernadette was to say nothing to anyone. Many visionaries have held to this solution.
What we present here are only those stars known from amid a
galaxy of uncounted stars. It cannot be exhaustive. In this first place we will be concerned with apparitions
(and private revelations) which have received approbation in the Church. We will specify in the second part of the course
the restrictive meanings of these approbations.
- Guadalupe (Mexico, December 9-12,1531)
The first apparition of modern times, the first which occasioned the foundation of a sanctuary of permanent
influence, national and worldwide, was Guadalupe, which Mexicans consider to be the greatest place of pilgrimage in
the world after Rome (7 million pilgrims annually).
On Saturday, December 9, 1531, according to the received tradition, the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego,
a recently converted Indian, on the hill of Tepeyac, where the Indians venerated the goddess Tonantzin.
Mary spoke the Nahatl language (as she later spoke the Patois dialect of Bernadette); she sent Juan Diego to ask the bishop of Mexico
to erect a sanctuary at the foot of this hill. The Indian went to
Topetlac, the colonizing city where the bishop and the
government, of the Conquistadores were located. Juan de
Zumarraga, the founder of the diocese, a Franciscan, named
but not yet consecrated, avoided the request of the little man
whom even the servants disdained. However, after the fourth
apparition, on December 15, the Virgin gave signs. After the cure of the uncle of the visionary, she sent the Indian
to carry to the bishop a bouquet of flowers from this barren site of Tepeyac. He carried them in his
tilma (a mantle
woven from the fibers of maguey) and placed them before the prelate. At this point, according to the tradition, there
appeared in the interior of the mantle the image of the Virgin miraculously produced, the same that is venerated today in
the sanctuary. This event was and remains the subject of criticism on three levels of authenticity: historical, Christian,
The apparitions of Guadalupe were contested from the 16th century.
They still are. The principal antagonists were Bustamante (the first one) and J. Garcia Icazbalceta. Bustamante, provincial of the Franciscans, presented a sermon in
1556, where he denounced the sanctuary as an abusive tolerance of a pagan and idolatrous
cult. The sanctuary had for origin, not the apparition of Mary nor even of a miraculous
image, but rather, according to the Franciscan provincial, a painting made by the Indian Marcos.
J. Garcia Icazbalceta insisted that the apparitions and the miracle of the mantle were later inventions.
In 1881, this highly-respected historian wrote a monumental, four-
volume life of Juan de Zumarraga, a Franciscan and first bishop of Mexico (1530-1544).
He did not even breathe a word of the apparition of Guadalupe. This is all the more
surprising, since these apparitions and the foundation of the
sanctuary had been considered as major events of this episcopate. Therefore, the archbishop invited the historian to
explain himself. Icazbalceta did this in 1883, in a confidential memo where he explained his own silence by that of
history: no ancient document attested to this apparition or the miracle, which seemed to be a creation of the 18th
At the last International Mariological Congress (At Saragossa, October 1979), I treated this question expressing
the hope that a scientific and theological examination could be methodically made to overcome this polemic.
Icazbalceta, made a contribution by posing the question with clarity, beyond a facile credulity, but his criticisms were too
radical in disregarding certain documents. Since then, the ancient documents, often tenuous and disputed, have been
better evaluated. After I drew up a preliminary chronological inventory, I expressed the wish that the societies of historical
and theological research, founded in Mexico and in the
U.S.A., would methodically study this problem, principally the relationship between the written tradition and the oral
tradition, which is c\early older and was not written down until later.
I also asked that a scientific study of the miraculous image venerated in the sanctuary be made, similar to that
done for the Holy Shroud at Turin. This image or icon, miraculously imprinted, it is held, on the tilma (mantle) of
the Indian, presents rather astounding properties, but this phenomenon calls for a
continuous and interdisciplinary study. A first scientific examination yielded very
conclusions. Scientifically, the following cannot be explained:
- The conservation of the mantle of Juan Diego
(These mantles of the Indians were of a degradable matter).
It is important that this observation be rendered precise.
- Why the colours have not disappeared after four centuries.
- Why the mantle, made of fibers of maguey popotula, was not destroyed by the nitric acid spilled over the
cloth by workers who cleaned the frame, or by the anti-proteic reaction (an experiment made on some fibers in a
- Why it did not suffer damages in the dynamite attack of November 14, 1921, when a bomb, which was
destined to destroy the image, exploded in the shrine.
- Why no one has found vegetable or animal or mineral colouring in the two fibers of the mantle, one yellow
and the other red, which were analyzed at the Institute of the Emperor William at Heidelberg (Germany).
- Why this mantle repels insects and dust suspended in the air.
- Why it happens that in the eye of the miraculous image we can see (with a magnifying glass) the silhouette
which resembles, in a striking way, the classical portrait of the Indian Juan-Diego. This silhouette corresponds,
according to Mexican ophtalmologists, to the three so-called images
of Purking and Sansom which one can observe in the cornea of a living person looking at another person.
(C. Salinas and Manuel de la Mora, Dictamines medicos y otros estudios cientificos. Descubrimiento de un busto humano, etc.
Mexico, Tradicion, 1967)
These conclusions call for a verification, but such a project runs up against two obstacles.
First, the advocates of the apparition hold as dangerous or sacrilegious such a
scientific study on a sacred object. However, it is admitted today that even the Bible can be studied by scientific
methods of human science. The Intention is only to apply the science carefully, according to their possibilities, and with a
sense of their limits. On the other hand, an apparition such as Guadalupe does not belong to the essentials of the faith.
It is a secondary historical phenomenon; it is local and
proposed to the free acceptance of the believer. It is normal that adherence be verified.
This is conformable to Christian tradition and to the status of the apparitions established in
the Church: "The adherence to these facts should be given with prudence and discernment, as far as the facts are
confirmed as worthy of faith and probable, founded on proofs or probability."
Secondly, another objection to the project of' an historical and scientific study comes from the theologians for whom these facts have little importance.
For them, only the sense counts. Whether the image is supernatural or painted in an ordinary manner, its reality, its signification
and its impact on the masses would remain what it is, they insist. However, there is an equivocation here.
For the Christian people (in contrast with the intellectuals), a symbol without historical reality (one which arises from fable) does
not merit in any way to be believed. This popular sentiment is conformable to Christian
The Christian authenticity of the apparition was questioned on several counts:
- In the 16th century (1550), the Franciscan provincial, Francisco de Bustamente, denounced the cult of
Guadalupe as a continuation, under Christian and Marian appearances, of the cult of the goddess Tonantzin.
- More recently, numerous authors, including Catholics, maintained that in this devotion Mary plays the
role of a goddess for Christians. This thesis was developed into a system under two influences: on one hand the
hypothesis, accepted in the history of religions, which holds Mary as the continuation of pagan goddesses (with the same
function, the same meaning, with a simple transference); on the other hand, the theory of the psychoanalyst Jung,
for whom Mary plays, in the human psyche, the role of a goddess who thus properly completes the Trinity.
For Jung, in effect, the Trinity is a limping archetype; veritable archetype inscribed in the human psyche is for him,
a quaternity. For this reason, he greeted with enthusiasm Pius XII's definition of the Assumption, because he saw
there a stage of the divinization of Mary, in the sense of his theory. It is in this sense, that Greeley wrote, "Protestants
were right to say that Catholics treat Mary as a goddess-
mother. However they were wrong to think that God was for that obscured, since Catholicism takes feminine values
thus better under consideration" (A. Greeley, The Marian Myth on the
God, New York, Seabury, 1977).
Is Mary in Catholicism the equivalent to a goddess, as is often stated?
No. The Gospel, tradition, and Christian experience by no means justify, but rather contradict, such
an identification - despite certain appearances which authors cite to justify their
hypotheses. Mary has nothing to do with a cosmic myth. These myths characteristically hypostatize or
divinize the forces of nature (a process against which Protestants correctly rebel).
Mary is not a divinization, either of nature or of the eternal feminine.
She is a poor woman who was called, in her very poverty, to give birth to the Word of
God in human history. This is clearly demonstrated by the Gospels (principally in the Magnificat).
It is this that is verified at Guadalupe. The oldest narrations present Mary,
not as a goddess, but as a child (Nina). This same name of Niña, disconcerting at first, corresponds to the experience
of Teresa of Avila, for whom Mary appeared one day as muy niña, so too, it was the same for Bernadette.
Certainly, at Guadalupe, Mary appeared to a poor person, in an unpretentious way.
It would be important to evaluate the cross-influence between Tonantzin, venerated on the hill of Tepeyac before
Mary, and Mary, who revealed herself under totally different appearances and with a totally different meaning.
The study of G. Nutini on Ocotland a twin sanctuary of Guadalupe, gives some light on this point.
Ocotland had been the sanctuary of a pagan goddess. The Virgin appeared there on May
12, 1541, to an Indian who was also named Juan Diego. G. Nutini (who did not study the significance of these coincidences and doublets) methodically dated the stages of the
syncretistic transition and the cultural integration which lasted about a century and a half.
He noted three stages: 1) The presentation of the Virgin on the site of the pagan
goddess. This began, first of all, a process or reinterpretation and integration. 2) The withdrawal of
pre-hispanic religions: the abolition of homicide rites (victims immolated to the
goddess) and the beginning of Catholic rites and catechesis. Thus Mary emerges on
a double terrain which is structural (comportment) and ideological (teaching about
Mary, etc.). 3) Finally, a total forgetfulness of the pagan ideology and
consolidation of the Catholic interpretation.
Nutini concluded that the structural order of
comportment was syncretized (assumed, rectified), but the ideological order escaped syncretism.
Comportment, used in reference to a new term (Mary according to the Gospel), took a new
meaning. On this level, Catholic ideology ultimately replaced pagan ideology.
The primitive rites and practices (sorcery, fertility rites) subsisted on partially, in a marginal
and isolated manner (G. NUTINI, "Syncretism and Acculturation," in Ethnology 15 (1976)
301-321). In short, it was a matter of a successful acculturation. For Guadalupe,
the situation seems analogous. The approbations given to the sanctuary and pilgrimage, not only by the episcopate
but by Rome - from the 16th century until the recent visit of John Paul II, the first pilgrim Pope to Guadalupe
- have contributed to this sense.
These presumptions render a methodical study very desirable.
Concerning both the second aspect, theological authenticity, as well as the first, historical authenticity, I
expressed - at the Congress of Saragossa - the following wish: that we accomplish for Guadalupe a methodical
Christian discernment analogous to that which was made for Ocotlan. It is in this field that we have a problem.
The cult (whose origins are not well known) appears to have become clearly Christian, since the middle of the 17th century.
But there is a striking contrast between Tonantzin, a cruel goddess to whom thousands of fattened human beings were
immolated, and Mary, the Mother of Mercy. This evidence would, however, have to be established in a serious and
We must study the third aspect of (i.e. problem, the cultural aspect, which, since the beginning of the 1970s, has
become the most important. In 1974, Jacques Lafaye,
professor at the Sorbonne, published an important thesis: Quetzalcoatl and Guadalupe
(Paris, Gallimard), which studies from a purely cultural point of view (a point of view foreign
to the faith) two transformations characteristic of the cultural history of Latin America: 1) Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent of the Indians, was identified by the missionaries with the apostle Thomas, the first evangelizer of
the Americans; 2) Tonantzin was identified with Mary, preached by the same apostle, as was said.
Otherwise, the two pagan divinities were assumed as vestiges (with aberrations to be corrected) of a primitive Christian revelation.
Thus, concludes Jacques Lafaye, the sanctuary of Guadalupe, whatever its origins, became the crucible of a new
cult, of a new people and its liberation. It is not by accident that the
(the children of Spaniards born in the land of Mexico) and the mestizos were the artisans of the birth
of the nation. Jacques Lafaye, who had connections in Algeria, had a special sensitivity to the adventure of the
"black feet" (children of the French born in Algeria) who also succeeded with their liberation.
This genetic study of cultural, national and political values of Guadalupe awakened Catholic theologians to a new
dimension of the problem, the meaning and importance of the sanctuary for the evangelization both of Latin America
as well as of the twenty million baptized "Mexicans" who work in the USA. Eduardo Hoornaert proposed a
structuralist study. The narration of the apparition (its narrative program) "functions" along lines which contrast the two
topographical poles situated on either side of the long roadway running along the lake which then covered an immense
part of the future Mexico City. On one side, Tepeyac, place of the apparition, the place of the colonized Indian,
of his community, his culture, of the goddess Tonantzin;
on the other side, Tolpetlac, place of the bishop, the evangelizer, but also of the colonial power and the Spanish
culture. The narration produces a reversal of the two poles.
The Virgin appears, not in the location of the Spanish colonizers, but among the Indians, among the poor.
She addresses, not the bishop, but the Indian Juan Diego. It is he who gives the orders of Mary to the bishop.
The relationship of teacher to those taught is reversed, and, in the same way, the relationship of power: Juan Diego being the
pleni-potentiary of the Virgin.
It is he who gives the order, the
bishop obeys. It is the Indian who offers to the Spanish prelate with empty hands, the double sign: flowers cut from
the desert land of Tepeyac and the flower of flowers, the image of the Virgin painted on the back of the mantle.
The Catholic theology of liberation is painted on the back of the mantle.
This contrast opposes the evangelical Virgin of Guadalupe to the Conquistadora Virgin of Santa Fe
(which was mutilated in the eye by an indigenous person expressing his hatred of the conquerors).
At Tepeyac, what was manifested was the virgin of the Magnificat, the revolutionary chant of liberation:
"He deposed the powerful from their throne and raised up the humble; he filled
the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty" (Lk. 1: 52-53).
According to the traditional narration, the one who sang of this
revolution of the poor of Yahweh, in giving thanks to God for having chosen his servant because of her
very poverty (Luke 1:48), chose Juan Diego because of his poverty. This reversal of values has aided an osmosis between
two relative and perfectible cultures: the Hispano-Christian culture and the American-pagan culture rooted
(in the ancient place) on Indian cult. In this way the evangelization and acculturation took place correlatively.
Thus, Guadalupe remains a source of inspiration, a model, in the hour in which Latin America is searching for another liberation, in situations which are often violent and oppressing.
This liberating message is being accepted by local militant communities.
Concerning this last point (the cultural problem), I made a third proposal at the International Mariological
Congress, that this perspective be considered not in a simplistic and exaggerated manner as often occurs, but in a
serious and methodological study, more precisely: - That the true sense of the liberation of which God and not human
violence is the author. The rich and the powerful are neither
to be destroyed nor to be the objects of vengeance, but they are to be promoters of the dignity of the poor.
- That the measure in which Our Lady of Guadalupe is truly an effective factor: of liberation, acculturation, and
evangelization be specified objectively and methodically, avoiding the simplistic generalizations which link Mary with political, partisan
or abusive actions, such as opposing parties have often done
in the course of history.
Such a study would help clarify a fundamental historical and
missiological question, namely: in what measure and according to what criteria should the values of every culture
be baptized and assumed by Christianity, according to its universal vocation as recalled by Vatican II?
More precisely and concretely, why has the cult of Guadalupe, denounced by so many missionaries as pagan contamination, been so
well assumed in Mexico, while the Chinese rites which were denounced in the same period
(17th-18th centuries) for analogous reasons and by missionaries of the same formation,
have been condemned? What conclusion would be drawn from the contrast between the successful evangelization and
cultural tolerance in America, and the failure of the Chinese evangelization?
This is an important reflection because China consists of the most numerous people on earth; including more than
a third of humanity, her evangelization began with an extraordinary success, owing nothing to a conquest of arms or
imposed colonization which have spoiled other evangelization efforts. Why then have these latter been practically the
only ones which have succeeded? This contrast implies a scandal which must be
The apparition of Guadalupe has, therefore, tremendous significance.
It is not a minimal or marginal phenomenon. In my report to the congress of Saragossa (the theme of
which was the 16th century), I was convinced that I could say that this event
had, from the historical point of view, an importance comparable to that of another contemporary
event in Europe, the Protestant reformation of the 16th century. But in Guadalupe, by contrast, we find a
completely positive and constructive result - one of reconciliation.
Finally, the apparition of Guadalupe was a reconciling sign between two peoples who were in conflict on the continent, the Indians and the Spanish; it was a point of communication between the two cultures and their two civilizations.
The Christian leaven passed by this fact into Latin America. It is in this crucible that the new Latin-American
identity was born. This sign continues to radiate as a source
of hope and invitation to prayer.
- Some Other Apparitions of the 16th and 17th Centuries
Notre Dame de Garaison (1515)
The cure of Louis XIV
In France, in the Pyrenees in 1515, the Virgin appeared to a shepherdess, Angleze (or Angeligue) Sagazan.
She invited her three times near the source of the Cier. Angleze became a religious among the Cistercians of Fabas (Haute-Garonne) and died in 1582.
The apparition made the request to her, "I want a chapel to be built here to me."
This chapel, finished in 1540, exists still today. Many
cures are attested there (F. Geoffroy, Les merveilles de Notre Dame de Garaison, Bordeaux and E. Molinie
Le lis du val de Garaison, Toulouse, 1630: re-edited). In the 17th century
the young Louis XIV was cured, following a vow of Ann of Austria to Our Lady of the "Cure." Pilgrimages, interrupted
during the Revolution, were re-established after 1836.
(Bibliography: A. LARROUY, Petite histoire de Notre Dame de Garaison, 1933, and
Catholicisme IV, 1750.)
Notre Dame du Laus ( 1664)
In France, in Provence, the Virgin appeared to the
shepherdess Benoite, from May to August of 1664, in the valley of Fours. (R. de la
Briolle, Benoite, la bergiere de
Notre Dame du Laus, Saint Etienne du Laus, 1967, 304 p. ; same author, Histoire critique du pelerinage Notre Dame
du Laus et de la vie de Soeur Benoite Recurel, Laus, 1977, 4 volumes mimeographed.)
Rue du Bac (Paris, 1830-1831)
This is the first of the major apparitions of the Virgin
which characterized the 19th and 20th centuries in France and in neighbouring countries.
Catherine Laboure (1806-1876) was a hardy and realistic peasant woman. Orphaned
at ten, she chose Mary for mother. She accepted her destiny and became the proprietress of a farm at twelve.
She knew how to use this experience for an admirable service of the
poor, as a sister of Saint Vincent de Paul. Born at the end of the French Revolution, Catherine belonged to that
generation of saints who - on the ruins of that upheaval - rediscovered God in their prayer, in churches without priests,
after the persecution.
Her vocation, which seems to extend back to her first communion (1818), was clarified a few
years later by a dream in which Vincent de Paul appeared to her. The apparitions properly so called were limited to the
time of her "seminary" (novitiate: April 21,1830 to January 30, 1831). Freed from peasant servitudes, she discovered
the Communion of Saints with great clarity. "My feet no longer touch the ground," she wrote.
Three series of prophetic visions marked her seminary experience: 1) From April 24 to May 1st 1830, she saw in the chapel of the rue
de Bac, the heart of Saint Vincent. She perceived a prophetic invitation to the renovation of the two families
founded by this hero of charity and struck down by the Revolution, the Lazarists and the Sisters of Saint Vincent
de Paul. 2) During the seminary, Catherine also had visions of the Eucharistic Christ.
She did not give the details of any except that of June 6, 1830, the feast of the Trinity; the
image of Christ the King, stripped of his vestments, foretold for her the abdication of King Charles X,
overturned by the Revolution of July 27-29, 1830. 3) The apparitions of the
Virgin were the most important, and these are of interest to us in our present study.
The confessor and the biographers of Catherine tried
to count these apparitions, but not accurately. In her autobiographical
writings, Catherine spoke constantly of three apparitions (and only of three apparitions) to which history
should restrict itself, according to a true scientific method.
In the night between July 18th and 19th, from
11.30 to 2.00 in the morning, Catherine was awakened at the dormitory by an infant (her guardian angel, she
interpreted). She went to the chapel. After a time of waiting, the Virgin descended on the steps of the altar and sat down
in an armchair which is preserved there today. Catherine knelt at her feet, put her hands on the Virgin's knees, and
received a mission with a prediction of suffering and sorrow for France, but with, however, the assurance that the two
communities of Saint Vincent would be protected. This prophecy was verified not only during the Revolution of
July 1830, but also during two other Revolutions of the century, that of June 1848 and that of the Commune
On November 27, 1830, the Virgin appeared again
to Catherine. Mary invited her to strike a medal with the image of the Immaculate Conception and the inscription,
"Oh Mary conceived without sin..." This apparition appeared as a "tableau" of which she saw successively the
two faces: on the front, the woman clothed with the sun, hands open and shining, the rays falling on the globe of the
earth at her feet, and especially at a point on the globe where the word France was written; on the reverse, two
superimposed levels: above, the Cross surmounting the monogram of Mary, and below, the Heart of Christ crowned
with thorns and that of Mary pierced with a sword (Lk. 2:35).
These symbols on either side of the medal, are biblical. On the front, it is the woman of the Apocalypse clothed
with the sun, radiating Christ, the Sun of justice (as in Guadalupe). On the back, it is the cross and the two hearts
which signify love, the Incarnate Love (Jesus) and the wounded Love (Mary) symbolized by the sword.
The Function and Theology of Medals
Medals have been the object of neglect if not contempt
on the part of theologians. The major theological dictionaries do not speak of them, except for the
d'archeologie chretienne, where we find this word with a simple reference to the subject of Amulettes.
However, medals are very old in Christianity. Their usage is attested in the 4th and 5th centuries, and Zenon of Verona
seemed to make a reference to the medals of baptism.
The word "medal" is rather recent. It comes from the
Italian "medaglia," which in the 12th century designated the smallest of coins, the
obole. If the word is recent the
reality is old. The medal appeared as a sacred object on which the image of God or of a divinized king yvas
struck. The old name of medals, "numisma" (from which comes the word numismatics, the science of medals), is related to the
word "numen" which signifies divine power in the divinity.
This fixation of symbols in unalterable metal provoked
a great fascination historically. The authorities insisted on controlling the usage of them by placing them at their
service; medals became the symbol of communication of power (a hierarchical grade, an honour,
passport, a testimony of right).
In this way money also was born. It was derived from
medals which were religious in their origin. It was a desecration, a "spin-off," a cancerization.
In this way, we can say that coins are the death-mask of God. This sign, which
became quantitative, founded a substitute religion, that of money, which gives power and mobilizes persons.
Money, as a powerful social bond, verifies the etymology of the word
religion (from ligare, to bind). "One cannot serve two masters, God and money ," said Christ in the Gospels.
The function of medals is multiple: 1) It is a religious
expression, a form of an icon, but in small dimension, with two complimentary sides, engraved in metal and thus
constituting a very fixed form. (Plastic and poetic forms have too often been neglected by theologians. They have,
however, exercised a more profound influence than books.) 2) It is a commemoration, a reminder, a challenge to transitoriness.
For this reason we like to engrave medals in unalterable metals. 3) Medals are a sign of recognition or
identification, and thus of protection. The medal is the ancestor of the passport, of the identity card.
Medals have served as a token of presence (for the canons of the office), and as an
admission ticket. During persecutions, the Protestants of Cevennes carried a medal called a Mereau to
identify themselves. That sign was also used by the pastors (especially in
Switzerland) as a title giving access to the community, for those who would judge them worthy.
Medals have, in a larger perspective, the value of a
social bond in many different senses. They serve as distinctive signs of groups or communities cultivating the same
ideal. Religious medals are a sign of a bond between Christ and his members in the Communion of Saints.
But there are also honorific medals: military, olympic, or of social merit, etc.
We have seen that coins, derived from medals,
have become a powerful social bonding agent.
The confessor of Catherine Laboure, J. Aladel
(1800-1865), at first refused to strike the medal; however, she returned twice to insist, under the pressure of interior words.
The third time, Aladel, disturbed, found the occasion to speak of this in late 1831 to the archbishop of Paris, who
took the occasion to promote faith in the Immaculate
Conception. The medal was produced according to the classic model of the Immaculate Virgin without a child,
with her hands extended, and with the particularity of this apparition - the radiating hands.
Catherine later protested saying that, according to the vision, the Virgin held the
globe of the world in her radiating hands.
Aladel, a man of systematic spirit, simplified and assimilated the vision to
the classic canons by respecting the essential, the representation of Mary conceived without sin, radiating Christ, the sun
of justice. In the beginning of 1832, it was decided to strike the medal.
However, an epidemic of cholera coming from the East delayed the execution.
The medal was struck on the occasion of a lull, in June 1832. It spread with an
explosive rapidity especially after 1834. The first minting was of 1500 medals.
The number did not reach 50,000 by the end of 1833, but it came to: 600,000 by the end of
1834, 1,500,000 at the end of 1835, 100 million at the end of 1842, and around 1 billion in 1876, at the death of Catherine.
The medal was popularly called "miraculous" from
early 1834. Those who carried it spoke of the graces of conversion, protection, healings received.
founder of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, was a devotee of this medal.
Newman carried it before his conversion. It was the sign of a renewal that could already be
called charismatic. It played a role analogous to the speaking
in tongues of the current Charismatic Renewal. The most diverse and most modest signs can serve as religious catalysts
for the grace of God. Among the celebrated conversions, in the wake of the medal, was that of Alphonsus Ratisbonne,
on January 20, 1842. It was the object of a canonical procedure in Rome.
The medal was the sign of a renewal in the two families
founded by St. Vincent de Paul. Hope (struck down by the Revolution) returned; the Rule was lived with vigour, and
vocations flourished. This was the point of departure for a vast missionary expansion and for many prayer groups (the
Children of Mary, etc.).
Catherine remained unknown as the visionary.
She defended her secret with cleverness and strength of soul. This permitted her, all her life, to serve the poor full time,
without undergoing the disturbances which troubled the life of Saint Bernadette. However, the secret prevented the
termination of the canonical investigation begun by the Archbishop of Paris in 1836 (R. Laurentin, Catherine
Laboure et la Medaille miraculeuse, Documents, vol. 2, p. 234-273; hereafter, CLM2)
- because of the lack of the principal witness.
Catherine often expressed her regret over the lack of
interest for the founding pilgrimages to the Rue du Bac. The chapel of the community, already too small for the Sisters,
could hardly receive such pilgrimages. In the thought of Catherine, the Virgin appeared elsewhere (at Lourdes),
because of the lack of satisfactory reception at the Rue du Bac. "These miracles [of Lourdes] should take place in our
chapel!" she said, among other things (CLM2, p.22).
At the -Rue du Bac, Mary appeared as a signal of a
charismatic renewal, a witness to the light of Christ, Sun of Justice, that is to the Holy Spirit, signified by the luminous
rays of the medal. Sometimes, extreme insistence is given to the fact that these modern apparitions represent the
Virgin without child. This is due to the fact that they treat the mystery of the Immaculate Conception.
But Christ and his Cross have a primary and essential place on the medal.
It is his light that is signified by the rays on the front, and his
Cross which dominates the reverse.
La Salette (The Unique Apparition of September 19,
In France, in the Alps, the Virgin appeared in an elevated
place (1800 metres), magnificent and barren, to two shepherds, without giving any instruction on religious
formation. Melanie Calvat was fifteen years old; Maximin Giraud was eleven.
They hardly knew the Our Father and the Hail Mary. They went neither to Mass nor to catechism.
In contrast to Catherine Laboure, they did not even have the desire to see the Virgin.
Even more, they were so little prepared, they were incapable of identifying her, despite the
"clarity" of the discourse.
It was the Saturday of the autumn Rogation days, toward three or four o'clock in the afternoon, the hour when
the First Vespers of Our Lady of Sorrows was celebrated
(set for the third Sunday of September). It was the hour of the end of the siesta.
Near a dry fountain, the two shepherds saw a "light," round like the sun, and, within this "light,"
a lady they could hardly see: "It seemed as though she was seated with her hands on her face," said Melanie to Fr.
Lagier, February-March, 1847.
They were very much afraid. Maxim said to Melanie:
"Hold your stick, I am keeping mine and if she does something to you I will hit her."
The lady rose and called them:
"Come forth, my children, do not have fear, I am here to tell you some great news." After that all fear disappeared.
They ran toward the lady, who on her part, took a few
steps along a brook. They saw her clearly then. She carried a Crucifix on her chest, with a hammer and pliers.
From the poverty of their vocabulary, the children had difficulty describing her attire, in particular her head-dress.
They spoke of the coiffe or bonnet (the word indicates what the peasant ladies of France wear on their head), from which
fact it seems that they did not know the word diadem. The costume was simple, but very luminous, with three garlands
While crying, the lady spoke to the children.
Melanie saw the tears flow. Maximin, astounded, did not distinguish the face with clarity.
The apparition told them notably:
If my people do not want to submit, I am forced to let go of the arm of my Son.
It is so heavy and weighty , that I cannot hold it back any longer. For how long I have suffered for you
others! If I want my Son not to abandon you, I am required to pray without
ceasing, and for you others; you see no importance in this. You should pray;
you really should; never will you be able to recompense the suffering I have
experienced for you.
I gave you six days to work. I reserved
the seventh. Yet no one wants to accord me this. It is this that weighs so much
the hand of my Son, and also those who lead the wagon do not know how to
swear without putting the name of my Son in the middle of it. Those are the
two things which weigh down the hand of my Son.
It is important to know that the Lady had the children
approach her. She spoke the Patois dialect, when Melanie showed her by a gesture that she did not understand French.
The Virgin thus invited people to respect the repose of Sunday, in the name of God.
She threatened punishment, in particular a scarcity of potatoes, which would rot.
These punishments have as their Sitz im Leben the winter of 1846-1847, which was in
Europe, and especially in Ireland and in France, a period of famine, in the months which followed
the apparition. This was one of the factors of its popular
appeal. Finally, the Virgin said to the two small shepherds: "My children, you must tell my people."
The spring began to flow again there where the Virgin had appeared.
The bishop of the place, Msgr. Philibert de Buillard,
named several commissions to examine the facts: 1) In December 1846, the first commissions were
one was formed of professors from the major seminary of Grenoble and the other from
The latter concluded that a more extensive examination was necessary before formulating a judgment.
Their documentation is still incomplete. 2) A new enquiry was held from July to
September 1847, by two members of the commission: Orcel, the superior of the major seminary, and Canon Rousselot.
3) A conference at the bishop's residence took place in November-December 1847.
Sixteen members (the vicars general, the parish priests of Grenoble and the titulary
canons), assembled in the presence of the bishop. The majority concluded to the authenticity of the apparition,
after the examination of the report from Rousselot and
Urcel. Also, the See of Sens very carefully examined three cures attributed to Our Lady of La Salette; these occurred
in the city of Avallon. The bishop of Sens, Msgr. Mellon Jolly, recognized on May 4, 1849, one of the three cures,
which had occurred on November 21, 1847.
Since 1847, the bishop was convinced of the reality of
the apparition. The next year (1848), he authorized the publication of the Rousselot report, which affirmed the
reality of the apparition. In his letter of approbation, printed as a type of preface, the bishop of Grenoble declared that
he shared the opinion of the majority of the commission which adopted the
conclusions of the report. However,
Cardinal de Bonald, the archbishop of Lyon (on whom Grenoble depended), suspected a subterfuge (from the
experience of an adventurer who pretended to be Louis X and sought to exploit La Salette for his own cause).
The Cardinal demanded that the children tell him their secret, saying that he had a mandate from the Pope.
The children acceded to this demand. Melanie, however, deeply disturbed, insisted that her text be carried directly to the Pope.
It was under these conditions that the Bishop of Grenoble sent two representatives to Rome.
These were handed to Pius IX, July 18, 1851, the letters written by the two shepherds
(letters purporting to contain the secrets that the Lady confided to them forbidding that they be published).
The procedure must have been favourable, because
the mandate of Bishop de Bruillard, adjusted according to observations of Cardinal Lambruschini, Prefect of Rites
at Rome, was signed on September 18, 1851, and was published the following November 10th.
In it, the Bishop promulgated this judgement:
We judge that the apparition of the Holy Virgin to the two shepherds, September
19, 1846 ... in the parish of La Salette ... carries within it all the characteristics
of truth, and that the faithful have reason to believe it indubitable and certain.
The motives of the decision, which rested on the
work of Rousselot and that of the Commission of 1847, are the following: the impossibility of explaining the events in
human manner; the miracles (cures); the spiritual fruits of the apparition, notably conversions; and, finally, the right
expectations and desires of large crowds of priests and faithful.
If La Salette immediately stirred up a great fervour, it also provoked enormous discussions.
The little visionaries were somewhat disturbed by the perpetual interrogations, the threats (sometimes violent), and also the assaults of
fervour. Melanie especially was venerated in the manner of a saint (Like Bernadette who, without doubt, defended
herself against this). This harmed the equilibrium of the two visionaries.
Melanie had difficulty living a stable religious life. Maximin, who once entered the seminary, also
had difficulties living a normal life.
The Apparition: Controversial in Itself
Numerous polemics, serious or preposterous, have not
ceased to resound around the events of La Salette. The very apparition has been the subject of a very embroiled controversy. Because of its very charismatic, contingent character
- exterior to Revelation in the strict sense - the apparition furnished a long-desired battlefield to those priests desirous
of creating difficulties for the episcopal authority. Because the bishop took a position in favour of the apparition, he
and his collaborators were accused of abuses of power, in particular by a certain
Deleon, who had a bone to pick with the bishop for matters totally extrinsic to La Salette.
,Deleon invented groundless difficulties.
He went as far as to say that Mile. de la Merilere had played a joke on the little shepherds.
This legend is improbable for many reasons. This obese person hardly had the capacity to make such a
climb, or to pass unperceived, or to speak Patois with the children. Among the founded difficulties, however, were:
At La Salette, the visionaries were not saints, but
representatives of the mass of sinners. This was a point that made difficulties, especially if we disregard the distinction
between grace which is gratum faciees (habitual grace), and grace gratis datae, given for the good of the Mystical Body.
In the years that followed the apparition of La
Salette, there were diverse exaggerations or abuses, which gave rise to the suspicions of certain bishops.
Exaggerations proliferated in the Confraternity of Langres, established in 1847, against blasphemy and Sunday work.
This confraternity, whose object responded rather well to the message of La Salette, had for origins, at least distant origins, the
revelations received by a Carmelite of Tours, Sister Mary de Saint Pierre.
The Sister seems to have been a saint and an authentic charismatic, but there were around her some who
were carried away, who compromised her by their excesses
of zeal. Bishop Parisis, the bishop of Langres, finally became angry (in a letter of December 20, 1847, published by
L'Univers, on Dec. 24, 1847).
Among the abuses properly so called was "Vintrasism."
What does that mean? Pierre-Michel VINTRAS, (a great prophet of woes and calamities), born at Bayeux
(1807-1875), in a pretended communication with angels, with Saint Joseph, the Virgin, and Our Lord, embarked to
the Sanctuary with his followers during the winter of 1850-1851, to consecrate as pontiffs the three Bayard brothers,
all three of whom were Catholic priests (Jean Colson, Sio Vaudemont, ou La Colline inspiree, Paris, SOS, 1978, pp.
108-116 and 127 -128).
The message of an erotic-mystical character (p. 127), involved sectarian celebrations
with a bloody host. This reason was added to the opposition of
Cardinal de Bonald, and thus the publication of the mandate was delayed. This delay had the benefit of decanting the
events: "The purest waters are not closest to the spring," wrote Newman.
Another disputed point was the secrets.
There are two, because Maximin did not hear the Lady give his secret to Melanie or vice-versa.
The polemics concern the secret of Melanie, to which was added besides this her documents on
religious life, the Rule of the Apostles of the Last Times, etc., which she was also supposed to have received during
the apparition of September 19, 1846.
According to Fr. J. Stern, M.S. de la Salette (by far the
best specialist in this matter, who actually published the Authentic Documents About the
Origins, Paris, DDB, 1980), these later divulgations have nothing to do with the apparition, and Melanie carried to her grave the secret she received
that day. The bases for the conclusion of Fr. Stern on this affair, complicated as they are, consist in this: 1) Pius IX
never demanded that the secrets be sent to him; 2) The letters which the children wrote in 1851 cannot be found;
3) The texts known and published as being the secret of Maximim are extremely tiresome and tedious (mystifications);
4) The texts that are supposed to be the secret of Melanie are the product of a later mind, one which was
wounded, traumatized, influenced.
What we can say with precision is only that a certain
chronological development took place. First of all, the children absolutely refused to deliver their secrets, even if
the Pope himself asked them. In 1851, they seemed to concede; "Pius IX demands it," they were told.
But this was a manoeuvre of Cardinal de Bonald, the archbishop of
Lyon, who wanted to take the affair in hand, and to show that it was a hoax.
In July 1851, Maximin and Melanie both wrote their letters to the Pope; these were sent directly on
the 18th of the month. The reports of witnesses, on the impression these letters produced on Pius I X, are
contradictory. Their contents remain unknown. If the two letters are mentioned in the inventory of the personal archives of
Pius IX, unfortunately they cannot be found. They could be at the Palace of the Holy Office.
We do not know to what degree these letters contained the secrets received five
years earlier. In 1858, Melanie wrote again to the Pope to transmit that part of the secret, which according to her,
she was authorized to reveal in that year (Letter of Bishop Hogarth, Bishop of Hexham, to Bishop Talbot, September 3
and 9, 1858. The originals went to the venerable English college at Rome, since Melanie was in England at the time);
Here are some observations on the secret of each of the two visionaries. Maximin had learned to employ tedious
mystifications, exasperating questioners. This was his humour. This appears in
aIl the forms of documentation,
including what was believed to be a draft of the letter to the Pope on July 1851 (Stern, in
Marianum, 1976; p. 485, note). As for Melanie there exist several editions of her
secret: 1858, 1870 (Stern M, 27), etc., thus the letter [lost] to the Pope, (1851).
Before writing it, Melanie passed a troubled night
dreaming about the Antichrist and the end of the world, she asked for the spelling
of "the dirty city" and "Antichrist." The words of Melanie in the years 1852-1854 are of an apocalyptic nature: "Woe to the inhabitants
of the earth! In the year 1864 Lucifer with a great number of demons will be sent forth from hell.
There will be bloody wars and famine." She also had her invectives against the
The priests have become sewers of impurity. The sins of consecrated persons cry to heaven.
This will be the time when the Antichrist will be born of a Hebraic religion ...
His father will be a bishop.
After the mandate of Ginouniac of November 4, 1854,
Melanie was influenced by the confidences of "disturbed and sick minds, who believed they could penetrate" the future.
She could have been influenced also by difficulties with the religious authorities.
She was not permitted to pronounce religious vows in the diocese of Grenoble.
Concerning the topic of the bad priests, the secrets
published depend on the revelation received by Therese Thiriet, February 2,1847.
This prophetess, directed by Fr. Leopold de Baillard of Sion-Vaudemont in the Meuse,
revolted with him against the Bishop of Nancy. She presented her message as "an addition to the prediction of the
children of the district of .Grenoble." This extremely impassioned polemic did not contribute to elucidate the secret,
nor did the decree of the Holy Office which forbade any publication on the subject (AAS 1915, p. 594).
This prohibition dissuaded any serious work of publication. The intention of the Holy See was to prevent agitation, not critical
studies, J. Jaouen understood this and presented certain clarifications in La grace de la Salette (1946).
Without doubt, passions and polemics concerning the
secrets sustained a powerful, but often unhealthy, interest in La Salette.
Thus, many related works were placed on the index: that of Emile Combe (Bibliography of
Stern M 89 and M 122), that of H. Mariave (Stern M 161 A), and in 1923, reedition of the pamphlet of
Melanie, which, however, appeared with the approbation of Fr. Lepidi, master of the
Sacred Palace (M 183 and note).
But these condemnations were peripheral.
The unhealthy climate provoked many letters of warning sent in August of 1880, by Cardinal Caterini, Secretary of the
Sacred Congregation of the Inquisition, to the bishop of Troyes, to the superior general of the missionaries of La
Salette, and to the bishop of Ca'stellamare-di-Stabia (Melanie's bishop). Melanie had just published a pamphlet containing
the famous secret, The Apparition of the Holy Virgin (Lecce, 1879: Stern, M 40). The edition appeared with the imprimatur of the Vicar General of Bishop Zola, Bishop of Lecce.
(Concerning these three letters, see M 45, note and M 183, note.)
Salette I and Salette II
The publication of the documents which Fr. Stern
began to study (DDB 1980), tends to show that after 1850 some developments were added onto the first well-established core,
La Salette I, which take on considerable proportions. These can be called
La Salette II, a phenomenon analogous to that of Fatima. In them we also find the
emergence of a second message, the object of progressive divulgences of some secret slowly and belatedly unveiled.
We question the implicit existence of La Salette II in La Salette I, as we do for
Fatima II in Fatima I. From one to the other, there are more than additions.
In La Salette I the apparition
involved two extremely rustic children who were without religious formation.
In La Salette II, we find a Melanie who has benefitted from the
mystic phenomena of her childhood, a long time before 1846 (see La vie de
Melanie, published by Leon Bloy).
The Meaning of La Salette
What is the meaning of La Salette?
According to Fr. Stern, it is a message addressed to the people (the word "people" is mentioned at the beginning and at the end), a
people rather dechristianized, a people who have forgotten God or who at least no longer take him seriously.
In the message, the situation is expressed by means of concrete images: the current events of daily life, the profanation of
Sunday, and blasphemies pronounced by car-drivers, who, for all that, did not have the intention of insulting God but
had simply forgotten him. Concerning the Lady (apparition), she was characterized by her compassion for the
people; the threats are to be read through her tears.
Between the Rue du Bac and La Salette there is a
certain contrast. At the Rue du Bac, there is a promise radiating with graces, charisms and assurances (for the Lazarists
and the Daughters of Charity) regarding escape from the difficulties of the time, the difficulties which affected the
Church from the outside. La Salette is a call to conversion, to penance: the conversion of a dechristianized people.
There is, therefore, a contrast between radiating promises,
on the one hand, and a severe call to conversion with warnings of punishments, on the other hand.
Nevertheless, the message of La Salette, like that of the rue du Bac, was interpreted as a sign of hope.
The iconography and the theology of the two apparitions have hardly anything in common, except that both deal with an apparition of the
Virgin in great light and with a message destined to renew fervour. Nevertheless, there is a cross on the reverse side
of the medal of the rue du Bac, just as there is one on the
breast of the Virgin of La Salette.
We begin to understand why it would be vain to look
for some logical criterion for "following up" the apparitions, as if it were a matter of successive words in a homogeneous
sentence written from above. Each apparition is in function of a place and a milieu.
It is as difficult to generalize the common traits as to discern the dynamic or diachronic logic.
Charisms do not form a complementary series (like the prophecies of the Old Testament).
They are rather the strong impacts in the diverse tissue of the History of Salvation -
in 1830, a breath of hope for a people stricken by the Revolution and its persecutions; in 1846, a threatening warning
to a people fallen asleep and become lax.
Between the rue du Bac and La Salette, we can situate
other movements of grace, notably that which issued from Our Lady of
Victories in 1836, under the sign of the Miraculous Medal and with
the foundation of an Archconfraternity. These spread throughout France
like a brush fire. There was a section of the archconfraternity in which
Mary was invoked under the title of Refuge of Sinners. At La
Salette, our Lady was very early given the title of Reconciliatrix of Sinners;
this became the liturgical title of Our Lady of La Salette. We could
detail, for the same period, revelations of a more discreet or private
character, like those of Sister Marie de Saint Pierre at the Carmel of Tours,
about which there exists no precise study. Father Stern compares the major
apparitions to the tip of an iceberg above the waters, while the mass remains
invisible to superficial views.
underlines the difference between the series of prophecies of the Old Testament
and the various messages from the apparitions of the nineteenth century.
The apparitions are graces given only in view of the common good of the Church
at a particular period, while the prophecies of the Old Testament each
constitute one new revelation, completing the Revelation already
received. Despite some analogy, we cannot look upon La Salette, Lourdes
and the Rue du Bac as completing each other. Before comparing these
apparitions among themselves, we must situate each of them in the total life of
the Mystical Body. Only when this work is done can we attempt comparative
studies with any likelihood that they will be pertinent. One of the
guiding lines is that each apparition is a work of the Mercy of God rescuing
sinners, a theme which we find again at Lourdes.
Le fait de La Salette, new edition, Paris, Cerf, 1965. One can find many
documents; notably the two mandates of Bishop P, de Bruillard, Sept. 19, 1951 and
Ginouhiac,* November 4, 1854 (Pp. 232-240, 343-396).
*NOTE: Bishop de Ginouhiac published a History of Dogmas. He was
appreciated as one of the best French theologians of Vatican I. His
mandate has a critical and theological character.
J. JAOUEN, M.S.:
La grace de La Salette, Paris, Cerf, 1946.
Or even: La grace de La Salette au regard de l'Eglise, ib. 1964 (reedited at
the sanctuary). He knew the documentation best, but unfortunately refrained from
In English: J. S. KENNEDY, Light on the Mountain: the Story of La Salette, New York,
McMillan;.1953;Doubleday, 1956; Image Books.
M.J. COX, M.S.:
Rain for These Shoots, Milwaukee, Gruce, 1956. Deals with La Salette, Lourdes,
Fatima and the diachrony.
J. STERN: La Salette.
Documents authentiques, t. 1,1846 -
Paris, DDB, 1980. Id. "A propos de deux versions du fait de la Salette," in
Marianum, 1976, pp. 482-492: and
"Melanie Calvat," in Catholicisme, fasc. 37, 1110-1111.
Lourdes (February 11 to July
With the apparition of Lourdes we are in the middle of
the 19th century, in France, in the Pyrenees, at the time when Guizot taught the doctrine "Enrichissez-vous"
(Become rich) to the French, at the time when industrialization developed a proletariat class.
Our Lady visits a poor child, Bernadette Soubirous. Her parents are millers who were
ruined, partly because of the economic difficulties (famine,
etc.), and partly because of their generous hearts and their patience with bankrupt clients.
Born January 7, 1844, Bernadette personally heard
during the third apparition (February 18, 1858) , the mysterious word: "I do not
promise to make you happy in this world, but in the next." Her life was filled with suffering.
And yet she maintained during her life a fundamentally pleasant, glorious character, and never allowed her suffering
to weigh on others.
After 1854, the year in which Pope Pius IX defined
the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the bankrupt Soubirous
famiIy was evicted. Passing from home to a hovel, they ended up in the worst lodging of all
- the "cachot," as the former prison was called at Lourdes; it had been unused because of its unhealthiness.
Francois, father of Bernadette, became a "brewer," that is, a labourer.
He earned only one
franc-fifty a day (33¢), and attempted to work on a day-by-day basis. His days of unemployment were many.
He had four chiIdren, and the health of Bernadette, the oldest was weakened by cholera in 1855, and was worsened by privations.
During the famine in 1857, in March, the gendarmes
arrested Francois Soubirous and imprisoned him. Two sacks of flour had been stolen from the baker, and suspicions
centered on him for the single motive, as written in the acts of the trial: "The state of his misery makes us think he
would be capable of this theft." The gendarmes imprisoned him because he was the poorest.
The Virgin chose Bernadette for the same reason. On February 11, 1856, Bernadette went to the grotto
of Massabielle; not for a walk, but to gather wood and bones which she sold at the flea market.
In that way she earned her daily bread, since her father was unemployed that day and
his salary did not suffice, in any case, to sustain his family. Having arrived before the grotto of Massabielle, Bernadette
prepared to cross the canal of the mill, to continue her collecting. It was at that time that she heard "a noise like a
gust of wind." Like a shepherd accustomed to observe signs of the weather, she looked at the trees and perceived that
they did not move. Because of her work, Bernadette had never been at cathechism nor in class.
She had never read the Acts of the Apostles. She did not know about the gust
of wind at Pentecost. She understood that this gust of wind was more interior than exterior.
This was Pentecost for Bernadette. This Pentecost would be realized for her by
meeting with the woman on whom the Holy Spirit had come, first at the Annunciation and later in the Upper Room with
the Twelve. In the niche of the grotto, at the base of the North flank of the mountain, under a tight drizzle, a light
appeared like that of a ray of sun, and in this light, a smile. It was a wonderful white child with a blue sash,
a rosary in her arms. Bernadette put her hand In her pocket. She found her rosary.
She recited it, by instinct, in the presence of the apparition. She did not know who It was.
than a month she called it "Aquero," in her Patois, "that one." This is a curious
matter, since the crowds who quickly came to the grotto, identified the Virgin from the 20th
of February. However, when she was interrogated, Bernadette was very reserved on that point.
During the interrogation of February 21, the commissioner , influenced by the popular
rumour, first wrote, "The Virgin appeared to me." However,
he had to correct this, in accord with the indication of Bernadette herself, and put down instead, "Aquero" ("that
At the third apparition, Aquero spoke for the first time.
She invited Bernadette to come to the grotto for fifteen days. The first apparitions of the fifteen days were in silence,
then a message developed: You will pray to God for sinners (February 24); Penance (this word, repeated, three times, is
made explicit in the penitential formula): and Go, kiss the ground in penance for the conversion of sinners (the word
of February 24, repeated the following day).
Prayer, conversion: these are the two key words of
the message of Lourdes, which became the capital of prayer and conversion from that time.
On February 25th, a sign was given. Following the repeated indications of the apparition,
Bernadette knelt down at the rear of the grotto, to the left and there dug into the reddish mud, until she gathered in her
hands a little bit of dirty water. She heard these words, "Go drink in the fountain and wash yourself."
There was no fountain, but a spring blocked by the debris of a moraine. Discouraged by the repugnant water, Bernadette did not succeed in drinking until the fourth time.
She descended to the back of the cave, her face smeared with mud; this was a moment of consternation.
Jean-Baptiste Estrade, the first townsman of Lourdes
who came to the apparitions (the day before the vigil), was at first stupified.
He said, "I saw Mme Rachel at the theatre in Bordeaux; she was magnificent; but infinitely beneath
Bernadette in ecstasy." He did not seem to understand any more, and was the butt of the jokes of his friends who came
to see what happened. However, the people drew from the
spring that Bernadette began to open. In drawing they uncovered more of the source of this spring.
The subterranean water eliminated the mud as it flowed.
In addition to the "gust of wind," symbol of Pentecost,
the spring of water is another symbol of the Holy Spirit; Jesus spoke of "a spring of water flowing from the most
profound depths of those who believe, for eternal life." When the Holy Spirit comes into the heart of a sinner to
convert him, this disturbs many things, including much mud. Grace, a spring of living water, eliminates sin with its troubling sequels.
On March' 2nd, Bernadette heard this word:
"Go tell the priests to come here in procession and to build a chapel here."
The movement of prayer and charisms which drew more than 2,000 persons around her to the grotto was thus
passed on to the priests, to the Church. These words founded the
pilgrimage and the eucharistic dimension. However, Bernadette was subjected to a rude test.
The repeated interrogations of the commissary, the gendarmes, the judges, threats of prison, constraints of all sorts,
alternated with the adulation and flatteries of those who treated her like a saint.
The one Bernadette feared most was Fr. Peyramale. He was inclined to believe
because of the conversions which he observed in his parish, but he defended himself against himself with a sort of violence.
was still ignorant of who the apparition was.
Everyone waited for what was to happen, the termination of the "fifteen days," during which Bernadette was
committed to go to the grotto. The last day, Thursday March 4, would be an important day, people thought.
There would be a major miracle, a revelation, or the Virgin would appear to everyone.
Nothing of the kind happened on
March 4, 1858. It was a moment of disappointment and the triumph of the adversaries.
The administration and the newspapers ridiculed the popular credulity.
Aquero did not even give her name. Bernadette remained calm, discreet.
She did not return again to the grotto, now that her promise (to come for "fifteen days") was realized.
At the end of exactly three weeks, on Thursday March
25th, the day of the Annunciation, she was again drawn to Massabielle. She came there at 5 o'clock in the morning.
She asked Aqero with insistence: "Madame, would you please have the kindness to tell me who you are."
Aquero "only smiled." Bernadette repeated her request to give an answer to her pastor.
The fourth time, finally, Aquero extended her arms towards the earth, then joined her hands
at the level of her chest and declared (still in Patois, the only language which Bernadette understood), "Que soy era
Immaculada Councepciou (or Immaculee Councepciou)," that is:"I am the Immaculate Conception."
The formula was unusual, disconcerting.
Fr. Peyramale was intuitively astounded by it. His theological reason was shocked.
He brusquely refused Bernadette telling her: "A lady does not carry such a name."
That evening he wrote to the bishop denouncing the incoherence of the formula, the Virgin is not her conception.
Others said to Bernadette: "You are mistaken, you did not understand well.
not have said that. She must have said rather, I am Immaculate, I am the Immaculate Virgin, or I am Mary conceived
without sin, etc."
It was only on the afternoon of that March 15th, that
Mr. Estrade explained to Bernadette the expression which she "had never heard," and did not understand.
The parish priest, disturbed, did not even think of explaining it to her. Bernadette was happy.
Never had she dared to believe that it was the Virgin, and yet she had had the presentiment of
this: from the very first instant, when she had the inspiration
to put her hand in her pocket and recite the rosary. Now all made sense for her.
The two last apparitions (April 7 and July 16) had the
character of a confirmation and a farewell. They were separated by a period when an epidemic of visionaries raged
(April 13, July 11); these made people momentarily forget Bernadette, who returned to a discreet and obscure life.
This epidemic began in exalted prayer. It continued in affectations which ended in the ridiculous, but not in
immorality. An energetic Intervention of the bishop, dated July 11th, made them stop.
On July 16th, on the feast of Our Lady of Mount
Carmel, Bernadette saw the apparition one last time, but without going to the grotto itself.
Access to it had been
barricaded and forbidden by civil authorities. She went to the other bank of the Gave to pray, facing the grotto where
she felt herself again invincibly drawn. However, for her all distance was abolished.
It was at once a farewell and an eschatological symbol. Bernadette would never again have
From 1858 to 1866, her life was a daily witness, often
under the contradictory trial of excessive admirers and violent opponents.
Certain ones wanted to prove to her that she saw the devil or to threaten her with hell,
etc. We can wonder how she, held up psychologically under this pressure.
Her confessor said, correctly, that this was the best proof of the apparitions.
Her first vocation was contemplative, but the condition
of her health (weakened by tuberculosis) clearly did not permit her to become a Carmelite or to enter the Bernadines
of Anglet, which she had thought about. She discovered a second vocation, not contemplative but active, when the
Sisters of the hospice had her take care of a poor old drunken woman who had fallen on her head in a fire and was
completely disfigured. Bernadette cared for her with love, humour and effectiveness. The desire to be a religious came to
her with the desire to take care of the poor among the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, who accepted her to protect her.
But the tuberculosis which struck her the year of the apparitions never healed.
It was at first lung tuberculosis and then, in her last years, bone tuberculosis.
The life of Bernadette ended with terrible suffering, a tumour on one knee, bed sores.
Her back was nothing but a sore. Her body became "the receptacle of all suffering," according to the
expression of her confessor. However, these physical sufferings were nothing in comparison to her moral sufferings,
as Bernadette herself said one day. It was a triple night: A Night of the Senses (The apparitions had become for her
distant, unreal, as though they had happened to another.), a Night of Faith, and especially A Night of Hope (experience in dereliction).
Nevertheless, to the end, Bernadette remained
forgetful of herself present to others. Paradoxically, her final concern was to remain in thanksgiving to the end.
effect, she had only one request in her last days, she had all the images attached to the curtains of her bed (according to
the custom of the time) removed. She took her only Crucifix and said: "This one is sufficient for me."
Her passion and her death were felt by the witnesses as opening to a paschal light.
It was on the Wednesday of Easter time that she died. Her body has remained incorrupt.
She was canonized on
December 8, 1933.
The message of Lourdes is only a replay of the prolegomenon of the Gospel: Prayer, Penance (in the full sense
of the word "conversion": meta noia), the Good News
announced to the poor in this 19th century, the motto of which was "Become rich." Bernadette and the poor were
the first destinaries and beneficiaries of the message. It was the indigent
Who first followed behind Bernadette and showed themselves the most generous, as the chief of police
himself said. All her life Bernadette gave a witness of evangelical poverty, even to formulating for her family this counsel
and this wish: "If only they don't become rich."
The message of the Lourdes apparition does not speak of physical cures.
These arose themselves as a surplus to the inner healings. The message, which has continued by the
foundation of pilgrimages, reached a high point in the revelation of the name of the messenger, drawing us back to the
first pages of the Gospels of the Infancy. Mary distinguished herself by the first graces of God for her, in the sense of the
Magnificat: "The Lord has regarded the poverty of his servant." The mystery of the Immaculate Conception is a
mystery of grace alone, prior to all merit. It is the mystery of All is
grace, and this clarifies the uniqueness of Lourdes. The Virgin appeared very young, as a child.
The French writer Bernanos, without speaking formally of Lourdes, expresses admirably the significance of this strange sign:
"A young girl, this Queen of angels, younger than sin, younger than the race from which she issued."
The message of Lourdes has since also been
considered as an antithesis to that of La Salette: the Virgin who cries and the Virgin who smiles (Mr. Dupont).
But at Lourdes the Virgin showed sadness in speaking of sinners, and the face of Bernadette reflected the sadness.
The apparition has been taken as a confirmation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
We can find an echo of this theme in a letter of Bernadette to Pope Pius IX in 1876.
It has been an encouragement to ecclesial, sacramental life. Today we insist above all on the invitation to build the Church by
means of the Eucharist.
Pontmain (January 17, 1871)
France had been invaded. In January of 1871, the
German armies marched to the West. Tuesday the 17th, they arrived at the gates of Laval, the capital of the
department. There is no news about the young people of the village mobilized in the retreating army.
On January 17th, shortly after 6:00 p.m., the Barbedette children went out of the barn
where they were pounding gorse for animal feed. Snow
covered the ground, but the sky was starfilled. At that time the five children, beginning with Joseph and Eugene Barbedette, saw in the sky above the house across the way, a young
lady in a blue robe apparently strewn with stars, her hands
lowered in a gesture of welcome. On her head was a crown without fleurons, rather a type of cap.
A mandorla formed around her, filling up the style of an icon (the Orthodox who attended study days on Pontmain were struck by this
character). The apparition was silent, but above her was written, letter by letter, a message that the children gradually
deciphered, to the astonishment of the people of the village who were gathered, at first to dispute and then, to pray.
The Children were separated from each other when the inscription began to form.
People thought that they were
suggesting things to each other. People wanted to be sure. Although separated, the children deciphered all at the same
time, the same letters.
The first word written in the sky provoked a stylistic
objection. A discourse does not begin with the word BUT. The children responded that the school mistress
sometimes began with the expression, "But you should study!" The inscription began by these words,
But you should thus pray my children. Then, letter by letter, the second sentence
formed, God will hear you in a short time.
These words took on a strong meaning under the threat
of the invaders. The apparition, however, manifested much joy. The inscription continued by these words: My Son lets
(se laisse) ... To this, the school mistress objected: "You are wrong, without doubt it must be: My Son is tired
(se lasse)" (as at la Salette). The children confirmed that there was an i (laisse not
lasse). The final word then clarified the
sentence: My Son lets himself be touched.
The Virgin was recognized by the words, "My Son." The rosary and the canticle began spontaneously.
The apparition was completed at 9:00 p.m. She never reappeared. All the young men of the village returned unharmed from
the war. None of the five visionaries were canonized, but the two Barbedette boys became priests, and good priests.
Jeanne-Marie Lebosse became a religious. But she retracted
herself, on December 18-20, 1920. I lied. I never saw the apparition, she said.
This retraction was held secret for a long time.
I uncovered it in 1971, in all honesty. However, two pieces of evidence appear in analyzing it. 1) The testimony of the
chiId was perfectly sincere, clear, coherent, from the first day. She was interrogated first at the initial interrogation
(the day after the apparition), and in the collective interrogations which followed, the inquisitors noted that she spoke
first, with coherence. 2) On the other hand, her retraction is incoherent in itself and in comparison with her first
She was the victim of a classic phenomenon: secondary
states are forgotten. The break with puberty contributed to create a distance.
At that time, when scruples were cultivated, she found no other interior solution to her torment
but to rid herself of it by declaring that she lied. Therese of Lisieux had the same experience.
She saw the Virgin smile at her during her childhood, the moment when she was healed.
However, in relating this she dropped this piece of evidence and convinced herself
of having lied, until her pilgrimage to Our Lady of Victories gave her the certitude of
having seen the apparition. For Jeanne-Marie Labosse it was not the same.
She never refound her evidence on earth. Deprived of the glory of being a visionary, she Iived a beautiful existence of service and humility.
We can regret that canonizations require certitude, because this tested life is profoundly edifying in its fidelity.
Those of the other visionaries are likewise, to diverse degrees. They belong to
what Malegue calls: The middle class of holiness.
One common point with the preceding apparitions is
that the Virgin appeared alone. At Pontmain, also, it was a matter of a message of prayer, very simple in the
dramatic circumstances of war and invasion. The place of pilgrimage has remained a place of prayer and of recollection up to this
day. It does not, however, attract millions as at Lourdes. The annual number is around 200,000 drawn especially from
the people of the region, with some international pilgrimages, especially from Germany.
Concerning the meaning, one of the most interesting
aspects is the spontaneous improvisation of a charismatic prayer around the children, in this grass-root
community which was the village of Pontmain. This prefigured the necessity which these villages have today to improvise their
religious life without a priest, due to the crisis which rages now in France.
We will not consider in detail the two following apparitions, since they have not been officially recognized.
The cult was simply accepted and happily channeled.
Some Other Apparitions of the 19th Century
Saint Bauzille (1873)
At Saint Bauzille, following certain apparitions of the
Virgin to Auguste Arnaud, the 8th of July 1873, the bishop named a commission to investigate.
But the vicar general remained in opposition to this commission. Thus, the
pilgrimages began without official recognition. (Bibliography: Saint Bauzille. Livre du centenaire, Paris,
Beauchesne, 1973 [collection]).
At Pellevoisin in 1876, there were some apparitions of
the Virgin to Estelle Faguette. (Bibliography: 1) A Pellevoisin, un centenaire, Estelle vous parle, Pellevoisin 36500
Buzancsais, Monastere des Dominicaines, 1976, 112 p. 2)
M. R. Vernet, O.P., La Vierge a Pellevoisin: Dieu au coeur d'une mere: Reflexion spirituelle sur la serie des 15 apparitions, dans lear mouvement pedagogique a I'egard d'Estelle a
la lumiere dela doctrine du Concile, Paris, Tequi, 1978, 431
Fatima is one of the apparitions which received the
most important pledge and approbation of the Holy See; Pius XI and Pius XII were both personally involved in this
spiritual current, and Paul V I was the first Pilgrim Pope to Fatima.
With Fatima, we pass from France to Portugal, to a
more southern, expansive, and flamboyant style. Furthermore, the apparitions, as at Pontmain, occurred during a
war, the First World War, which had arrived at its worst moment. At the site of the Cova de Iria, a circle of hills
filled with historical memories (the battle of August 13,
1835, where Alvares Pereira saved his country), three children, Lucia dos Santos (ten years old in 1917), Francisco
Marto, her cousin (nine years) and Jacinta, sister of Francisco (seven years) saw at first an angel who appeared (Summer
1916) and taught them a prayer:
My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love you (...) Most Holy Trinity (...),
I offer you the most precious Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord (...) in all the tabernacles, throughout
the world, in reparation for the outrages by which he himself is offended.
From her first communion in 1913, Lucia had been
drawn by the fervour of the two others. The first apparition of the Virgin took place on a
Sunday, May 13,1917, toward noon, while they were watching their lambs. After they recited the rosary kneeling
on the grass, a lightning bolt made them leave, driving their flock. A second bolt flashed, and in the light they saw,
above a green oak tree, a young unknown girl who said : "Come six times in a row, at this same time, the 13th of
each month. In October, I will tell you who I am. I will make a great miracle October 13th!
Continue always to recite the rosary with devotion." They returned the 13th
of each month, except for the 13th of August, the day when the civil administrator of Villa Nova de Ouren abducted them
and held them in custody. In compensation, they had a vision on the following Sunday, August 19th, in the pasture
lands of Valinos.
On June 13th, the Virgin insisted on the Rosary.
On July 13th, she stressed peace. It was the middle of the world war.
The same day the children beheld a vision of hell:
The condemned, black and burned, in the middle of a great sea of fire, are
thrown into the air by the flames, fall back on all sides, like the sparks of a
great fire, screaming from pain.
The apparition declared: "To save the poor sinners, the
Lord wishes to establish in the world devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary." Here we locate the request of reparatory Communion on the five First Saturdays of the month.
On August 19th, Lucia asked about the use of the
money placed at the foot of the oak, the answer was, "It should serve to solemnize the next feast of the rosary and to
build a chapel." On September 13th, the apparition said, "Continue to recite the holy Rosary to obtain the end of
the War." Finally, on October 13th, she said,
I am Our lady of the Rosary. I have come to exhort the faithful to change
their lives, not to afflict by sin Our Lord who is already too much offended, to recite the Holy Rosary (...).
I wish to have a chapel in this place in my honour (...) if people correct their
lives, the War will end quickly.
The Miracle of the Sun
On that day, October 13, 1917, 70,000 persons gathered to see the promised miracle.
It was the dance of the sun to which there were many witnesses, and many
newspaper articles were written which called for a critical-methodical study.
This phenomenon lasted ten minutes in three phases: 1) the sun trembled and danced;
2) then it turned on itself as a wheel of fire, projecting multicoloured spindles (This central phase was double, with a moment of
interruption and then a more intense renewal); 3) finally, a dizzying rolling, again with flashes of a rainbow.
The phenomenon was related with sincerity by numerous witnesses. But no observatory knew anything about it, and the canonical
judgment of the bishop was silent on this point.
On October 13, 1930, the bishop of Leiria promulgated
We judge it well:
1. to declare worthy of faith the visions which the children had at the Cova da Iria (...), the 13th of each
month, from May to October 1917 and to authorize officially the cult of Our Lady of Fatima.
The terms of this approbation are more circumspect and
reserved than those for Lourdes. Conforming to the conjectural status, the bishop did not pronounce directly on the
reality of the apparitions, but declared worthy of faith those things which testified to it, and he authorized the cult.
However, during the national pilgrimage of May 13, 1931, the cardinal wrote: "The Queen of heaven
descended on earth and placed her throne of mercy at Fatima, where she showed to all, Jesus, the Saviour of the
world." Here, though, the literary genre is not that of a canonical judgment.
Pius XI accorded many indulgences to Fatima.
But it was Pius XII who particularly promoted the sanctuary. The first apparition of Fatima took place on the day when he
received, in the Sistine chapel, his episcopal consecration. On October 31, 1942, for the 25th anniversary of the last
apparition, Pius XII addressed the Portuguese people with a radio message, followed by the Consecration of the World
to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, as requested by the visionary, Lucia.
In 1951, his legate, Cardinal Tedeschini, revealed that
the Pope had had shortly before, in the Vatican gardens, a renewed vision of the sun miracle.
For having divulged this (which he was not permitted to do, without privately
consulting the Pope), Cardinal Tedeschini was called back by the joint action of the first section of the secretary of State
and of the Supreme Congregation of the Holy Office (at that
time closely connected), which had at that time a power which was secret and practically discretionary.
This vision has been greatly discussed.
It occurred while Pius XII was under medications prescribed by Dr. Galeazzi, medications which could produce such a phenomenon.
The courts of the Holy Office had been shocked by this interference between the objectivity of the Magisterium and
the subjectivity of the vision, at a time when the future Cardinal Ottaviani, already a functionary of the Holy Office,
reacted against the excessive attraction of the apparitions in an article under the title (borrowed from Dante):
Chretiens ne vous enflammez pas si vite (DC 48, 1951,25 mars, col. 355-356).
On May 13, 1967, Paul VI went to Fatima for the 50th
anniversary. On that trip, I was in the airplane of the Pope. He talked a long time with Salazar, at that time already
declining, but he refused to hold an interview with Lucia. Father J. Alonso, C.M.F ., was to produce a collection of the
authentic documents for the 50th anniversary, but the edition was delayed.
From that delay came publications in many forms (by Alonso and by A.M. Martins, S.J., who also
had access to the principal documents and made an unofficial edition).
Fatima: Controversial Aspects
We will treat only very briefly the problems raised by
this sanctuary, far more controversial than that of Lourdes.
The Secret of Fatima
As at La Salette, there is a problem concerning a secret.
Two of the original visionaries died: Francisco (April 4, 1919), and Jacinta (February 20, 1920).
Lucia delivered the secret progressively, in four memoirs, drawn up from 1935 to 1943. However, the third and last part of the
secret (what is called today the secret of Fatima) is the only part that remained unknown.
Only John XXIII and the persons he consulted read it in 1960, the year when it was
expected to be divulged. Let us specify the circumstances.
The point of insertion of this final secret is clearly
attested by an interruption in the text of the fourth memoir (that of October 7, 1941).
Here is the context (it is the
Virgin who speaks): "The Holy Father will consecrate to me Russia which will convert, and the world will be given
a certain time of peace. Portugal will preserve always the dogma of faith, etc. "
After this "etc.," a blank of one centimetre is left at the place of the secret, which Lucia
drew up separately two years later. She continues on the same line (after the etc. and the interval): "This
do not tell anyone. You may tell it to Francisco." Then there follows the invitation to introduce in the recitation of the
rosary the formula "Lord deliver from hell, etc." (See the documents and A. M. Martins,
Memorias e cartas da Irma Lucia, Porco, 1973, 341 p., with facsimiles.)
Many volumes have been published on the secret.
Diverse hypotheses or pseudo-revelations have circulated. Once fantasies have been eliminated, we know only this:
Lucia drew it up between December 27, 1943, and the beginning of January 1944.
During that same year, 1944, she had it sent to the bishop of Leiria by an intermediary,
a former missionary bishop, Manuel Maria Ferreira da Silva, of the Portuguese Foreign Missions.
This secret, placed in a second envelope in 1945, was sent to Msgr. Cento, at that
time the Nuncio to Portugal, with copies of the other documents, March 1, 1957.
Lucia authorized the publication in 1960. "It can be opened now," she said to Msgr. Galamba
and then to Cardinal Ottaviani, "because now it will be clearer."
During the summer of 1959, after some private
consultations at Gastelgandolfo, John XXIII officially opened the envelope of the secret in the presence of Cardinal Ottaviani, Prefect of the Holy Office.
After that, recounts the cardinal, the document was deposited in "one of those files
which are like profound wells, black, black, to the bottom of which papers fall and no one ever sees them again."
These sybillian terms normally designate: 1)either a secret section of the secret archives of the Vatican, or
2) more probably, the archives of the Holy Office, much more secret, as the Cardinal told me when I asked him about that, a few
years before his death.
Why did John XXIII not divulge the text? Is it because it was a prophecy of woe, and he did not like it?
Could there have been political reasons? The third secret dealt with Russia (as suggested by the context), in the wake of the
second, published by Pius XII in 1942. A publication would have been the only way to settle the confused and
sometimes unhealthy curiosity to which this affair gave rise, but the authorities are more sensitive to inopportuneness than
to the opportunity.
Politicization and Depoliticization
Another problem is that politicians have made use of
Fatima. The regime of Salazar used it as a support. Those who backed this controversial regime and that of Franco
exalted the two dictatorships as fruits of the message of Fatima, which, by that fact, made the sanctuary hateful
to the political adversaries of the two regimes and of their
ideologies. Those in charge of Fatima wisely and deliberately sought to
depoliticize the devotion and to promote fine,
non-controversial, pastoral effort.
The fundamental fact is that it was, from its beginnings,
the focus of an authentic popular pilgrimage. Crowds came there in masses on foot, often barefoot, for the anniversary
days of the apparition. The crowds reached one million. It was a
leaven of fervour, of hope, a place of true prayer where the poor heard the Good News.
This fundamental reality is today in the foreground. Pilgrimages manifest the
place of the Virgil) with the poor, and the need they have of a religion which is at once a sign, presence, and communication: a communitarian and collective proceeding, which
an aseptic pastorate does not always realize.
Fatima I and Fatima II
Concerning the deeper questions, we will have to wait
many years for clarifications. Alonso recognized with objectivity that history will have to disentangle what he
called Fatima I (practically the only part envisaged in the approbation of October 13, 1930) and Fatima II (the
development of the message, with the revelation of the secrets).
This poses problems, notably a) the prophecies which have a political sense, and, finally,
b) the agreement of Fatima II with Fatima I. In a communication made in 1971, with an authority
based on unprecedented knowledge of the documents, Alonso held that one cannot speak of contradictions, and he
proposed an already coherent articulation between Fatima I and the developments of Fatima
II, which can be summarized in the following chronology:
1915-1916: the apparition of the angel: Lucia had
already confided it to Canon Formigao in 1917, and the fact was attested in an implicit manner by Lucia in 1921-
1922, where we can find the themes of the prayers of the angel and the allusion to the Immaculate Heart.
But the texts have yet to be produced.
1917: the theme of hell is already linked to an ejaculatory prayer, "0 my Jesus. ..," in its primitive form.
This theme figured in the declarations of Jacinta in 1920.
1921-1922: period of the revelations of Lucia on the
prayers of the angel (testimony gathered by Sebastiao Martina Dos Reis in Orbit de Fatima, Evora 1958, pp.
28-130, while waiting the critical edition of Alonso).
1924: the interrogation of Lucia at the asylum of Vilar
(Porto). The silences of Lucia refer to a secret not yet unveiled.
1925: The Vision of Pontevedra. Alonso dedicates a
volume to this, El mensaje de Fatima en Pontevedra (Pontevedra, 1974, p. 48).
The theme of this book consists in the idea that the promises of the apparitions of 1917 were
accomplished by the Virgin in 1925, at Pontevedra, Spain, when she appeared again to Lucia in her convent.
"The message that the Virgin or the Lord had proposed, before, was urged later at Pontevedra."
1926: second vision of Pontevedra. The documents of
the same year give credibility to this vision, as for the preceding.
1927: the letter of Lucia to her mother (July 24th)
about Reparatory Communion, and the second redaction of the apparitions of Pontevedra (1925-1926).
1928: Lucia writes several documents on the devotion
to the Immaculate Heart.
1929: The vision of Tuy which concerns the consecration of Russia.
Alonso dedicates a small work to this: Fatime y Rusia, e mensaje escatologico de Tuy (Fatima
Hoy, 3, Madrid, Centro mariano, 1976).
1930-1934: many documents on the same theme.
1935: The first Memoir of Lucia: she reveals the devotion of Jacinta to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
1936: the account of Lucia about the apparitions of the angel and the Immaculate Heart.
1937: Msgr. Jose de SiIva writes to Rome to ask for the
consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart. In November, Lucia edits her second Memoir on these themes of the
Immaculate Heart and the apparition. Fr. Da Ponseca is alarmed by this.
1938: numerous documents concerning the War to
come and the consecration of Russia.
1939: the bishop of Leiria, under the blows of the
Second World War declared on September 1st, approves of the reparatory devotion.
1940: Pius XII intervenes in the same line.
1941: Lucia edits the third and fourth Memoir.
1942: the 25th anniversary of the apparitions, "new" themes: the angel, the devotion to the Immaculate Heart,
the consecration are divulged.
1943: edition of the third part of the secret preserved
in the Vatican archives. The delay of Fatima II results principally from the hesitation of
the authorities to divulge
the message linked to the political events of the world, and to see there an expression of the divine will.
Some Other Apparitions of the 20th Century
We point out these apparitions in Ireland, recalling the
recent trip of Pope John Paul II for the centenary, in 1979. This is not an apparition of the Virgin only, but of a group
including the Virgin, Saint Joseph and Saint John the Evangelist, a sort of luminous projection against the wall of the
church. The centre of the apparition, consisted of the lamb, the altar, and the cross, surrounded by seraphim.
investigations, one during the first months, the other in 1936, whose conclusions were sent to Rome in 1939, resulted in
an official recognition of the vision.
Two final apparitions, recognized (at great effort),
are Beauraing and Banneux.
From November 29, 1932 to January 3, 1933, five
children of the countryside of Beauraing, in the diocese of Namur (Belgium), saw the Madonna thirty-three times,
against a white cloud, near the grotto of the Madonna of Lourdes, in the garden of the school of the Sisters, in the
evening from 6:00 to 10:00 o'clock.
The children belonged to two families: the Voisins
(Fernande, 15 years; Berthe, 13 years; and Albert 11 years) and the Degeimbres (Andre, 14 years, and Gilberte, 9 years
old). These working families were for the most part non-practicing Catholics (a frequent
occurrence in this region).
However, they permitted their children to attend Mass and
Vespers on days of obligation. Four of the five visionaries are still alive. All five married (One of the five is a widow).
The Virgin, with hands joined and turned toward the
sky, carried a rosary hanging from her right arm. She asked, "that people pray much," "that a chapel be built" (December 17, 1932), "that people come here in pilgrimage"
(December 23). She promised the conversion of sinners. All these points are common with Lourdes.
During the five last apparitions, she showed a heart of gold, surrounded by rays, on her chest.
During the fourth apparition (December 4) and the seventh (December 21), she declared herself to be "the Immaculate Virgin" (analogous to Lourdes).
During the last apparition (January 3, 1933), she added: "I will convert sinners.
I am the Mother of God, the Queen of heaven." Twenty thousand persons were present that day.
After the fourth apparition, there were sick people
in the crowd. The visionaries prayed Our Lady to heal them. But it was only after the last apparition that healings took
place. Here, however, the matter begins to deteriorate. A certain Come Tilman, fifty-eight years old, became a
visionary in his turn, and at the first vision, he was healed of spondylitis.
However, a medical and psychic examination of the visionary, made on June 1934, was negative.
Meanwhile, similar apparitions multiplied in Belgium. It was thus that in 1935, the Holy Office turned the examination of the
matter over to the Primate of Belgium, Cardinal Van Roy.
He returned his judgment on March 25, 1942, during the
German occupation: 1) Concerning Banneux and Beauraing, the investigation was still in process under the responsibility
of the respective bishops. 2) All the other apparitions were excluded (Onkerzele, Lokere, Naasteveld, Tubize, Olsene,
Etikhove: Vraies et Fausses apparitions, pp. 22-23).
After long investigations and especially-difficult negotiations with Rome, the cult of Our Lady of Beauraing was
recognized in 1942. Its authenticity was declared in 1949, despite the objections and actions of a Carmelite father,
Bruno de Jesus Marie, who dedicated an issue of Etudes carmelitaines to this question.
Beauraing has become a centre of prayer, of pilgrimage and of Conversion. (Bibliography:
Enciclopedia mariana theotokos, Genova, 2d. ed., 1958, p. 24; Catholicisme
II,1360 [G. de Bertier].)
Banneux (1933) -- The Last Recognized Apparition
At Banneux the visionary, Mariette Beco, ten years old,
was the oldest of seven children in a Catholic working family, who, however, did not practice their
religion (as at Beauraing). She dwelt in a house isolated on the plateau of the
Ardennes, along the route of Pepinster. For two months she had not gone to church.
Toward 7 o'clock in the evening, January 15, 1933, she saw at the window of her room, a young girl
with a Rosary in her hands. She called her mother. Her mother caught a glimpse of something, but forbade the girl
to look at the vision. Mariette became pious and restarted her catechism.
There were seven other apparitions: January
17, 18, 19 (discovery of the spring ; "Shove your hands in the water."), January 20, February 11 and 15 ("Believe
in me, I will believe in you, pray much. Good bye."), February 20 ("Pray much, good bye.").
On March 2, the apparition expressed her farewell, "I am the Mother of the Saviour, the
Mother of God. Pray much. Adieu." (This last word contrasts with the preceding apparitions, where, at the farewell,
the Virgin would say "au revoir" (Good-bye, until I see you again). Mariette saw no other apparition.
The recognition of the apparition passed through the
same vicissitudes and blockages of the Holy Office. Cardinal Van Roy, primate of Belgium, intervened March 25, 1942,
to exclude all the apparitions which had abounded in Belgium, except Beauraing and Banneux, which
were being examined by their respective bishops (Namur and Liege).
On January 2, 1942, the Holy Office had in effect given to
these bishops the liberty to "judge these extraordinary events." Msgr. Kerkhofs, bishop of Liege, immediately
lifted the restrictions, and promulgated full and entire authorization for practicing the "cult" which to that
point had been simply tolerated (Notre Dame de Banneux, Paris,
Dessain, 1967, p. 207). Finally, on August 22, 1949, he recognized the apparitions in these terms:
Two times, first in 1942 and then in 1947, we have officially recognized the
reality of the apparitions of Banneux. Today after two new years of prayer and
observation, we believe in conscience to be able and to be required to recognize
without reserve this reality, namely, the reality of the eight apparitions of the Holy Virgin to Mariette Beco (the
dates follow) (ibid. p.208).
The Case of the Visionary
Mariette Beco, a somewhat uneducated girl, married
a restaurant owner. She had conjugal difficulties from which she suffered a great deal.
She left her husband, and for a long time lived with a handicapped person in irregular cohabitation.
Mariette cared for him with much devotion until his recent death. She practiced her religion very little, and
violently refused to respond to enquirers. Yet sometimes she would go in secret to pray at the place of the apparitions.
We see here a religion of the poor, which was profound, firm, and sincere, even in the distress and the risks of a difficult
life. This case merits an evaluation; it leaves the beaten paths, to lead back to the essentials of the Gospel.
The clarity: the transparency, the evangelical character
of the message is no less pure than at Lourdes, and if, in contrast to Bernadette, Mariette Beco did not take the way of
regular, religious, canonical and proved piety, those who know her well think she profoundly lives something else
which goes very deep and is far-reaching. She called the attention of the Church to the
milieux of workers, the marginalized, the neglected, to whom she continued to
belong, drawn into all their perhaps misunderstood problems.
B. NON-RECOGNIZED APPARITIONS
None of the apparitions after 1933 have been recognized by the Church.
A semi-exception was the pilgrimage of Our Lady of Syracuse (Italy). This was not
an apparition, but a lacrymation. This dealt with the statue belonging to a young married couple, Angelo Jannuso,
an agricultural worker, and his wife, Antonina. A statue, placed beside their bed, poured tears from August 29 to September 1,
1953. The episcopal conference of Sicily, meeting at Palermo, on December 12, 1953,
concluded: "One cannot doubt the reality of this lacrymation" (A good article is
S. de FIORES' in Petit vocabulaire marial, Paris, DD8, 1980, pp. 208-21q).
Let us also add that cult was authorized in a certain
number of sanctuaries where apparitions took place, without officially recognizing the apparitions themselves:
Wigratzbad (Germany, 1960-1963), Marienfried (cult and chapel, 1966), Ile Bouchard (apparition
in 1947, where an annual pilgrimage was allowed after a period of prohibition) and Cefala Diana (Sicily, chapel since June 22,1969).
We are safe in saying that there has not been any positive canonical judgment on any apparition after 1933.
Likewise, during the same time, the bishops made any
recognition of miracles at Lourdes difficult, to the extent that eleven years passed without any being recognized
(1965-1976). There has been recognition of V. Michel's cure and, in 1978, of Serge Perrin's cure, but with no others;
however, on the horizon. It is not that visions were lacking during this period,
particularly during the troubled periods, such as during the War.
Dom Bernard BILLET, in Le fait des apparitions non
reconnues par l'Eglise, in Etudes mariales, 28, 1971, and in Vraies e fausses
apparitions, Paris, Lethielleux, 1973, established a list of more than 200 non-recognized apparitions,
which have occurred since 1933. His total number is 210, but we subtract the first 20, which occurred around 1933,
notably in Belgium, where there was a sort of swarm around
Beauraing and Banneux. In addition, Dom Billet has completed this list, and I myself gathered other accounts.
A particular list is always artificial, because the boundary is difficult to delineate between rumoured apparitions, those
which are object of an ephemeral echo in the press or in a bulleting or mimeographed page, and those which are purely
private or the secret of a visionary.
Several cases have been confided to me orally, by
chance meetings. For example, the testimony of a pilgrim to Compostela and of his friends.
Recently, a Protestant, who became ill during this horseback trip, met a woman one
evening who said she was Maria del Camino (Mary of the Way). After this mysterious meeting, he found himself
healed. I am in possession of the supportive witnesses of the interested party and of one of his companions.
Other visionaries appear to be very self-critical, such as the handicapped person who wrote me, "I had apparitions, but I
recognized that this was my interior movie. Learn to distrust the imagination and the compensations which arise under
pressure among certain handicapped persons" (Letter of February 1980).
Some More Public and More Significant Cases
Let us examine some of the most public and more
This occurred in Finistere, France. Jeanne-Louise
Ramonet, twenty-eight years old at, the first apparition, was believed to have seen the Virgin on September 15,
1938 until October 1, 1965 (this included the whole War). She also saw Our Lord
twenty-four times after 1957. In 1956, an oratory was built. From December 8th,
1963, solar phenomena could be observed, with photographs showing curious rays. There was supposed to be also a rain
of white petals with unexplainable perfume. The message involved multiple requests, notably the consecration to the
merciful Heart of Jesus, to the sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, Communion on the first Saturday of the
month, visits to the Blessed Sacrament. There were also
predictions about Russia, about an invasion from which France would be protected, etc.
On October 14, 1956, and on March 24, 1961, Msgr.
Fauvel, Bishop of Quimper, forbade pilgrimages. Since then, the visionary has become relatively discreet.
However, the flow of pilgrims or devotees does not seem to have diminished.
A Lazarist, Fr. Triclot, former professor of Sacred Scripture, supports the pilgrimage.
It was believed that, in the messages of Kerizinen, one could see an echo of revelations made to a contemporary Parisian mystic.
The episcopal chancery deplored the construction of a chapel, done without authorization.
Negative opposition was occasioned by the verbose and excessive character of the
messages, their political implications, their apparent contradictions, and the dangerous exploitation of the supernatural.
The miracles (bleeding hosts) have appeared inauthentic and the photos of solar rays seemed to come from natural optic phenomena.
Amsterdam -Our Lady of All Peoples (1945-1949)
The visionary, Ida Peederman, born August 15, 1905,
had her first apparition on March 25, 1945; she saw a beautiful girl of twelve or thirteen years, but also the attack on the
apparition by a person dressed in black. The apparition asked for the recitation of the Rosary and mysteriously
indicated certain dates. The number "3" indicated March, "4" indicated April and
"5" indicated May. What was to take place on each date was not said, but May 5, 1945, was
the date of the liberation of Holland (occupied by the Germans). The apparitions continued: April 21, July 29
(where the young Lady raised a cross on the altar of ancient sacrifices), and August 29 (when luminous rays poured
out of the hands of the Lady, as in the Miraculous Medal).
When the ecstasies of the visionary disturbed a Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in the Church of
Saint Thomas, on May 31, 1955, the bishop of Harlem had the tableau of The Lady of All Peoples
withdrawn :July 1955). The vision and the messages continued from May 31, 1956, to March
31, 1957. The tableau was transported May 25, 1966, to Ville d' Avray, Hauts de Seine.
The message can be summarized in three points: 1)
Veneration of the Eucharist, 2) Devotion to the Holy Spirit, and
3) Mission of Mary for the peace of the world:
"I can still save the world," she said in a message of May 31, 1967. This last message was addressed to priests and religious.
It was followed by two manifestations (March 25 and May 31, 1970) when the order was given to divulge
the message to the whole world.
Georges de Nantes (the traditionalist who broke with
Paul VI whom he anathematized), denounced the apparitions favourable to the Council as a "diabolical trick":
"A trick: The text of these messages (...) could have been edited and distorted by Schillebeeckx.
Amsterdam (...) brings a divine guarantee to the modernist conciliar reform, etc."
However, the Dutch traditionalist thrilled at the message of Our Lady of All Peoples according to which the Church of Rome lost
its chance of salvation by refusing the definition of the mediation of Mary (a point which seemed to have escaped
the priest of Nantes).
Investigations continue, however. The partisans of the
apparitions have produced dossiers; the bishop of Harlem, Bishop Zwatkruis, with prudence and discretion, authorized
commissions of investigation, but the Holy Office is opposed to any permission given to the cult.
Dom Bernard Billet justifies this reserve because "the criterion of (evangelical)
transparency is lacking." This criterion is very valid, but
the appreciation of it is difficult. During an outbreak of visionaries at Lourdes, one could perhaps have said that
the events of Massabielle "Lack transparency." A charismatic phenomenon not assumed by the Church always runs
the risk of appearing obscure, and of later deviating from its orientation and even becoming radical.
It does not always mean it was evil in its origin.
[N.B. Since this text was written these
apparitions have been approved: Statement.]
Casanova Staffora (Italy, 1947-1956)
For treatment, see B. BILLET, Vraies et fausses apparitions, p. 33-35.
With Necedah, we are in America. The apparitions of
Mary to Mary Ann van Hoof began in 1950: to spread the cult of the "Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, Mediatrix of
Peace." These messages were gathered in a book entitled: Revelations and Messages as Given Through Mary Ann van
Hoof: Queen of the Holy Rosary, Mediatrix of Grace, Necedah, Wisconsin, 1950-1970, 634 p. See also
B. BILLET, p. 35-38, Vraies et fausses apparitions).
On June 7, 1955, Bishop John P. Treacy, bishop of La
Crosse, forbade the naissant cult. Bishop Freking, in 1969, named a commission which confirmed this negative judgment
for the following reasons: 1) Internal contradictions in the revelations;
2) The life of the visionary is not a convincing witness; and 3) The messages contain accusations against the
leaders of the Church and the State. Recently the community of Necedah separated from the Roman Church to join
with the Old Catholic Church.
In Garabandal, in the diocese of Santander, Spain, from
June 18, 1961 to 1965, four girls (Conchita, Jacinta, Mari-Loli, and Maria Cruz) had apparitions of the
Blessed Virgin which attracted pilgrims of several countries. Some pilgrims
were equipped with cameras and tape recorders. They accumulated a considerable documentation.
The apparitions followed a process analogous to Fatima, with the announcement of a great miracle
(still awaited by the devotees of Garabandal), set for an uncertain date. The
appearance of an angel and also unusual phenomena caused perplexity. The seers sometimes received communion from
the hand of an angel. The host was visible to other people, only once, after an announcement, on July 18, 1962.
The seers answered the questions about the origin of the hosts by saying that the angel took the hosts from tabernacles.
What caused trouble in the phenomenon at Garabandal is the superabundance of the
marvelous, which sometimes appeared childish. Thousands of apparitions to the four
seers (together or individually) have been claimed. There has been even a margin of some rare, simulated apparitions.
The seers have explained that this occurred in some cases
when they had received the signs announcing apparitions, but the Blessed Virgin reproached them for having attempted
to anticipate the apparition (For these fake ecstacies, see Jose Ramon Garcia de la Riva,
Memoires d'un cure de campagne espagnol, Editions Garabandal, 1970,
chapter 17: "Extases feintes ou simulees," p. 97-100).
Propaganda had been orchestrated in France by Fr.
Laffineur, former Belgian Dominican, under the pseudonym of Dr. Bonance. Fr. Francois (Turner),
O. P., continued the study more discreetly and more seriously. He published
a booklet under the pseudonym of Rober FRANCOIS, Tout le peuple I'ecoutait, suspendu a ses levres (All the
people listened to Him, Hanging on His Words), Garabandal,
1975, with a preface by Fr. Combe. Fr. Pelletier, A. A., launched an intense propaganda in the U.S.A. with a
brochure entitled: God Speaks at Garandal, and in a more seriously documented book:
Our Lady Comes to Garabandal. A movie (with a sequence of filmed ecstasies) is also
circulating in the U.S.A.
Four successive bishops of Santander have taken a stand
against the supernatural character of Garabandal. The seers, submitted to prolonged interrogations, have retracted
themselves under heavy pressures. Nevertheless, Jacinta reaffirmed the reality of the
apparitions to Bishop del Val, in a letter of March, 1971. Today, the seers have lost their evidence and
almost the remembrance of these extraordinary states. Conchita and Mari-Loli said independently from each other:
"It is as if that had been a dream, and as if all that had happened to another person."
Nowadays, prayer groups gather in the homes of the seers, but without apparitions or any
relationship with Garabandal. Three of the four seers are married and living in America; they remain pious and radiant: Conchita, the eldest,
has three daughters and one son. Jacinta has no children. Mari-Loli has a boy and a girl (the latter was born April 28,
1980). Only Maria Cruz, who lives in Aviles (Asturias), has continued to deny the apparitions since January 1963
(except for some answers given in particular cases, especially to correct an error of her mother).
Conchita seems to have no doubt about a miracle announced as yet to come and about her duty to make known the date to the world eight
days in advance.
Bishop del Val Gallo, the present bishop of Santander,
seemed to plan a resumption of the investigation of these ambiguous events.
But the publicity which followed his
discreet intentions and negative advice, especially from Rome, have stopped this project, which was spoken about
particularly in 1977.
Palmar de Troya (1968-1971)
These apparitions to three children (then to others)
began in 1968, in the diocese of Seville. They resulted in the foundation of a fervent group, but one which turned to
particularly excessive deviations. The visionary, Clemente, had the inspiration to have himself ordained bishop by a
Vietnamese bishop in exile (the brother of president Diem), and, after that, he has ordained all of the fitting men of
his community and has planned to constitute himself into a (charismatic) pope, etc.
Apparently one part of the community refused these charismatic deviations, and withdrew.
The apparitions continued in the new community, installed at Utera, on the
15th of each month. Fr. Luna (Le vrai et le faux Palmar, 1979, 59790 Ronchamps 400 avenue Jean Jaures, and 7713
and Marquain, edition J. Hovine, 1979) denounced the charismatic visionaries and pleaded the cause for the
community that wanted to remain faithful to the Church, but he was not very well accepted by the archbishop.
Bayside (New York) has also been the theater of private
revelations, from July 25, 1975. Miss Veronica Leuken received messages from Saint Michael, the Holy Virgin and
other saints (on the vigils of feasts). She registered these messages on a tape recorder, as she heard them.
The principal texts are brought together by R. S. Catta (Messages of Bayside, New York, 1975-1976;
The Days of the Apocalypse,
Sherbrooke [Quebec, Canada] , editions Saint Raphael, 1978, 172 p.).
What discredited the events of Bayside was that the
visionary announced the imprisonment of Pope Paul VI by his three principal collaborators (whom she named in the
messages): Cardinal Villot, Msgr. Casaroli, Msgr. Benelli. They were supposed
to have imprisoned Paul VI and have substituted a dummy, prepared with the help of a plastic
surgeon. To establish this contact, the press of Bayside (presented an official portrait of Paul VI (younger, vigorous)
with photos of the pope older, tired, anxious. We read in these messages that:
Three Popes (the three principal collaborators of Paul VI) have replaced him
with an impostor. Pope Paul VI who appears in public is not the true one (p. 127).
Everything now is ready for the total capitulation of the Church into the hands of a group who direct the
Synagogue of Satan (...) The Pope is a veritable prisoner in his home (p. 130).
Our Lady cries, her hands over her eyes (p. 156).
All this is evidently groundless. Was the phenomenon
vitiated from its origin? Or, rather, did the deviation arise from the
disregard for those who enter into these extra-
ordinary ways without discernment, and without rectification and guidance of the Church?
The lesson of the drunken helot is still pertinent (Plutarch, Lycurg. 28).
After the pilgrimage of Garabandal was tarnished and
those of Bayside and Necedah discredited, the scene of the "wild" apparitions is San
Damiano (diocese of Piacenza, Italy). The story of Mamma Rosa, the visionary, began in
1952. She was then forty-two years old. She had three children, all three born by caesarean.
Poorly sutured after the second, she suffered, peritonitis, according to the medical
record which I was able to consult. The physician had told her absolutely not to have any more children.
But, finding herself pregnant, she refused abortion which he proposed
to her by saying: "No, I will keep it, it is God's." The infant was born, but the wounds never closed.
She was constantly coming and going between her house and the hospitals of
Piacenza, Plaisance and of Ponte dell'Olio. Her cure dated from September 29, 1961.
A young woman in the garb of a poor person came to her and asked for alms.
Rosa, saw her again at San Giovanni Rotondo: "Give me an offering for Padre Pio," she said.
Mamma Rosa (Quattrini) was very poor. Nevertheless, she did what was asked.
Then she heard this word: "Rise." That appeared absurd given
the state of her health. But the parish priest of the village witnesses that after that Rosa was able to return to her activities.
The apparition invited her to see Padre Pio. She did that, and received his counsels.
On October 16, 1964, at noon, the apparition occurred again in her garden, near the pear tree, which blossomed out
of season and gave abundant fruit:
My little daughter, I come from very far.
Announce to the world that all should pray because Jesus cannot carry his cross any longer.
I wish that all be saved, the good and the wicked. I am the Mother of Love, the Mother of all.
You are all my children. That is why I want that all be saved. ... I will return each
Friday, I will give you messages. You should make them known to the world.
And this promise was included: "Do not fear because
I will leave you a sign. You will see this tree blossom." On October 21, 1967, several persons saw a yellow
globe fall from the sky at San Damiano. At the point of the fall, on the request of the apparition, a deep well of
seventeen metres was constructed; it gave forth water on October 26, 1967.
Miraculous benefits have been attributed to this water. On October 16, 1968, the pear tree was cut down,
during the night, by opponents of the visionary. It was the
fourth anniversary of the first apparition.
Two bishops of Piacenza intervened against this pilgrimage: 1) Humberto Melchiodi (February 2, 1968: DC
1969, No.1531 , p. 47), whose decision was approved by the
Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith on March 20, 1969 and December 22, 1969, and 2) Enrico
Manfredini, who stated on November 1, 1970: "The events of
San Damiano, that is the pretended messages, visions and prodigies have nothing supernatural about them.
The alleged proofs have no value. There exist on the contrary many indubitable contrary proofs."
The following were directed against the perpetrators of disobedience:
Rosa Ouatrini publicly disobeyed by continuing to
consider herself as an instrument of the Holy Virgin (n. 2)'. She is threatened with refusal of the sacraments
and entrance to church if she persists.
The former parish priest (discharged) from San Damiano
received a new public interdiction against concerning himself with the events in question, under penalty of
suspension from priestly functions (n. 3).
Those promoting the event were threatened with an
interdiction, by name from access to the church and to the sacraments (n. 4).
Coming in pilgrimage was forbidden (n: 5).
Those who promoted the pilgrimage discussed the
significance of this decision and the support accorded by the Congregation of the Faith.
Thus pilgrimages continue to
come from abroad: France, Germany, Holland. People spend nights in buses, reciting the rosary.
They take photos, as at Kerizinen, of rays of light produced in an atmosphere of the miraculous (Concerning these photos, see B. Billet,
Lumiere et Vie, April 1, 1979, No.77, p. 116-119: a rather astounding and objective dossier).
As for Mamma Rosa, she lived an impossible situation in
a discreet and efficacious manner. Her obedience to the bishop did not make her deny the interior light, as she
expressed in this declaration of June 5, 1970 (published by Stella maris, no.14, June 24, 1970):
His excellency the bishop, ordered me not to transmit the public and private
messages of the celestial Mother. I will accept this in obedience.
I will not transmit more. However, by that, I cannot deny nor will I ever deny the
heavenly Mother. I say and I will always say that the Madonna came, she comes and will come as before
(Cahiers Marials, ib. p. 114).
At first she herself read the messages.
When this was forbidden, she had them read. After this new interdiction, she kept these messages strictly for herself, but not without
a worry of conscience analogous to that of Catherine Laboure or Bernadette Soubirous, when they found themselves
torn between the celestial message, which they felt an obligation to transmit, and the contrary orders given by
authorities (familial, ecclesiastical or juridical) - a heart-rending situation.
As for Mamma Rosa, the apparition restored her peace by telling her: "Obey."
She has been caught between her visions and the
insistent requests of the chancery which have multiplied. In 1973, she had the joy of receiving the visit of
two of her
sisters, religious missionaries, one from Sri Lanka (Ceylon) and the other from Brazil, whom she had not seen for forty
years. The bishop forbade the two sisters to reside with the visionary.
Mamma Rosa was resigned to this. During a second trip of one of her sisters, the measure was softened.
Equally, Mamma Rosa has been subjected to the
advances and pressures of the traditionalist or integralist milieux. She received Msgr.
Lefebvre when he was in a regular situation. When he returned to pray in her garden, after
being affected by the penalty of suspension, he was asked to bless the crowd; Mamma Rosa, by means of a priest, asked
him to go away. Thus, she has been deprived of a considerable moral (episcopal) support, but
also of some financial support which had begun to develop. She has alienated the
traditionalist groups. This refusal is all the more meritorious in that the
association founded in Italy for the foundation of the City of the Rose Trees (requested by the apparition} did not
receive juridical recognition. Under the influence of the bishop, according to the Italian Concordat, the goods of the
Association were sequestered by the juridical authorities. Mamma Rosa and her family were accused of swindling
and of forming an illegal association. In these conditions it was very difficult for Mamma Rosa to find herself in
open break with the (traditionalist) Swiss Association which was constituted in her favour, and which possesses the land
destined to realize her projects. She has preserved an independent spirit.
The new development of these last years at San Damiano is that the sanctuary has been frequented by doctors,
sociologists, psychologists, psychoanalysts, and university professors, who have perceived how significant this religious
phenomenon could be. They have discreetly conducted their inquiries.
I have received some information which was given me by Dr. de B. and Mr. M., professors of a university in the
South of France, and also by Mme. B. L., psychoanalyst, etc. These inquirers, who came without feeling attracted or
even with a real prejudice, have been astounded to notice significant phenomena and facts that contradict the terms
of the episcopal judgment and the responses of the representative of the bishop, who is often at San
Damiano to dissuade the pilgrims. For example, it is said in the circles of the
chancery that Mamma Rosa never saw Padre Pio. In fact, she had seen him. They said that her wound had never
closed. "This is false; I examined her myself," Dr. de B. told me. I had the medical records of the two
first births, not the third which curiously has disappeared from the archives.
Mamma Rosa today is seventy years old; she is cured. The people of the village agree about that, although
some are hostile. She is called a psychopath. In fact she has an
extraordinary psychological firmness in a difficult situation. People too easily rationalized that since she is
a visionary, she is a psychopath.
There is a tendency to make her appear as a rebel.
In fact she has always obeyed, not without heart-rending tensions and "torment," as said Saint Catherine Laboure.
Thomas Aquinas said that a man sins if he obeys the Church against the light of his conscience.
Mamma Rosa was formed otherwise. She practices a meritorious obedience, and carries
the suffering; of held messages. What is extraordinary is her
serenity in such an impasse. The specialists who investigate San Damiano notice a certain discordance between the
enquiries edited by the chancery (notably those of November 13, 1968, sent to diverse bishops) and those events which
they themselves have observed.
The photos where one sees mysterious rays are "fake,"
a Professor Lugli is supposed to have said. This person is cited as a "lay expert in profane science," an authority on
the matter. Professor Lugli, however, when questioned said he had made neither a serious examination of the photos nor
had he made any report. He had simply mentioned a general impression in the course of a chance conversation.
One of the point of wonder at San Damiano is the pear tree which blossomed following the apparition of October
16, 1964. "Nothing supernatural," Professor Fregoni, a specialist in arboriculture, is supposed to have said.
Actually, his report is much more nuanced:
Autumnal blossoming of plat arborescents, which normally do not reblossom, could be independent of
supernatural phenomena given that there be certain climatic conditions. Such seems
to have been the case of the pear tree and the prune tree at San Damiano.
It is exceptional but not properly miraculous, this
professor is supposed to have said. However, to qualify this phenomena of a second blossoming and fructification in the same year, it
been necessary to examine the blossoming of the following
year, since the double blossoming (a not-unknown phenomenon) is followed by a diminished blossoming the following
spring. But, according to witnesses, the blossoming of that following spring was normal.
Cardinal Journet is cited as an adversary of San Damiano.
In fact, when visited by a journalist, he gave a rather reserved, negative impression, because he did not want to
enter into events which he did not himself know or risk being quoted in favorable
terms, against the bishop of Piacenza. He strongly protested against the publication which
was made of h is rough guess, which was not meant to have any great significance.
3. Conclusions Concerning Non-Approved Apparitions
What should we conclude? This is a matter of complex,
ambiguous phenomena which do not accord with the spirit accustomed to the precision of geometry, but rather with
one versed in the discernment of complex matters. We must
recognize that these supernatural and irrational phenomena lend themselves to enthusiasms which are often extravagant,
to abuses, to degradations, and to disunity. In turn this leads to excessive propaganda, easy deviation
and finally there is a lack of "transparency," etc.
However, the recognized apparitions of today have all
had to go beyond such ambiguity and sometimes such abuses. Charismatic liberations often give place to episodic or
momentary ecstasies. The epidemic of visionaries which took place at Lourdes, from
April 13 to July 11,1858, could have become a massive argument for saying there is nothing
supernatural; we must forbid the pilgrimages. At that time,
an interdiction was only in the competence of civil authority, while the clergy remained more reserved.
The dominant impression of
visitors at San Damiano is the Misereor super turbam (I have mercy on the crowd);
one senses the abandonment of the flock without shepherd, not without great risks.
It is also remarked that occasional pilgrims have received a salutary shock.
I recall the witness of serious conversions and a list, not exhaustive, of
thirty-two vocations that have had their beginnings at San Damiano, vocations of men and women who made their way in the
most regular and successful manner, in very diverse religious orders. These particular vocations seemed to have arisen
only from the organized pilgrimages in buses from Lyon.
Finally, those who have sincerely wished to study the
events and questions in a serious and scientific way in order to form their judgments (as is normal) have been blocked
by the withholding of information and the refusal of all access to the documents (in a manner particularly rigid at
When some visionaries have retracted, and in the
measure that they have, it seems that they were subject psychologically to strong pressures, and in the name of
obedience. Sometimes repressive action succeeds in leaving its traces.
This was the case at Can Sarda (diocese of Barcelona), in July, 1976. There were apparitions of the Virgin.
A decree of the archbishop disapproved them and demanded of Christians not to go to this place.
The visionary, a good Christian, obeyed all the orders of the authority, as Cardinal
N. Jubany recognized when he ended these pilgrimages (decree of July 30, 1976, published by the diocesan Bulletin, p. 435-436).
A question arises: Is the refusal and the systematic
extinguishing of apparitions and supernatural phenomena a normal state in the development of Christianity?
Certainly, faith, essentially, is founded not on evidence but on the testimony of God.
When the faith-object itself becomes sensible, we have an ambiguous phenomenon, one difficult
to evaluate, subject to deviations. Thus, it is normal not to accept phenomena, except with reserve and circumspection.
First of all, this is a matter of prudence before ambiguous phenomena which are subject to excesses and deterioration.
The events demand a great circumspection in the discernment of spirits. But other motives are added to this
reason for pastoral prudence. There is also the assurance and authority which abstract theological reason has assumed,
since the foundation of universities in the 13th century, with disdain for the symbols of popular religion, which the
intellectuals devaluate as wild and irrational phenomena. Before the disturbing competition which charismatic authority risks becoming for the established authority in the
Church, institutional suspicions can also harden in a manner that is sometimes
These first three motives and a certain proliferation of apparitions (principally in Belgium, at the threshold of the
Second World War, 1939-1945, and then in Italy right after this war) suffice to explain the vigor and the negative
warning of Msgr. Alfredo Ottaviani, in Osservatore Romano, February 3, 1951:
Chretiens ne vous excitez pas si vite! (a title borrowed from the Divine Comedy of Dante).
A translation of this article was published in the Documentation catholique 48 (1951), March 25, col 354,356.
Msgr. Ottaviani, at that time assessor of the Holy Office, was soon to become its secretary, that is, its number one man, in a
period when the Pope was officially the Prefect of the Holy Office.
For what concerns the proliferation in those years, we must note: on the one hand, the Belgian apparitions which
followed Beauraing and Banneux; and then a whole Italian wave right after the War: Tre Fontane
- April 12, 1947 (the apparition of the Virgin to a communist who converted and placed at the feet of Pius XII his
"Protestant" Bible and a knife, saying, "Here is the weapon with which I wanted
to kill you, and the book in which I learned my error."); Montichini (October-November
1947); Montopoli; Grottamare (March 28, 1946); Gimigliano (1948). (Concerning these events, see
Encyclopaedia mariana Theotokos 1958, p. 244-246.)
These classical repressions were directed against spiritual gourmands, against credulity and superficiality, and also
against the excessive prestige which these charismatic phenomena attained by proposing a direct line with God.
A fourth mainspring of suspicion has been added to the aforementioned in these last years: a critical rationalism which
has raged among theologians. This rationalism proceeds
according to a certain conception of human sciences whose methodological principle is to establish new methods which
hold to objective, material, quantifiable and controllable data. Add to this the reign of the Freudian, Marxist
(materialist) and Nietzchean suspicion which have each exercised great influence on modern culture.
However, the objective rules which search for an explanation from the most material criteria do not authorize the
reduction of everything to these criteria. It is an abuse that Marxism has attributed to itself a scientific label, more or
less exclusive. By erecting the Marxist philosophy into scientific truth, we confuse a scientific hypothesis with a
scientific conclusion. A false hypothesis could have more fecundity than a flat or ordinary truth which is less propitious for research.
The scientific pretentions of Freudianism call for the same reserve. Is Freudianism, which has exercised
a great influence in the explanation of phenomena of visions, scientific? We may say "Yes," in the sense of scientific
hypothesis, but it is very striking that Freudianism presents itself as an a priori screen: rather dogmatic, even scholastic,
which has in no way progressed in the methodical verification of realities, according to the idea one has of the libido,
of the forms it takes in early childhood (Oedipus complex), and of repression.
A certain effectiveness of this method by no means constitutes scientific verification.
After fifty years of a rather absolute dogmatism, we can finally see a certain critical shaking of Freudian dogmatism appearing
in many schools.
"Penis envy ," presupposed in all women, or even the "oedipus complex,"
presupposed in every infant - are these established general facts? With what frequency and what
intensity do they exist independently of the suggestion of the analyst? No very objective study seems to have been
made on this. Clerical and religious circles which have begun psychological and sociological disciplines, especially
psychoanalysis and Freudianism, have often resulted in the deformation of a believer.
Habituated to accept a dogma, they often succeed in entering Freudianism (and sometimes
Marxism) as one enters a religion, abandoning for that
(methodologically rather than really) the dogmas of their former (Christian) religion,
or at least they enter into these new ways as one enters a retreat, ready to accept all.
In this situation, the episcopal commissions which met to examine the phenomena of apparitions started out more
or less from a postulate, according to which all psychological phenomena can and must be explained naturally.
This principle arises from a spirit of system, not from a spirit of scientific objectivity founded on openness to experience.
The formula which recurs constantly in certain repressive judgments is, "There is nothing supernatural; all can be
explained naturally." This formula only repeats the postulate of the
socio-cultural current in which the experts are
involved. These a priori judgments arise neither from discernment nor from expertise, but from the conviction that all
phenomena arise from an exclusively natural explanation which one can presuppose, ignoring the normal stages of
To this is often added the principle of power, that a decision once taken must be maintained, and that authority
must not change its mind nor change the decisions of predecessors. Constant endorsement of the judgment of
predecessors, has weighed very heavily at Garabandal, and perhaps at Piacenza.
Without doubt, the energetic and immediate repression had the benefit of cutting short certain deviations and
of recalling the demanding rigour of the faith. But a treatment which is uniformly negative is not without certain unsuitable
elements. On the one hand it risks destroying authority, in the measure that observers perceive that it practices a
systematic refusal without any discernment. On the other hand, repression, even if successful, has a traumatic effect on the
visionaries and on those who have sometimes found in them a breath of hope.
I had the occasion to converse with very
diverse pilgrims returning from San Damiano. Often they were good people, who,
after having been estranged from the faith and religious practices, found their faith there with
fervor. The fruits, as far as I could observe in these cases, were positive.
A certain priest had rediscovered fervor and confidence in his ministry. A certain mother of a family took
much better care of her house and of her children; her husband, who had no part in these pilgrimages, gave his
testimony that she had improved very much. Finally, any function which is repressed tends to develop in forms which
are clandestine, anxious, radicalized, devious and given to hostility.
Moreover, the lack of visions and the prophetic spirit creates a frustration, a hunger, which sometimes searches
for its gratification outside the Church in spiritual or para-spiritual forms.
There is a function, which was once fulfilled by the Church and which, seemingly, she no longer wants to
exercise, since she now preaches that "God is not a substitute." Thus, people go elsewhere to seek what the Church
fails to give. This explains the invasion of Christianity by the spiritual techniques from the Orient (Yoga, Zen, Karate,
etc.). Astrology has invaded the media; horoscope literature has its daily rubric in the press and on the radio of countries
as traditionally Christian as France. Zodiac medals have frequently replaced religious medals,
which had themselves been denounced as superstitious. In Brazil, the country with
the greatest number of Catholics in the world, we see an enormous expansion of spiritism, the religion of the Negro-Africans, to say nothing of the extreme forms of
Pentecostalism, which still have the merit of drawing from a purely Christian inspiration.
The emptiness left by a religion reduced to abstraction helps explain the multiplication of palmistry, clairvoyance,
healers, bone-setters, etc. By dint of saying that healing no longer belongs to religion but to medicine
(which is a falsehood, if we situate correctly the proper function and limits of medical science), by dint of saying that the faith is not
a religion, that it does not deal at all with daily problems, we have transformed prayer and Christian life into a sort of
desert without manna. "Charity never does resolve psychological problems," I heard said in a theological meeting
where, after that, certain juridical, administrative, and inhuman solutions were
decided upon. If God and his charity do not save the concrete human person,
people will lose interest and go elsewhere in search of salvation, often in adulterated nourishment.
The revenge is serious.
Sometimes the revenge is hidden. A Christian woman whose quality and balanced faith I
admired said to me: "I speak to you because you will be able to understand, but
I refuse to speak of the apparition which I had to the clergy of my Parish, because I would lose all credibility.
They would take me for an insane person, and I would no longer be able to work with them."
Without doubt the repression of new apparitions has contributed to maintaining the
of the sanctuaries where the apparitions of the past are celebrated. And these pilgrimages bear great fruit.
Another form of the revenge is that some of the Christian people do not accept the rejection or the condemnation
of an apparition by the bishop of the place, and they continue to hold pilgrimages.
If we had known how to channel, from the beginning, what was the religious value of San
Damiano, Garabandal, Kerizinen, Amsterdam, how to channel the ambiguity and the spiritual shock which gave rise
to so many conversions (rather than leave these people in total neglect or exasperate them by contradiction), would
we not have obtained better resu Its?
From the present state of the question, we can draw the following lessons:
- These phenomena of the sensible supernatural and of private revelations are
border-phenomena, ambiguous, subject to deviations, very difficult to decipher.
They call for a spiritual discernment, which demands the sense of life and not simply an ideology.
In these matters, experience tends to prove that it is better to channel reactions than to repress
them, when we at least try to judge the tree from its fruit, on a scale of the whole of these phenomena.
- We must respect established authority in these matters, respect their pastoral choice, avoid poisoning the
tensions. However, it remains desirable that truth not be sacrificed to authority, nor the liberty of God to a closed
- When such mass phenomena are repressed instead of being channeled, it is a fact that they lead people to radical
positions. And, after that, they become more and more difficult to control
pastorally, as was possible at the
beginning. This is the phenomenon which frustrated the new bishop of Saint Sebastian.
When he tried to take up again the investigation of Garabandal, the supporters of the apparition spread this news too fast, if not crying victory.
Rome was disquieted by what could result, and everything was stopped. The same thing happened at Amsterdam, where
the bishop tried to resume the dialogue.
The true underlying problem is to evaluate the function of these phenomena, discover
the place they could have in the Church, and determine the criteria to discern them
and to channel them precisely. This will be the object of the second part of this course.
II: Theological Approach
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