Filipinos venerate Our Lady of Guadalupe as a patroness of the Philippines. Yet most do not know that she spoke the above-quoted words to the Mexican peasant Juan Diego in the first of her four apparitions to him on Tepeyac Hill near Mexico City in 1531.
That apparition asking Juan Diego to tell his bishop Mary’s wish for a church to be built on the mount is one of ten major Marian encounters in modern times approved by the Vatican, among hundreds of claimed sightings throughout the centuries, and dozens validated by local bishops.
With the centenary this year of Our Lady of Fatima’s apparitions to three shepherd children in the countryside parish 123 km north of Portugal’s capital Lisbon, claimed visions of the Virgin Mary will gain interest among believers and media.
Where and when did these Marian encounters happen, and how were they validated? More important, what were the reasons and messages that were believed to be behind our Lady’s appearances? And what might be their import for our time?
One good resource is “See How She Loves Us: Fifty Approved Apparitions of Our Lady,” by the best-selling Catholic author Joan Carroll Cruz (1931-2012). In her 15 books, the New Orleans-born wife and mother of five, and lay member of the Discalced Carmelite Order carefully validated supernatural events, including miracles involving the Eucharist, saints, images of Jesus and Mary, and the incorrupt bodies of deceased holy people.
Is it for real?
While countless apparition devotees swear by the veracity of these events, the Catholic Church is extremely careful before declaring them “worthy of belief.”
Even after such affirmation, the Church does not require the faithful to accept approved apparitions or the messages and devotions they impart. For one thing, Catholic dogma holds that all the fundamental truths of Christianity were fully contained in Scripture and the early Church tradition, with no additions needed after that public revelation.
Apparitions and visions, on the other hand, are private revelations, which may convey edifying messages for enlightenment and salvation, like the prophecies, prayers, warnings, and devotions given by Our Lady of Fatima to visionaries Lucia Dos Santos, 10 at the time; her cousin Francisco Marto, 9; and his sister Jacintha, 7.
The Church follows a strict process in validating apparition claims. First, of course, is to investigate the event, based on tangible evidence and criteria.
What exactly happened, as told by credible witnesses, and indicated by verified facts and material proof? Are the visionaries morally upright, spiritually sound, and psychologically balanced? And are the messages imparted in accord with Church doctrine and teaching?
If there is grave error or abuse, the Church has to address them. On the other hand, authorities value any increase in devotions, prayer, and good public morals resulting from the event. And they are wary of any profit-making from the devotion.
If a public cult emerges, the local authority, normally the bishop, may permit or promote it, while taking care that ecclesiastical permission is not seen as affirming that the event was supernatural.
Lastly, the event is subjected to the test to time, by taking no action or decision on it after the investigation. Over months or years, if the event is not divinely inspired, public devotion may wane, and the purported apparition is forgotten.
Besides the prelate of the diocese where the event happened, the national conference of bishops may also intervene. So can the Vatican, under the Pope’s supreme authority, as well as the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the highest Catholic body advising the Holy Father on dogma.
In modern times, the Vatican has approved ten apparitions: one in Mexico: Our Lady of Guadalupe (1531); five in France: Our Lady of Laus (1664-1718); Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in Rue du Bac (1830); Our Lady of La Salette (1846); Our Lady of Lourdes (1858), and Our Lady of Pontmain (1871); one in Portugal: Our Lady of Fatima (1917); one in Ireland: Our Lady of Knock; and two in Belgium: Our Lady of Beauraing (1932-33), and Our Lady of Banneux (1933).
There have been apparitions in Asia affirmed by local bishops: Our Lady of Good Health in Vailankanni, India (1580); Our Lady of Manaoag in the Philippines (1610); Our Lady of La Vang in Vietnam (1798); Our Lady of China in Dong Lu (1900 and 1995); and Our Lady of Akita in Japan (1973). There is a second Philippine apparition approved by Filipino bishops — Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace in Lipa (1948) — but the Vatican voided its affirmation — more on this in a future column.
We will also leave for coming articles the paramount messages of the many Marian apparitions. For now, we address one question that many, especially non-Catholic Christians, may ask: Why would God send the Blessed Virgin to impart His messages?
While one cannot presume to divine Divine motives, one can hazard some reasons for Mary to appear instead of Jesus, who also made many appearances in two millennia.
First, God sending Mary affirms the veneration accorded to her by the Catholic Church. Protestants argue that there is no line in the Bible naming her as Mother of God. But if our Lord disapproved of that title, why would He keep sending her? Indeed, at Guadalupe, she explicitly identified herself as “Madre de Dios.”
Another reason may be the need for certain messages, especially terrifying ones, to be conveyed in a motherly way, full of warmth and caring, while still stressing the urgency and peril being imparted. Thus, Our Lady of Fatima showed Lucia, Francisco and Jacintha a vision of Hell, urging repentance and reparation for sins.
A third reason is suggested by our Lady’s warning imparted by Blessed Jacintha: “The sins that bring most souls to Hell are the sins of the flesh.” Our Immaculate Virgin Mother would hopefully inspire purity among women and men, sparing them from the sin that sends the most sinners to eternal fire.
Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us!