Shrines and Apparitions

Shrines and Apparitions

Throughout the twentieth century, there has been an increase in alleged apparitions of the virgin Mary in various parts of the world. There have been weeping statues reported, stigmata, solar phenomena, aroma of roses, flowing oil, and miraculous appearances of hosts. Some of the most widely reported visions of Mary took place at Fatima, Portugal, Garabandal, Spain, Medjugorje, Bosnia, and Bayside, New York.

Private Revelation

It is most important to understand that the Church takes a skeptical stand toward any incidents such as these. Theologically they are defined as private revelation. The Roman Catechism is strict in its definition: “Throughout the ages, there have been so-called private revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive revelation, but to help more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church. Christian faith cannot accept ‘revelations’ that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such revelations” (paragraph 67).

Of the four purported visions listed above, only one, Fatima, Portugal, has been approved by the Church authorities. Those who are familiar with the Fatima apparitions are aware of the legendary “third secret” contained in a sealed letter that was written by Lucia dos Santos, one of the visionaries written on July 13, 1917. It was delivered to the Vatican with the instructions that it was to be opened by the Pope in 1960.

According to the records of the Vatican archives the sealed letter was brought to Pope John XXIII on August 17, 1959. “After some hesitation” His Holiness said, “I shall wait. I shall pray. I shall let you know what I decide.” The Pope decided to return the sealed envelope to the archives and not to reveal the third
part of the secret.

Pope Paul VI read the contents of the letter on March 27, 1965 and returned the envelope to the archives without revealing its contents to the world. Rumors began to surface that the contents were not revealed because it would cause panic among the people. It supposedly predicted a catastrophic World War III; that the world would be engulfed in flames. The rumors envisioned an apocalyptic scenario: that the Church would go through a devastating crisis.

John Paul II asked for the envelope containing the third part of the “secret” following an assassination attempt on May 13, 1981. As is well known the Holy Father thought of consecrating the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In the first part of the apparition the visionaries saw a brief vision of Hell. In the second part “Our Lady asked that a devotion be established to my immaculate heart and Russia will be converted.”

Fatima’s Third Secret

The third secret was a vision of Our Lady and a little above we saw an angel with a flaming sword… Angel cried out Penance, Penance, Penance. We saw an immense light, that is God; people passed in front of it, a bishop dressed in white, we had the impression that it was the Holy Father, other Bishops, Priests, men and women religious going up a steep mountain, and at the top there was a big cross… before reaching it the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins… he prayed for the corpses he met on the way … he knelt at the foot of the cross and was killed by soldiers who fired bullets.

John Paul II saw in his attempted assassination a reflection of the third secret. He had been very close to death and he explained his survival in these words: “It was a mother’s hand that guided the bullets’ path and in his throes the Pope halted at the threshold of death.”

It is significant to note that Cardinal Sodano made it clear when issuing the press report that the third secret was part of the past. There were no exciting apocalyptic revelations about the end of the world or the future course of history. 

After Fatima Pope Pius XI decreed that prayers for the conversion of Russia be offered up after each mass. The Soviet Union broke apart into 15 independent state sin the 1990s. Russia now practices Orthodox Christianity!

Two Visions Found to Be Hoaxes

The bishop of Santander issued a letter in 1996 that the events reported at Garabandal were not supernatural. One of the original visionaries, Maria Cruz, recanted her original description of the events and said she was not certain that she had ever had a vision of Mary.

The Bayside, New York visions of Veronica Luekens after an investigation by five priests of the diocese of Brooklyn in 1973, concluded that there was nothing miraculous or supernatural in her alleged visions and that they were the result of an overactive imagination after reading about Lourdes and Fatima. Unfortunately after ecclesiastical censure many still continue to believe they are true.

Medjugorje is still being investigated. Recently Franciscan Father Jozo Zovko, the priest most widely connected with Medjugorje, was told he could not celebrate mass At the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington because His priestly faculties had been revoked.

The Church has never declared these visions to be authentic, and the Vatican has discouraged official Catholic pilgrimages to that site. The Vatican has permitted lay organized pilgrimages accompanied by priests to visit Medjugorje (Catholic New Service, 12/5/02).

What Must a Catholic Believe?

These strange occurrences that are attributed to Mary or other saints may or may not be believed. They are not part of the deposit of faith as previously noted. However, in its investigations the Church has declared these incidents authentic and the faithful may include them in their devotions if they wish to do so.

The catechism states that there will be no further revelation (paragraph 66).

Jesus was critical of those who demanded signs. “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” (John 04:48). When Thomas needed final proof, Jesus said; “You have believed because you have seen, but blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29). Paul promises that “now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, then we shall see face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

"Shrines and Apparitions" is one of the pamphlets on the biblical foundations of the Catholic Church written May 2008 to Nov 2010 by Deacon Paul Carlson of Minneapolis, Minnesota's St Lawrence Catholic Church / Newman Center, a Paulist Foundation. (St Lawrence is the Catholic Church of Southeast Minneapolis and is right in the heart of "Dinkytown USA".)

This blog post is a memorial serialization of those pamphlets written by Deacon Paul Carlson at the request of than Pastor/Director Fr John J. Behnke, who asked Deacon Paul to write brief answers to questions University students often encountered as Catholics.

At couple of weeks before Deacon Paul's death, he said: "If there are any financial gains made from the blog serialization of my pamphlets, please have the money given to St. Lawrence Parish and Newman Center or Paulist Fathers, because what they do is so important." If you can, send memorials to St. Lawrence Parish and Newman Center or Paulist Fathers at 1203 Fifth Street, S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55414. 

Remember Deacon Paul Carlson in your prayers, as well as all the other souls of the faithful departed, who have died in the grace of Jesus Christ.

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