Mary’s message is still relevant today

Father John A. Kiley

Ten apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in modern times have been officially approved by the Catholic Church. Several appearances are quite famous: Guadalupe, Lourdes, and Fatima. A number are fairly well-known: LaSalette, Knock, Rue de Bac. Some are only occasionally mentioned: Pontmaim, Banneux, Beaurang. The least recognized is the visitation of Mary at Saint-Étienne-le-Laus, France, in 1664, only recently sanctioned in 2008. Mexico, Portugal and Ireland merited one appearance each; Belgium received two and France was blessed with five visions. The earliest visit, of course, was at Gaudalupe in 1531 and the newest approved visit was at Baurang, Belgium, near Namur, in 1933. A number of other appearances by Our Lady are popularly honored but these ten alone are deemed worthy of public veneration and credence by Vatican authorities.

At Guadalupe, Mary appeared to the native Mexican St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin. At the Rue de Bac convent in Paris, in 1830 the Blessed Virgin visited a Daughter of Charity, St. Catherine LaBoure. At Knock in County Mayo, Ireland, the apparition was seen in 1879 by fifteen people whose ages ranged from six years to seventy-five and included men, women and children. The other seven visitations were all to young persons of rural origin. Benoîte Rencurel, a young shepherdess, encountered Our Lady at Laus, France in 1664. Maximin Giraud, 11, and Mélanie Calvat, 14, met Mary in 1846, near LaSalette, France, while they were looking after animals on a high mountain. St. Bernadette Soubirous received her visits at Lourdes, in the France’s Pyrenes Mountains, in 1858. Joseph and Eugène Barbadette, 10 and 12, and Françoise Richer, 9, and Jeanne-Marie Lebosse, 11, witnessed Mary at Pontmain, France, in 1871. Lucia Santos and Francisco and Jacinta Martomet Mary at Fatima in Portugal in 1917. Mariette Beco, 11, saw Mary outside the family home at Banneux, a small village, in Belgium in 1933. The young people who saw the apparitions at Beauraing, Belgium, again in 1933, were Fernande, 15, Gilberte, 13, and Albert, 11, children of Hector and Marie-Louise Perpete Voisin. With them were Andree, 14, and Gilberte Degeimbre, 9, daughters of Germaine Degeimbre, a farmer’s widow. Three of the favored visionaries have been canonized: Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, St. Catherine LaBoure, and St. Bernadette Soubiroux. Blessed Francisco and Jacinta Martofrom Fatima are soon to be raised to the altar by Pope Francis.

Several of the appearances have unique aspects. At the Rue de Bac in Paris, Mary introduced the devotion of the Miraculous Medal, probably Catholicism’s most popular pendant. At Gaudalupe, Mary left behind the miraculous cloak emblazoned with her image. At Lourdes and at Banneux, fresh springs of water, still productive of cures, sprang up at Our Lady’s request. Mary, along with St. Joseph, St. John, and the Lamb of God appeared but oddly did not speak at Knock in County Mayo, Ireland. At Fatima, Mary specified distinctly that prayers were to be offered for the conversion of Russia and that the whole world was to be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart. The French village of Pontmain was spared invasion during the 1871 Franco-Prussian War thanks to Mary’s protection.

The most common themes connecting these various appearances were Mary’s mention of her Immaculate Conception, her encouragement of the Rosary and of personal, private prayer in general, her denunciation of sin, specifically lack of Sabbath observance and blasphemy, and often a call for penance, sacrifice and self-denial. A number of times Our Lady asked explicitly that a church or chapel be erected at the site of the vision. At Gaudalupe, at Laus, and at Lourdes churches were built in response to Mary’s express wish. The other sites eventually built similar houses of worship to accommodate pilgrims and to ensure the celebration of the sacraments and the reservation of the Blessed Eucharist.

In the Middle Ages just about every city and village in Europe boasted a St. Mary’s Church: Notre Dame in Paris is perhaps the most celebrated. After the struggles of the Reformation and after the faithlessness of the Enlightenment, Mary’s prominence in Western civilization dwindled. But the more the world forgot about Mary, the more Mary intruded into the modern world. Mary’s ten approved visits to this planet are vivid reminders of the supernatural realm, vibrant notices from the heavenly world, brilliant reassurances of life on high with God in eternity. As Fatima celebrates 100 years of Marian devotion this month, all of Mary’s several messages should be freshly regarded and faithfully observed.