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SARA HORSFALL [*]
Since the earliest visions of Mary in the 4th century, there have been an estimated 21,000 sightings of Mary in the eastern and western Christian worlds. Centered on youth from the lower economic strata, the visions spawn a considerable following. Millions visit the well-known vision sites such as Lourdes, Fatima, and Guadalupe. Many healings were reported, a proportion of which were verified as miracles by authorities. Visions have become increasingly common in the 20th century, with reports from so many places it is hard to keep track of them all. Modern visions tend to be serial, or recurring, as well as public--witnessed by hundreds or thousands of others. Phenomenological examination reveals 16 characteristics of the Marian Apparitions spiritual life world.
Visions of Mary have been recorded since the 4th century when devotion to Mary was found among the fringes of Christianity (Miller and Samples 1992, pp. 67, 82). An 8th century story from the Eastern church about Mary's maternal influence on Christ's harsh justice increased Mary's popularity in the Western church. By the Middle Ages, Mary had become important to devotions: apparitions and other supernatural phenomena were frequently reported. The well-known rosary prayer was given during an appearance of Mary to St. Dominic in the 13th century (Fr. M. Sis, Conversation at St. Mary's Catholic Church, College Station, Texas, 1996). In Mexico in 1531, some 9 million natives converted to Catholicism after an appearance of Mary to Diego, an Aztec Indian in Guadalupe, on an important mother goddess site near Mexico City.
In the last two centuries the reports have increased. Pope Pius XII dubbed the 1800s the century of Marian predilection (Miller and Samples, 1992). Many apparitions appeared in France, but two are especially well known. In 1846, Mary appeared to two cattle-herders in LaSalette, and in 1858, she appeared to a 14-year-old girl, Bernadette, at Lourdes (McBrien, 1989, p. 80). Another important appearance was at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917 when Mary appeared to three shepherd children. They had prayed for a year as instructed by an angel. Mary also told them to pray. Subsequent appearances on the 13th day of every month included apocalyptic visions and prophetic warnings. The last time Mary appeared to the children, many of the people who gathered to witness the phenomenon (including a skeptical reporter) were awed by a vision of the sun dancing in the heavens; at one point it appeared to fall from the sky. This event became known as the "Miracle of the Sun."
According to church historians, an estimated 21,000 apparition experiences have been reported throughout history (Carroll, 1983, p. 208; Miller and Samples, 1992, p. 82). More than 200 of those incidents were reported between 1928 and 1975 from places such as Ireland, Belgium, Italy, Canada, and the United States. In 1961 Mary appeared to four young girls in the small Spanish village of Garabandal, where for 5 years the faithful were urged to pray and repent to preserve the church. The visionary Mary told them of future supernatural events such as a healing miracle at Garabandal to be announced by one of the visionaries 8 days before, the conversion of Russia, and a worldwide millennial warning to be felt by everyone (Pelletier, n.d.). Some of the photos of the Garabandal apparition include the local villagers.
In 1981, in Medjugorje, Yugoslavia, Mary appeared to six children aged 10 to 17. For several years, the children exhibited unusual devotion--fasting several times a week and spending 2 to 6 hours a day in prayer at the church. The apparition messages had to do with future apocalyptic events, but several were secret including a promised visible sign for atheists to be announced by a priest 10 days ahead of time. The public messages urged people to pray and fast to ward off war and urged people to be joyful as if at a wedding--taken as a reference to a meeting with Christ (Vlasic and Babaric, 1987, pp. 147, 156).
In the United States the visions have occurred in such diverse places as Denver, Colorado; Kettle River, Minnesota; Marlboro, New Jersey; Oxnard, California; northeastern Ohio; Royal Oak, Michigan; Houston, Texas; Lubbock, Texas; and in nearby Louisiana (Crumm, 1993; Zimdars-Swartz, 1991, pp. 17-18). In 1973 a New York housewife, Veronica Lueken, began receiving apocalyptic messages from Mary. The apparition condemned television, rock music, test-tube babies, abortion, homosexuality, and witchcraft. These messages have earned Lueken an ardent group of several thousand followers.
In 1988 Mary appeared at the predominantly Hispanic St. John Neumann Catholic Church of Lubbock, Texas. The crowds of several thousand return every August 15th to witness the "miracle." "You could see her clear as ever in the sky," explained one Texas …