Mary's timeless messages: Marian apparitions and their significance

by Jerry Circelli

North Texas Catholic

statue of Our Lady of the Apocalypsestatue of Our Lady of the Apocalypse
Our Lady of the Apocalypse is above the altar at St. Patrick Cathedral in Fort Worth. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)


It is fitting that May, regarded by the ancient Greeks and Romans as a lunar cycle representing motherhood, fertility, and life, would eventually be recognized by the Catholic Church as the month of Mary. 

In her honor, the North Texas Catholic spotlighted some of the global apparitions of the Blessed Mother, her messages to the faithful, and deep devotions to her among Catholics in our diocese and around the world. 

Through the centuries, apparitions of Mary have taken place around the world. She has delivered messages of hope, healing, and the need to grow closer to her son, Jesus Christ.

 

OUR LADY OF THE APOCALYPSE, Asia Minor


Among the first to see and describe the Blessed Virgin Mary after her assumption, about 95 A.D., was the Apostle John — the man whom Jesus on the cross asked to look after His mother.

In Revelation, John described Mary and enabled the world to see her both as the mother of God and the heavenly mother of all humanity:

A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.      — Revelation 12:1

Walk through the vestibule doors into St. Patrick Cathedral in Fort Worth and there she is — Our Lady of the Apocalypse — high above the tabernacle, just below the sanctuary dome. She is basked in light, around her head is a crown of 12 illuminated stars, and she stands with the moon under her feet, just as St. John the Apostle described.

Monsignor Joseph O’Donohoe, who grew up only a mile from St. Patrick Church and became its pastor from 1940 to 1956, was deeply devoted to Mary and elevated the statue to its present and proper location. It was a prophetic move, as Mary would tower over the faithful at St. Patrick, which would ultimately become the cathedral and mother church for the entire Diocese of Fort Worth.

Through the centuries, apparitions of Mary have taken place around the world. She has delivered messages of hope, healing, and the need to grow closer to her son, Jesus Christ.

 

statue of Our Lady of Guadalupestatue of Our Lady of Guadalupe
A parishioner prays for the intercession of Our Lady after Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Fort Worth. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

 

OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE, Mexico


Ever since Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Aztec convert Juan Diego in 1531, her importance in leading people to Christ has continued to increase. Several million people converted to Christianity after her appearance. Today, countless pilgrims from around the world make their way to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City — the most visited shrine in the Americas. Some even journey on their knees, for miles, to express the depth of their devotion.

Guillermo Muñoz, Hispanic ministry coordinator at St. Michael Parish in Bedford, is devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe and sees her as St. John the Apostle saw Our Lady of the Apocalypse.

“The first time I heard ‘A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of 12 stars,’ I said, ‘That’s Our Lady of Guadalupe!’”

Muñoz recounted how Mary helped convert the Aztecs to Christianity and showed them that she is the mother of the true God. She brought the Gospel to all the Americas. 

“She is my mother, she is my role model, and the one who can intercede for me and for everyone,” Muñoz said. 

At parishes throughout the Diocese of Fort Worth, groups like Las Guadalupanas are involved in Our Lady of Guadalupe devotions and celebrations, Muñoz said. Also, matachines — religious dancers — perform at parishes, including St. Michael, to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe. Likewise, many Knights of Columbus groups have a deep devotion to her, he said.

“Even though almost 500 years have passed since her apparition to Juan Diego, she still brings cultures in our diocese together,” Muñoz said.

statue of Our Lady of La VangOur Lady of La Vang statue
 A view of the statue of Our Lady of La Vang in front of Vietnamese Martyrs Church in Arlington. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

 

OUR LADY OF LA VANG, Vietnam


In the thick rainforest of La Vang, Vietnam, faithful Catholics found refuge during religious persecutions in the late 1700s. 

Here, where they prayed the Rosary daily at dusk, they were surprised when they encountered a woman holding a child. When she spoke, they realized this was Mary with Jesus in her arms. 

The year was 1798, and Mary told the villagers that she knew of their hardships, including sicknesses that resulted from lack of medicine, poor nutrition, and contaminated water. She instructed them to gather specific types of leaves in the area and to make a tea from them. She told the faithful that on the spot where they stood, their prayers to God would be heard. 

The villagers found cures in the tea Mary asked them to make, and religious persecutions against them also subsided. By 1820, a small chapel was built on the spot and many people converted to Christianity. With the return of persecutions, the chapel was burned but later rebuilt.

During his visit to Vietnam in 1998, the 200th anniversary of the apparition, Pope John Paul II expressed hope that a new basilica could be built. By 2012, an elaborate church accommodating 5,000 faithful was completed. At the spot where Mary appeared, a statue now stands depicting her holding the infant Jesus, as she did in 1798.

Centuries later, she maintains popular appeal among Vietnamese Catholics. In 2012, when Arlington’s Vietnamese Martyrs Parish finished construction of its new church, the faithful made sure Our Lady was honored with a large painting in one of the naves, a huge stained glass window above the narthex, and a beautiful granite statue in front of the church’s entrance.

Deacon Michael Hoang, of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Fort Worth, feels especially touched by Our Lady of La Vang. 

“She is always my spiritual mother who intercedes to God on my behalf,” the deacon said. “I love her and pray a few Rosaries every day to honor and keep my close relationship with her. 

“The whole story of her apparition is so overwhelming and is filled with compassion and love from God,” he continued. “Many people continue to call on her for help.”

As one who is devoted to Mary in all her manifestations, the deacon said it is no different when he prays for intercession “to Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Guadalupe, or Our Lady of La Vang. I always look up to her as the mother of Jesus.”
 

Our Lady of Lourdes grotto in Mineral WellsOur Lady of Lourdes grotto in Mineral Wells
Parishioners pray the Rosary in the prayer garden of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Mineral Wells. (NTC/Ben Torres)

 

OUR LADY OF LOURDES, France


Another widely known appearance of Mary is Our Lady of Lourdes. While 14-year-old peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous was collecting firewood near a grotto in Lourdes, France, the Virgin Mary made the first of 18 appearances. 

Mary identified herself as “The Immaculate Conception” and asked Bernadette to pray for sinners and to dig in the ground, where spring water with healing properties would flow. 

Many miraculous healings took place there and a beautiful shrine was eventually built on the site. Millions of people throughout the world visit the shrine annually to deepen their faith, pray for cures, and seek miracles of their own from the free-flowing, healing waters.

Michele and Rick Thomsen of Brock did just that in June 2015. At the time, Michele was seriously ill and in need of a kidney transplant.

“I was really struggling with fear, anxiety, and depression over my health issues,” Michele said. 

“At Lourdes, I was among many others who were ill, and we were all praying for intercession and miracles. There I felt Our Lady’s love, compassion, and intercession. I attended Mass, recited the group Rosaries, and bathed in the waters of the grotto,” Michele said. 

“I felt loved and valued despite my broken body and spirit. I was blessed to have an emotional healing. With Our Lady of Lourdes’ intercession, I was at peace and able to calmly face my health challenges.” 

When they returned home, the Thomsens, who are members of St. Stephen Parish in Weatherford, continued to pray and were told that it would be extremely difficult to find a transplant match for Michele. Medical experts said it would likely take at least seven years for her to receive a transplant, provided a match could even be found.

Shortly after a novena to Our Lady of Lourdes, Michele received a call that a good match had been found. Within only eight months of their pilgrimage to Lourdes, the Thomsen’s prayers were answered — Michele received her kidney transplant and has been doing well.

“It was truly a miracle that I attribute to Our Lady’s intercession,” Michele said. 

“My devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes has strengthened my faith because I feel her love and compassion. I now understand her desire to bring us to her Son and her willingness to take our petitions to Him.”
 

Fr. Emmet OHaraFr. Emmet O'Hara
Inspired by his deep devotion to Our Lady of Knock, Father Emmet O’Hara, pastor of St. Stephen Church in Weatherford, had a statue of Our Lady installed outside the church. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

 

OUR LADY OF KNOCK, Ireland


The miraculous appearance of the Blessed Mother on the gable wall of a church in County Mayo, Ireland, in 1879 was first witnessed by only two villagers. Word soon spread and the number of parishioners grew to include 15 people. On this otherwise dark evening, they witnessed a heavenly vision. 

Villagers saw Mary clothed in white garments with a brilliant crown upon her head. To her right stood St. Joseph and to her left was St. John the Evangelist. To the left of St. John appeared a cross and lamb. Today, the faithful are still gathering at that same gable wall, now part of the Apparition Chapel of Our Lady of Knock Shrine. 

Carrara marble carvings replicate the vision described by the villagers: Mary reflects the deep devotion of the parishioners.

St. Joseph, standing at her side, is seen as protector of the Holy Family. St. John the Baptist, who referred to Jesus as the Lamb of God, is preaching at the Eucharistic altar, with the cross and Lamb at the center of the apparition.

The gift and mystery of the Eucharist, represented by the lamb of God upon the altar, is unique among other Marian apparitions.

Pope John Paul II blessed the statues during his visit to the shrine in September 1979. Pope Francis prayed at the site when he visited Ireland in August 2018.

A man who has been a frequent visitor to the Knock Shrine ever since he was a boy is Father Emmet O’Hara, SAC, pastor of St. Stephen Parish in Weatherford.

As a child growing up in Ireland, Fr. O’Hara traveled to the shrine often with his mother, who had a deep devotion to Our Lady. 

“The Blessed Mother touched me in my vocation to be a priest,” Fr. O’Hara said. “I had a great devotion to her then, as I do now.” 

As a seminarian, Fr. O’Hara continued his pilgrimages to the Knock shrine. Each May, he travels with his fellow Irish Pallottine priests and associates to the shrine, where he makes it a point to pray at the outdoor stations of the cross.

“The Knock shrine is a place of great spirituality,” Fr. O’Hara said. “People go there from all over the world. There is a beautiful Adoration chapel there and it’s just such a great blessing to be on those holy grounds.”
 

Our Lady of Fatima statueOur Lady of Fatima statue
Parishioners of St. Peter the Apostle Church carry the statue of Our Lady of Fatima during a procession on her feast day. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

OUR LADY OF FATIMA, France


One of the most well-known Marian apparitions is Our Lady of Fatima in central Portugal. In 1917, Mary appeared six times to three shepherd children and asked them to pray every day to bring peace to the world. In the last apparition, Mary revealed herself as “The Lady of the Rosary.”

She told the children of a second world war to come, the evils of communist totalitarianism, the abandonment of the Christian faith, and the many persecutions that would unfold.

“But in the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph,” she said.

 A crowd of tens of thousands of people witnessed the Miracle of the Sun on Oct. 13, 1917. On this rainy day, people saw the sun zigzag in the sky, emitting flames that reflected many colors. Suddenly, the sun appeared to plummet toward earth, then reverse direction. When the event was over, the ground had dried and their clothes were no longer wet.

A small chapel on the site of the apparitions was built in 1919. It has grown today to become the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima, attracting pilgrims from around the world.

Dr. Maria Moneta de Castro, a retired pediatrician in Fort Worth, has been and will continue to be one of those faithful pilgrims. She has visited the shrine at Fatima many times.

“My devotion to Our Blessed Mother increased after these pilgrimages and inspired me to share them with others,” said Dr. de Castro, a member of Holy Family Parish in Fort Worth.

During her 31 years of practice, Dr. de Castro said many people shared their grief with her over losses of loved ones and struggles with illness. To provide comfort, Dr. de Castro often gave them rosaries that she brought back from Fatima.

“I could see in their faces how grateful they were in receiving them,” she said. “I asked them to pray the Rosary with me and would give them the printed prayers, too. I was able to evangelize and share my faith and devotion to Our Lady of Fatima.”

Even in retirement, Dr. de Castro continues to visit the sick and families who have lost loved ones. Her calling card consists of food, flowers, and of course, a rosary and the miraculous story of Fatima.
 

Our Lady of Kibeho statueOur Lady of Kibeho
Emma Uwaniyigena, a native of Rwanda, Africa, poses for a photo with a statue of Our Lady of Kibeho, at Our Mother of Mercy Parish in Fort Worth on March 18, 2022. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

OUR LADY OF KIBEHO, Rwanda


One of the most recent apparitions of Mary took place four decades ago on the continent of Africa in Kibeho, Rwanda. In 2001, the Holy See declared the testimony of three teenage schoolchildren to be authentic about the apparitions that took place from 1981-83. 

Our Lady revealed to the teenagers a vision of Rwanda falling into a widespread state of death and destruction, foreshadowing the 1994 genocide, during which more than a half million people were killed in the span of 100 days.

Dozens of children were murdered at the school where the Marian apparitions took place.

Our Lady asked for increased prayer, conversion of hearts, and for a chapel to be built. 

During a 1990 trip to Rwanda, Pope John Paul II visited the visionaries and asked all the faithful to turn to the Virgin for guidance. 

Today, a Marian sanctuary at Kibeho, named the “Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows,” is a place where pilgrims come to pray for conversions, reconciliation, and peace.

Emma Uwaniyigena, who was born in Rwanda, was 7 years old in 1981 when the apparitions of Our Lady of Kibeho first occurred. Her parents drove her to the school where the apparitions were taking place. Later in life, after moving to Texas, Uwaniyigena visited Our Mother of Mercy Church in Fort Worth, where she is now a parishioner. She introduced herself to Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, the former beloved pastor who has since passed away. 

“He knew all about Our Lady of Kibeho,” Uwaniyigena said. “It made me feel at home even though I was far away from the place of my birth.” With Uwaniyigena’s help, Our Mother of Mercy was able to obtain a statue of Our Lady of Kibeho and now celebrates her feast day annually.

Our Lady of Kibeho’s message of repentance and conversion of hearts “is very touching deep down in my heart,” Uwaniyigena said. 

Through Our Lady of Kibeho’s influence, the Rwandan Catholic community continues to grow at Our Mother of Mercy, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Keller, and other parishes in the Diocese of Fort Worth, Uwaniyigena said. Many Rwandan families meet regularly with other Catholics from Burundi, a neighboring nation of Rwanda. Among their many activities, group members have organized a choir and provide food and clothing to people in need.

 

MARY'S UNIVERSAL MESSAGE


Michael O’Neill, known as “The Miracle Hunter” and host of an EWTN show of the same name, discussed Marian apparitions with the North Texas Catholic

He pointed out that Mary has appeared in local attire, spoken in local languages and dialects, and even changed her complexion to fit her surroundings.

“At Kibeho in Rwanda, she is dark skinned,” O’Neill said, “while at Robinsonville [now Champion], Wisconsin — the site of the bishop-approved apparitions of Our Lady of Good Help — she appears with blonde hair. On Tepeyac Hill in Mexico, she looks like a mestiza to appeal to both Spaniards and the indigenous alike. Mary presents herself to her children in a way that they would most easily recognize her and accept her.”

The miracle hunter continued to explain “the Virgin Mary has appeared in times of both war and peace, famine, and plenty. She has appeared, however, at significant times and places in history like in Mexico in 1531 after the Conquest; in Pontmain, France in 1871 at the end of the Franco-Prussian War; at Fatima during World War I; and at Kibeho, Rwanda, in 1981 to warn of the impending genocide. She comes as a loving mother to the aid of her children when they need it the most.

“The Virgin Mary consistently requests that we engage in prayer, seek peace, and turn away from sin in her many messages,” O’Neill said, “which, taken individually and as a whole, have the singular goal: to guide the faithful to her Son.” 

Our Lady of Fatima statue

It is fitting that May, regarded by the ancient Greeks and Romans as a lunar cycle representing motherhood, fertility, and life, would eventually be recognized by the Catholic Church as the month of Mary.

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