MARIAN APPARITIONS : THE STORY OF THE MIRACULOUS MEDAL

Catholicism recognizes the possibility that, throughout time, some particularly worthy men and women received the visits from Jesus, the Virgin Mary or a particular Saint.

The story of the Miraculous Medal (or Medal of Our Lady of Graces, or Medal of the Immaculate Conception) relates to such experiences. This veneration object has a powerful symbolism, capable of unexpected healings and prodigious acts, and comes from an apparition, from a moment of divine love turned into flesh and light. It comes from the meeting of a young and humble novice aged twenty-four and the Virgin Mary, a night dialogue that lasted for hours, made not only of words but also of looks, gestures, displays of affections and devotions, and vibrant hope.

The Church in particular considers Mary’s apparitions as interventions from a loving Mother towards her children. They are an act of mercy and love from her, who, so close to God, does not forget those who live the anxieties of an earthly life, too fragile and weak to be able to face problems, adversities, and the many obstacles life gives them on their own. Therefore, Mary occasionally descends and reminds the believers and the faithful of her commitment, of her will to help men and women in their daily life, always supporting their cause in front of the Father.

That is what happened for the Madonna of the Miraculous Medal: on November 27th, 1830 she appeared to the future Saint Catherine Labouré, young nun of the congregation of the daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul in rue du Bac n. 140, Paris.

The story of the Miraculous Medal

Pope Pius XII sanctified Catherine Labouré in 1947; she said she witnessed many apparitions during her lifetime. The first happened when she was a teenager: Saint Vincent de Paul appeared in her dreams and invited her to enter his Congregation of the Daughters of Charity. She received more apparitions during her novitiate: she saw Jesus in the Eucharist beyond the appearance of Bread, and as Christ King crucified, deprived of all of his ornaments. She hid the apparitions for her whole life, telling them at the point of death only to her confessor.

The most famous apparitions Saint Catherine is famous for are the ones involving the Immaculate of the Miraculous Medal. They happened in July and November 1830 in the Novitiate Chapel. On July 18th 1830, Catherine had prayed Jesus with fervor in order to grant her wish to see the Virgin Mary. She woke up at 11.30PM because she heard someone calling her name, and saw a mysterious child in front of her bed, inviting her to get up. “The Virgin Mary is waiting for you” the child told her while emanating rays of light at each step. Catherine identified the child as her own guardian angel. He led her into the Chapel where Mary was waiting for her sitting on the right side of the altar. Catherine said: “Then, I flung myself close to her, falling on my knees on the altar steps, my hands resting in her knees. That was the sweetest moment of my life. It would be impossible for me to say what I felt. The Most Holy Virgin told me how I should behave with my confessor and many other things.”

When asked about the Virgin’s look, Saint Catherine could hardly find the words: “She was average height, and so beautiful that I cannot describe her. She was standing, her dress was sunrise-white silk and “virgin style”, that is, high-necked and with smooth sleeves. A white veil went down from her head to her feet. Her hair was divided and she wore some kind of bonnet with a 3 centimeters wide crochet on it, gently laid on her hair. Her face was quite visible; her feet were upon a globe, or better, a half-globe, or at least I saw half of it.” The Saint said she had kneeled in front of Mary and rested her hands on Mary’s knees as a reverence.

During the second apparition on November 27th 1830 around 5.30PM, the Virgin Mary entrusted Catherine with the forge of the Miraculous Medal. The Virgin said that the medal would be a sign of love, a pledge of protection and source of grace for those who would trust in it. The Virgin herself showed Catherine what the medal should look like. Catherine said that Mary’s feet were upon a half-globe during the apparition, which symbolizes the Earth, and were crushing a green and yellow snake’s head. The Virgin’s hands were adorned with rings and precious stones, which projected rays of light of different intensity and color downwards. Mary explained Catherine that those rays “symbolize the graces I shed upon those who ask for them“.

Catherine saw some kind of oval frame appearing around Mary, and a writing from her right hand to her left hand, creating a semicircle of words written in gold: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee“.

The apparition continued, and the mystic picture seemed rotating in front of Catherine’s eyes, showing her what the reverse side of the Medal should depict: “There was the letter M (first letter of the name Mary) topped by a cross with no crucifix and with the letter I (first letter of the name Iesus, Jesus) as base. Below there were two hearts, one was surrounded by thorns (Jesus’ heart), the other pierced by a sword (Mary’s heart). Twelve stars surrounded the whole picture. Then everything dissolved, as something that is switched off, and I was left there, full of something I don’t know, good feelings, joy, comfort“.

Here is the explanation of the reverse side of the Miraculous Medal: the M for Mary supports the cross without crucifix. The monogram I for Jesus (Iesus) intersects the M and the Cross, and symbolizes the salvation brought by Jesus and Mary, the indissoluble relationship that ties Jesus and his Most Holy Mother, becoming a witness of the Salvation of humankind carried out by his Son Jesus and making her a participant in Christ’s sacrifice. The heart crowned with thorns is the Sacred Heart of Jesus, while the heart pierced by a sword is the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The twelve stars symbolize the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles. The Virgin herself is also called Star of the sea in the prayer Ave Maris Stella.

The Virgin spoke again to Catherine, telling her to have a medal forged following that model: “All the people who will wear it will receive great graces especially if they wear it on their neck; graces will be generous for those who will wear it with trust.”

Catherine encountered some resistance, but in the end, the Medal was forged in 1832, in about 1500 pieces, but its power showed immediately through so many healings and conversions that it was necessary to forge a million pieces. Even Popes Gregory XVI and Pius IX used it and the Apparitions Chapel became a place of cult and pilgrimage.

Today we can find billions of reproductions of the Miraculous Medal, in gold, silver and less noble metals. 

MARIAN APPARITIONS : OUR LADY OF KNOCK

The apparition in County Mayo in Ireland of Our Lady of Knock is reported to have occurred on the evening of August 21, 1879, the vigil of the octave of the feast of the Assumption. Those who witnessed the miracle ranged in age from five years old to seventy-five.

The apparition was described as follows: “Our Lady was wearing a large, brilliant crown and clothed in white garments. On her right was Saint Joseph, his head inclined toward her and on her left Saint John the Evangelist. To the left of Saint John was an altar on which stood a cross and a lamb.” Standing only a few feet off the ground, the Blessed Virgin wore a white cloak and was described by witnesses as being incredibly beautiful. She wore a bright golden crown, and appeared to be praying with her eyes looking toward heaven with her arms bend in front of her with her palms facing inward.

Fifteen parishioners stood to witness the apparition for two hours as they recited the rosary. Although it was daylight when the apparition began, the weather turned for the worse and it began to rain heavily. The area around the apparition appeared unaffected, however, as the ground remained dry as long as the vision lasted. She did not speak, but the gable of the church where the manifestation was made was covered with a cloud of light.

Saint Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus, also wore white robes and stood on the Virgin’s right. He inclined his head respectfully toward the Blessed Virgin. Saint John the Evangelist wore a miter, and appeared to be preaching as he held a book in his left hand.

Since then thousands of people have gone to Knock to pray to Our Lady. Their prayerful, penitential and reverential spirit has been commended again and again by visitors from other lands. No sign of commercialism detracts from the purely religious atmosphere of that hallowed spot. People from all walks of life kneel in humble supplication before the shrine of Our Lady, fully confident that she has sanctified that spot by her apparition.

Organized pilgrimages from various dioceses are conducted frequently to the shrine of Our Lady of Knock. The rosary comprises the main portion of the devotion; the shrine is therefore appropriately called the Rosary Shrine.

MARIAN APPARITIONS : OUR LADY OF GOOD HEALTH

Approximately 400 years ago, there was a small pond and on its bank was a huge banyan tree. A shepherd boy from Vailankanni used to carry milk everyday to a rich man in Nagapattinam which is ten kilometers away. On an unusually hot summer day, the boy, after quenching his thirst with the water from the pond, rested for a while in the shade of the banyan tree which stood beside the pond. Soon the boy fell into a deep slumber.

Suddenly he was startled by the vision of a Lady of celestial beauty holding a lovely child in her arms. The boy could not take his eyes off the Lady of unmatched beauty, so spell bound was he by this heavenly vision. The Lady greeted him with a motherly smile and condescended to ask him for some milk for her child. He joyfully gave her some milk for her child and seeing a bewitching smile spread over the face of the heavenly baby, the boy experienced deep satisfaction.

When he reached the home of the rich man he begged to be excused for his unusual delay and for the shortage of milk. But, when the lid of the milk pot was lifted, lo and behold!, the pot was brimming over with milk. The boy narrated to the rich man about the apparition he had of a Lady of uncommon beauty with a cherubic child and how he had given a portion of the milk he was carrying, to the child at the Lady’s request. He said that he had the unique pleasure of seeing that supernatural Lady feed the baby with the milk he had given. The master was fascinated by the extraordinary phenomenon witnessed by the boy and he hastened to the spot where the Lady had appeared with her child. With great reverence, the gentleman prostrated himself on the holy ground where the Lady had appeared to the boy.

The story of the apparition of the Lady and Child and the miraculous brimming over of the milk, spread like wild fire throughout the neighbourhood. The Christians in Nagapattinam were convinced that the vision was that of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus. Their hearts overflowed with joy at the thought of Our Blessed Mother deigning to choose such an unobtrusive place as Vailankanni to make her apparition. From that day onwards the tank has come to be known as ‘Matha Kulam’ (Our Lady’s Tank). A chapel now stands at the place where Mary appeared to the shepherd boy.

MARIAN APPARITIONS : OUR LADY OF KIBEHO

Kibeho is a small site located in the southern part of Rwanda, in the administrative district of Nyaruguru.  It is 36 km from the Bishop of Gikongoro’s residence and 30 km from the Bishop of Butare’s residence. Kibeho is also the name given to one of the parishes of the diocese of Gikongoro, founded in 1934 and dedicated to Mary, Mother of God.

Today, Kibeho is best known as a place of apparitions and pilgrimages. The first apparition of Mary was on November 28, 1981, when Alphonsine Mumureke, a young student of the Kibeho High School, saw a lady of incomparable beauty who presented herself under the name of “Nyina Wa Jambo,” which means “Mother of the Word.” Alphonsine immediately recognized her as the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Our Savior Jesus. The phenomenon occurred subsequently and several times in succession, at long or short intervals. The Virgin asked everybody to convert, to keep faith and to pray without hypocrisy.

Alphonsine was born on March 21, 1965, in Cyizihira, in the parish of Zaza, Diocese of Kibungo. Her parents were Thaddée Gakwaya and Mary Immaculate Mukagasana. She was baptized when she was 12 years old, on July 27 1977. At the time of the apparitions, she had just been admitted to the Kibeho High School in October, 1981, immediately after her primary studies. The Kibeho High School, founded in 1967 by a parish priest, Father Grégoire Kamugisha, has changed its name several times in order to conform to the programs of the National Education Ministry. When Alphonsine was admitted in 1981, it was called Kibeho High school; and later, since 1984, “Ecole des Lettres de Kibeho” (Kibeho School of the Letters), and nowadays, since 1998, “Groupe Scolaire Mère du Verbe” (Mother of the Word High school).

The first reactions caused by these unusual events within the community of the Kibeho High School as well as outside of the high school were not temperate. There were a lot of points of view that ranged from skepticism that feared trickery to unswaying belief and intolerance of any skepticism.  At the beginning, Alphonsine was viewed as a mad girl, or an unhappy girl possessed by evil; or, according to some, as a mediocre student wanting to play a prank to make her more accepted in the school conducted by the Congregation of Benebikira Sisters (i.e., Daughters of the Virgin Mary).

Many people begged for signs of credibility. At the time of the ecstasies, students and teachers were free to apply tests on the body of Alphonsine in order to check and to verify her sincerity. It was even suggested that if it was really the Blessed Virgin Mary who had visited the school, they would take it seriously, if she at least appeared to other students instead of just that poor Alphonsine from Gisaka, a region which had a reputation for the practice of magic. Alphonsine asked the Virgin to respond to the challenge by appearing to others and exhorted her schoolmates also to ask her for themselves to receive necessary enlightenment.

A short time later, two new alleged seers appeared in the high school, one after the other, and in close proximity to Alphonsine: notably Nathalie Mukamazimpaka on January 12, 1982, and Marie Claire Mukangango on March 2, 1982.

Nathalie Mukamazimpaka was born in 1964 in Munini in the present district of Nyaruguru, parish of Muganza, Diocese of Gikongoro. Her father was Laurent Ngango and her mother, Gaudence Mukabaziga. She was baptized on February 2, 1968, when she was 4 years old. During the time of the apparitions, she was registered in the Kibeho High school in the 4th class of the Teaching school. As a seer of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, Nathalie is especially known for the message of redemptive suffering and unceasing prayer for a world that is very bad and at risk of falling into an abyss.

Since March 2, 1982, Marie Claire Mukangango, schoolmate of Nathalie, declared herself as a seer of the Virgin Mary. Her case was like a bomb exploding inside the high school community, because until then Marie Claire was characterized by her fierce opposition to the “so-called” apparitions claimed by Alphonsine.

Marie Claire was born in 1961 in Rusekera, in the present district of Nyamagabe, parish of Mushubi, diocese of Gikongoro. Her father was Baseka and her mother Véronique Nyiratuza. She was baptized when she was 5 years old, on August 12, 1966. During the apparitions, she studied at the Kibeho High school, in 4th class of the Teaching school. As a seer, she is especially known for the message of the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary, associated with an urgent call to repentance: “Repent, repent, repent!” the Virgin said to the world through the lips by Marie Claire.

If, for some, the increased number of the seers complicated the disconcerting situation created by Alphonsine, for others, the two new cases, especially the one of Marie Claire, were interpreted as a good sign coming from heaven to show that the prayer of Alphonsine had been accepted and to sustain the faith of all those that were still hesitating to take her apparitions seriously. Different witnesses interrogated in the Kibeho High School in 1982, declared that they began to believe in the apparitions after the extraordinary experience of Marie Claire. In short, the public opinion tried to find a natural explanation for the phenomenon, but without success, considering a great number of astonishing facts that were confirmed as the days passed that defied simple human understanding.

In spite of the critics and objections of all sorts against the apparitions, a movement of belief began to develop quickly enough inside and outside of Kibeho High School. Before the Christmas holidays of 1981, a group of “converted” students and teachers appeared at a regular prayer meeting with Alphonsine, where they recited the rosary accompanied by hymns in the honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

But, after May 1982, the phenomenon of the apparitions took on a new dimension when is was spreading like a brush fire outside the Kibeho High school to reach the primary school and the surrounding hills, and even the more remote locations.

Another fact to be emphasized is that on the days of public apparitions, the seers experienced practically no ecstasies.  The seers experienced the apparitions individually, one at a time, while the others seers were watching along with everyone else in the crowd. These apparitions varied in duration, depending on the occurrence, and they were usually marked by heavy falls at the end of the apparition.

The apparitions were also characterized by an abundance of words, the length of the ecstasies, songs, prayers of intercession, blessings (especially by means of water), repeated falls during the same apparition on certain days (from August 15, 1982 until the end of Lent in 1983), and other mortifications. Lent of 1983 was in particular characterized by extraordinary fasting that was closely monitored by a team of physicians from the National University of Rwanda.

Alphonsine Mumureke is said to have taken, on March 20, 1982, a “mystical journey” of several hours with the Virgin in another “world” throughout “places” that she describes in symbolic language that makes one think of realities such as Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but with a vocabulary very different from the one of the Catechism. Nathalie Mukamazimpaka had a similar experience on October 30, 1982, which was closely observed by a team from the Bishop’s theological commission.

The apparitions of Kibeho had very early on attracted crowds of people. On certain days, like May 30, 1982 for example, the crowd could be estimated at more than 10,000 people of all ages and all social classes.

The apparitions of Kibeho officially ended on November 28, 1989, a date on which Alphonsine, who was at the beginning of these events, experienced the Virgin’s last apparition in public. She specified that she would not have any more apparitions publicly. This meaningful fact, which was introduced 8 years after the Virgin’s first apparition at Kibeho, is recognized as an important historical reference for anybody who would like to know what happened and form a judgment on it.

Nobel Prize laureate Abdul Razak Gurnah – Paradise

Paradise is a historical novel by UK Zanzibar-born writer Abdulrazak Gurnah. The novel was nominated for both the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Prize for Fiction.

The novel follows the story of Yusuf, a boy born in the fictional town of Kawa in Tanzania at the turn of the twentieth century. Yusuf’s father is a hotelier and is in debt to a rich and powerful Arab merchant named Aziz. Early in the story Yusuf is pawned in exchange for his father’s owed debt to Aziz and must work as an unpaid servant for the merchant. Yusuf joins Aziz’s caravan as they travel into parts of Central Africa and the Congo Basin that have not been traded with for many generations. Here, Aziz’s caravan of traders meets hostility from local tribes, wild animals and difficult terrain. As the caravan returns to East Africa, World War I begins and Aziz encounters the German Army as they sweep Tanzania, forcibly conscripting African men as soldiers.

African literary scholar J. U. Jacobs claims that Gurnah is writing back to Joseph Conrad’s 1902 novel Heart of Darkness. In Aziz’s easterly journey to the Congo, Jacobs says that Gurnah is challenging the dominant Western images of the Congo at the turn of the twentieth century that continue to pervade the popular imagination.