Over the course of history, the Blessed Virgin has visited mankind at particular sites around the world.
In the majority of Marian apparitions, only one person or a few people, quite often children, report having seen the Blessed Virgin, who at first they describe simply as “a Lady.” Yet there have been exceptions, such as her apparition in Zeitun, Egypt, where she is reported to have been seen by thousands of people: Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Muslim, and unbelievers.
According to Catholic Church doctrine, the era of “public revelation” ended with the death of the last Apostle. A Marian apparition, then, if deemed authentic by legitimate Church authority, is considered to be a “private” revelation. Concerning such revelations, we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
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, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but to help live 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. (CCC, 67)
Following a thorough investigation according to specific norms outlined by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Church will confirm an authentic apparition as “worthy of belief,” but belief is never required by divine faith.
The Holy See has officially approved at least 13 apparitions of the Blessed Virgin, including those at Guadalupe (Mexico), Saint-Étienne-le-Laus, Paris (Rue du Bac, Miraculous Medal), La Salette (France), Lourdes (France), Fatima (Portugal), Pontmain, Beauraing, and Banneux.
Other apparitions have been approved by the local bishop, for example, the 2010 approval of the 19th-century apparitions of Our Lady of Good Help, the first recognized Marian apparition in the United States.
20th Century Marian Apparitions
The 20th century is rich in reported apparitions of the Blessed Virgin, from her most well known appearance in Fatima, Portugal, to lesser publicized but equally powerful appearances in Kibeho, Rwanda, or Akita, Japan. Why has she been appearing so close to our own day?
Fr. René Laurentin, a world renowned Mariologist born on October 19, 1917 — just 6 days after the Blessed Virgin’s last apparition at Fatima — has traveled the world investigating many of these reported events. Some years ago, he said he believes the multitude of apparitions are an urgent call to a world headed for self-destruction.
“There are very serious and grave situations in the world today, so there are many reasons for the Virgin to appear and alert us,” he said. “She speaks globally of moral risks, or liberal sexual immorality and materialism. The world has rejected God, and it is quietly and patiently abandoning itself to sin. It is like we are sitting on a branch and cutting ourselves off. So now we are experiencing the consequences. The world is destroying itself by the consequences of sin, and we cannot draw ourselves out of it by ourselves. So the Virgin is calling us to return to the essentials. She asks for prayer and conversion, telling us that God exists and that we must turn back to God. It is only there that we will find our liberty and freedom.”
What does the Blessed Virgin want to communicate to us by her visits? In a 2008 interview, Fr. Laurentin said the messages vary, but at the same time, they are unanimous “inasmuch as they represent the simple echo of the Gospel and invite us to prayer, to conversion, to penance, to fasting, to the reading of the Bible, in various ways according to the times and the prophetic relevance of each individual message but without ever going beyond what is the doctrine of the Church.”
While miracles, reported healings and cures often accompany Marian apparitions, then, they are not their essential purpose. When the Blessed Virgin appears, her principal purpose is to lead her children to Jesus Christ.
Here are 7 times the Virgin Mary has visited mankind.
Lourdes (Francis), 1858:
The Virgin Mary appears to 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous a total of 18 times at the grotto of Massabielle (“the rock”). The Virgin instructed Bernadette to tell the priests to build a chapel on the site, and showed her a spring whose waters have been the means for many miraculous healings. When Bernadette finally asked the Lady who she was, the Virgin responded: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
Fatima (Portugal), 1917:
The Virgin Mary appears to three shepherd children, Lucia Santos and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto, on May 13, 1917, in the valley of Cova da Iria. She addressed the pain of a world torn by war and revolutions, and called for prayer, penance, and redemptive suffering. Prophetic messages, known as “secrets,” were also entrusted to the children to be shared with Church leaders. Mary told the children to pray the Rosary often, saying: “Through the Rosary, you can stop wars.” On Sunday, October 13, 1917 the “” was seen by an estimated 30,000 to 100,000 people.
Akita (Japan), 1973-1981:
The Virgin Mary appears to Sister Agnes Sasagawa, a convert to Christianity from Buddhism. The message of Akita, which is associated with an image of the Virgin Mary venerated as miraculous, is said to be deeply tied to Fatima and warns of coming trials for the Church. While approved by the local ordinary, the events at Akita have received neither the approval nor the disapproval of the Holy See.
Betania (Venezuela), 1976-1988:
The Virgin Mary appears to Maria Esperanza Medano, a wife, mother, and grandmother, under the title of Mary, Virgin and Mother, Reconciler of All People and Nations. During one of these apparitions, 150 people were present and also saw the Lady. The apparitions at Betania have been approved by the local ordinary, but the Holy See has taken no position. In 2010, the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey opened the cause for beatification and canonization of the visionary, who is now known at the Servant of God Maria Esperanza.
Kibeho (Rwanda), 1981-1986:
The Virgin Mary appears to three teens, Alphonsine Mumereke, Nathalie Ukamazimpaka and Marie-Claire Mukangango, shortly before the Rwanda genocide. She asks for fasting, unceasing prayer, and conversion. Other young people claimed to have received messages from the Virgin Mary at Kibeho, but only the apparitions to Alphonsine, Nathalie, and Marie-Claire have been approved by the local ordinary. At the shrine of Kibeho, Mary is venerated as Our Lady of Sorrows.
Champion, Wisconsin (USA), 1859:
The Virgin Mary appears to a young immigrant woman, Adele Brise, in Northeast Wisconsin. She called her to “gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.” In 2010 the apparitions were approved for veneration by the bishop of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Hope, built on the site of the apparition to Adele Brise, draws pilgrims.
Zeitun, Cairo (Egypt), 1968-1970 (Approved by the Coptic Orthodox Church):
The Virgin Mary appears on the Dome of St. Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church to crowds numbering more than 250,000 people, among them Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Muslims, and unbelievers. No messages were given during these appearances. Because the church where the apparitions occurred was part of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Kyrillos VI gave approval for veneration.