The Vatican revolutionizes the apparitions of Mary, miraculous scenes

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The Vatican recently announced its plan to establish an “observatory” at one of its many academic institutions, the Pontificia Academia Mariana Internationalis, to investigate claims of apparitions and other mystical phenomena attributed to the Virgin Mary.

As a scholar of global Christianity whose first book focused on Mary’s apparitions and miracles in the modern-day Philippines, I have spent years studying the ins and outs of how the Catholic Church certifies apparitions and the impact of these decisions on devotion to the Virgin Mary. I believe that the creation of this office marks a major shift in how Mary’s apparitions are evaluated and documented in modern times.

In contrast to the portrayals in popular media that show the Vatican as the first and only arbiter on these matters, the actual process almost always takes place at the local level and rarely reaches the Holy See.

Formal and informal judgment

The Council of Trent, held between 1545 and 1563, first granted bishops the authority to recognize new miracles or relics. In the 1970s, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office charged with defending and promulgating Catholic doctrine, created a set of rules stating how alleged apparitions should be judged on a local level.

However, most of the apparition claims fall short of investigation. Of the countless apparitions reported throughout the church’s history, only 25 have been approved by the local bishop, and 16 have been recognized by the Vatican.

However, throughout the Catholic world, hundreds of shrines commemorating the miraculous apparition of Mary enjoy cult followings. What explains the difference between the implied and formal approval of the church, and what is the risk when the church investigates an alleged sighting?

When personal revelations become public

Catholics around the world engage in deep relationships with Mary and the saints and consider their presence to be authentic. Furthermore, in many places, Catholic beliefs have blended with indigenous cultures and practices to produce apparition legends around which devotion has thrived for centuries.

Local priests and bishops walk a fine line between popular religiosity and doctrinal orthodoxy. They readily accept diversity in how believers venerate Mary. But they must also remain vigilant against phenomena and messages that run counter to the teachings of the Church and threaten to undermine its authority. For many paranormal claims, the turning point in the investigation comes when a limited experience becomes a collective phenomenon.

To take two examples from my research in the Philippines: In Quezon City, northeast of Manila, in the early 2000s, a neighborhood group that met weekly to pray the rosary was led by a woman who, while in a trance, claimed to be channeling the Virgin Mary. Marie. Although officials from the Archdiocese of Manila were aware of the group’s activities, they left them alone, as their devotional practice had little influence outside their immediate circle, and the content of Mary’s letters was no cause for concern.

By contrast, after tens of thousands of people traveled to the small coastal town of Agoo in the Philippines, in the northwestern province of La Union, to witness the prophesied apparition of Mary by Judial Nieva in March 1993, the archbishop immediately formed an official commission of inquiry. Two years later, the commission declared it a hoax.

The difference between the way the local church authorities dealt with the two cases came down to the scale of the phenomenon, whether profit was made from the beliefs of the people, and the content of the messages Mary allegedly spoke. As with most apparitions found “unworthy of belief”—that is, not supernatural in origin—the Agoo phenomenon eventually fizzled out.

Who decides the dedication?

Occasionally, congregations remain steadfast in their belief that Mary appeared despite negative judgment from the Catholic Church. For example, the devotional figure of Mary as “Lady of All Nations,” a title linked to the visions of Dutch woman Ida Birdman, who claimed to have seen the Virgin 56 times between 1945 and 1959, maintains a strong worldwide following for this. day. This is despite the fact that the Dutch bishops and the Vatican’s doctrinal office have urged Catholics not to promote apparitions associated with this particular title.

Similarly, in Lipa, Philippines, in the 1990s there was a revival of devotion and belief that Mary appeared to a Filipino novice of the Carmelites’ religious order in 1948. The devotion continued despite a commission of Filipino bishops investigating the phenomenon and declaring that it had “ruled out any supernatural interference” in 1951.

In either case, popular support for the apparitions influenced sitting bishops to reconsider, and even overturn, a previously negative ruling.

But the approval of the bishops did not last long. To assert the Catholic Church’s hierarchy, the Vatican Doctrinal Office stepped in to support the original rulings that the apparitions were not valid. However, many devotees remain unwilling in their faith.

verb balancing

According to the head of the proposed Vatican Observatory, Rev. Stefano Sitchin, the new office will serve both academic and pastoral purposes, serving as a central work force for the systematic and interdisciplinary study of worldwide impression claims.

It remains to be seen how precisely they will coordinate with the local bishops who so far have the power to determine whether the Mother of God has appeared within their jurisdiction.

For those of us watching from the outside, the new observatory is an interesting twist in the long history of balancing the universal claims of the Catholic Church with the myriad expressions of local devotion and faith.

Deirdre de la Cruz is Associate Professor of History, Asian Languages, and Culture at the University of Michigan.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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