Afraid of Marian apparitions?

Afraid of Marian apparitions?
May is a chance to celebrate Mary’s many appearances, writes Gretchen Crowe

Seven years ago this May, the Church celebrated the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Mary to three shepherd children at Fatima. To commemorate the event, Pope Francis visited Portugal, as did thousands upon thousands of pilgrims.


It was a time of great rejoicing and a time of remembering, especially Mary’s urgent plea to the children to pray the Rosary for peace in the world and for ‘an end to the war’. But Mary’s apparitions in Fatima, of course, form just one apparition event among many.

Earlier this year, in February, the Church marked 166 years since Mary appeared to St Bernadette near a stream in Lourdes, France. It’s been 165 years since she appeared in Champion, Wisconsin; 493 since Tepeyac Hill; 91 years since Belgium – and the list goes on.

And though Catholics are not required to believe in these apparitions, the Church has found many worthy of official approval.

For me, to believe that Mary, our queen of heaven and earth and our mother, continues to come to us in humility and love, calling us to conversion and into a deeper relationship with her son is quite moving. And it makes sense, for it is what she has always done.

In her descriptive and eminently readable book Those Who Saw Her: Apparitions of Mary (OSV, $19.95), now in its fourth edition, Catherine Odell describes how Marian apparitions “have always had something to do with her heart and the world’s needs”.

Ms Odell’s highly researched text places you at the setting of each apparition, describing the ‘main characters’ and giving context and even dialogue. She shows that what Mary brings, in her apparitions, is ‘part of the larger plan of her Son, who gave and continues to give salvation’.

It was to this text that I turned when visiting two Marian apparition sites earlier this year – the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in southern France and the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal on Rue de Bac in Paris.


Reading the accounts of the events and being in those two locations reminded me that Mary comes among us to inspire the hearts of believers then and now. She wants us to be active disciples of her son and, in so doing, to change the world.

As Odell writes: “It is not just individual hearts and spirits that are the goal of her conversion efforts. The Virgin is interested in the revitalisation of communities and of the Church.”

What does that mean for us, then? How can we respond to Our Lady’s call?

As we enter into this Marian month of May, perhaps we could spend some time not only praying the Rosary, singing Marian hymns or crowning images of Our Lady – all very worthwhile activities – but reading about and reflecting on Mary’s appearances here on earth.

What did she tell us? Who did she talk to? How should we be responding? How can we be keeping her message, and that of her Son, alive in our hearts, homes and communities?

Ms Odell’s text is a great place to start, and it contains a helpful bibliography for further reading. It would be perfect for book club or other small group reading.

Very practically, we could also take note of Marian apparition days on the calendar and commemorate them with a novena or another prayer. We could read up on the Miraculous Medal, or even start wearing one.

Maybe we could even plan a pilgrimage – either in person, or of the armchair variety – to an apparition site. In the US, there is an approved apparition site in Champion, Wisconsin, that is quite beautiful.


Approaching these apparitions with open hearts, as well as with prudence – we should be most attentive to those apparitions the Church has approved – could reap great rewards.

As Ms Odell writes, “With all apparitions, there is a tension between authority and prophecy (the Church and apparitions) that must work itself out again and again.

“The tension will continue, but there is little need to be concerned that it will damage the Church, theologians assure us. Mary has assured us that she is indeed Mother of the Church.

“It is safe – and even necessary – to believe that she will always be near. And when the time is right and the needs of the world warrant it, she will be close enough for some eyes to see and many hearts to know.”

Gretchen R. Crowe is the editor-in-chief of OSV News.