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A potpourri of items. Call it also an apparition update.

We'll be in Atlanta for a retreat later this week, and each visit there seems interesting for various reasons.

Once I was there to interview a professor at the Emory University Medical School about work with DNA that supposedly backtracked the first modern humans (to Asia, while others said Africa). During another visit I toured the Centers for Disease Control's most secure, "level-four" lab where folks in space suits study the world's deadliest viruses and bacteria -- stuff like ebola, smallpox, chicken flu, and Lassa fever. That was quite daunting -- watching them through a thick glass partition as they carefully handled the pipettes and test tubes. (I believe future events will include some sort of epidemic.)

Another time, years before, I was taken to an alleged site of apparitions so well-known during the late 1980s and early 1990s at Conyers, Georgia (about 25 miles southeast of Atlanta).

These were reputed events that have never been accepted nor declaimed by the diocese (though some bishops offered caution). It was interesting because a very holy monastery [left] is immediately nearby -- forty monks and a feeling that's otherworldly. It's connected with the famous Trappist monastery of Gethsemani Farms in Kentucky.

  • Whatever the veracity, in Georgia, of the Marian apparitions on neighboring land (another farm), we must consider and deeply respect the many who have experienced conversions at Conyers or have seen wondrous signs (sun "miracles," unusual, striking photographs, and so forth) or even found a vocation there. You can see [right] that it once drew huge crowds! In fact, it was probably the most popular apparition site in U.S. history, with the possible exception of one in Queens, New York (and now a Church-approved one in Wisconsin). By some estimates, tens of thousands appeared for certain apparitions, totaling over a million between 1990 and 1998, when, after 49 of them, highly public ones halted on October 13 (the Fatima anniversary day).

  • Was it the place, or the seer?

    The reputed visionary there, Nancy Fowler, is currently suffering severe cancer and we ask prayers for her. This had been announced in 2009, and apparently she remains in need.

    "Unfortunately, the condition of Nancy, the Visionary of Conyers, has worsened," said her website back a year ago, recently requesting renewed prayer. "Pray for a physical healing of Nancy's health in order for her to be able to love and serve God longer on earth if it be His will," said a statement on October 2, 2011. "When the Doctors told her that her cancer had spread, a friend of hers reminded her of a vision of Jesus she had while convalescing from a car accident in May 2009.

    "Nancy saw a beautiful face of the Blessed Mother, like a transparency appearing close to her face. Looking through the face of the Blessed Mother she could see a transparency of the crucified Face of Christ. Jesus left eye became enlarged, more prominent. Then she saw from on the inner white part of His left eye (sclera) a tiny bust of the crucified Christ and she saw two tiny drops of bright red blood fall from His eye to His chest. As soon as she remembers this vision, she realized the Lord was asking her to take up her cross and follow Him for the salvation of souls. Realizing that she might be at the sunset of her life, she went before the Crucifix in her home."

    We are happy to pray for her. Was it a controversial place? Yes. It was difficult to know what to make of it.

    At Conyers, there were, as stated, innumerable "miraculous" photographs, and so of course at many places. Does it authenticate a situation? Not necessarily, and often it does not convince bishops. According to the Georgia Bulletin, then-Atlanta Archbishop James P. Lykes. in a March, 1991, letter to his fellow U.S. bishops, "asked that priest-led pilgrimages from their dioceses to the site of alleged Marian apparitions in Conyers be discontinued. The letter, sent out by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in its regular weekly mailing March 13, stated that, in the archbishop’s judgment, the authenticity of these alleged apparitions is in grave doubt.'" While medical tests seemed to confirm a paranormal state of trance, some were concerned with peculiar phenomena.

    Yet the following September 19, the bishop sent a second letter, this time to his priests, saying that “at this time, circumstances do not warrant a formal investigation into these events" and adding that the archbishop was closely monitoring the reaction of the local Church. According to the paper, "the statement said that cults and devotional practices should not distract Catholics from the church’s central dogma and liturgical rites. At the same time, 'we cannot deny the possibility that God might continue to disclose Himself by means of timely or historical self-revelation.'" Personal issues plagued the apparition, and in 1999 there was a falling out between an organization raising funds in the name of the apparition and owning the actual apparition site and Fowler, who expressed concern over fund-raising and merging her apparitions with those of another, foreign seer.

    At Conyers, there were plenty of warnings on the U.S. and how it has strayed from Christianity -- thus inviting natural disasters (which certainly have begun to materialize). One Atlanta neurologist, Dr. Ramon Sanchez, presented compelling facts indicating paranormal activity and cited another researcher who "measured flashes or bolts or darts of lightning - light energy in an adjacent room at the very moment the visionary said, 'Everybody, please kneel! Jesus… our Lord and Savior…is alive on the cross (Crucifix).' The visionary later told us that she could see the light of Jesus pulsating in intensity around the cross and could hear Jesus speak interiorly (His living words) to her. This occurred while the Soliton waves mV amplitude intensity readings (recorded at the same time) remained amazingly in 80-90 mV range."

    At Conyers was what they called "Holy Hill," which also seemed the focus of phenomena. One must note that immediately near the apparition site is that very holy monastery run by forty Trappist Monks. Around the world, there seem to be certain holy grounds. Recently we reported on a hill with a Cross near St. Mary, Pennsylvania, at an anointed, miraculous spot they call Mount Zion. At top, can you see a red light and Host-like "orb"?

    Once we establish that phenomena are unusual, they must then be discerned (as to their source; and carefully; people can experience great difficulties if an apparition is not from God). Orbs are interesting and are associated with many alleged supernatural situations. At LaSalette in France, Mary arrived in such a luminous globe (though, at "haunted" places, so do "ghosts"). Thus, caution. Of course, supernatural aspects are used by both dark and light.

    Perhaps no major Catholic news website reports more positively on apparitions than do we, yet it is also our chore to relate all aspects. On to another apparition: Interesting it is that a member of royalty, Milona von Hapsburg, Archduchess in Austria's former ruling family, who forsook a life of wealth and glamour to live in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Hercegovina,  has testified that famed seer Sister Lucia dos Santos of Fatima, whose private secretary was Milona's aunt, believed in Medjugorje and indicated she was praying for the seers who are so close to the world and thusly tempted according to the aunt. "My aunt always had believed in Medjugorje because Sister Lucia also believed in it and was always praying for the visionaries very much because she said they are so exposed to the world, they're not protected, and she was very worried about that," says the Archduchess, who never met Lucia herself but visited her aunt at the convent and prayed with her in the chapel. Indeed, at least several of the six seers have large pilgrims homes, one that holds more than eighty pilgrims and brings us to a potentially precarious vicinity. While it is understandable, in this village where everyone else also has a pilgrim house, it is a matter that priests there need to address as the situation is evaluated by the Vatican. It is perhaps wise for pilgrims to equally consider other pilgrim facilities (certain places are anointed; seers should not be the focus of any apparition). Milona describes the visionaries, with whom she is close, as "lovely, lovely people" who like everyone experience "weakness and humanity." "They just see her for a few moments, and then they're faced with people who [try to grab them and want something]. They see her for just a few moments and then they're there by themselves, and they have to accept the messages just like we do and work at them just like we do. They have no privileges, just that they see her. If they don't live it, they are just themselves, and sometimes we expect of them what they can't be and a great injustice can be done to them. We judge harshly and so violently criticize." [Video mentioning Sister Lucia is at 36:18 minutes into interview.] There is still the incredible peace and anointing but sometimes it is obscured by all the new structures. We are told that except for anniversary days, October may have seen the busiest times ever for Medjugorje; as at Lourdes, thefts are now too common.

    Humans are humans: we all struggle with the worldly, and sometimes deeper issues. In Scottsdale, Arizona was a major alleged American "apparition" that rose around the same time as Conyers, involved a number of young adults, and was brought to prominence by a priest who had been to Medjugorje and now has been charged with abuse and removed from active ministry.

    It is all tender stuff. We discuss these matters at retreats.

    Perhaps the word for the day:

    Take what is good and leave the rest and don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.  "If you do not believe that Satan could even make you to see the sun dance before your eyes, you underestimate the forces you are dealing with! Read the Gospels, go to Church, pray the Psalms and avoid these sorts of people at all costs!" noted one exercised blogger.

    Meanwhile, phenomena continue to be reported at an alleged site in Marmora, Ontario that also sprung up in the 1990s. Many people have claimed visions, locutions, and sun miracles there (though the diocese has not ruled on it and in the 1990s the owner of this farm and the diocese both reportedly expressed the wish that there be no publicity and some warned of eye damage).

    Said one woman who recently was there, "I noticed this boy [named Josephat] go in front of the tenth Station and kneel down and his head went right back. He stayed in this position for several minutes. When he got up I followed him to get a confirmation. He said, yes, the Blessed Mother had appeared to him. It was asked of him at the meeting how he knew it was the Mother of God. He said that deep down within him he felt that it was the Mother of God. She was wearing a gold dress with a white cloak over it. She had a silver crown on her head, with jewels, colorful and sparkling, and gold sandals on her feet. She was holding three lilies and two red roses in her hands. No, he said -- she did not speak, she just smiled and he could smell roses and other beautiful scents. There would be more at the next station. At the eleventh Station while we prayed, again he went before the Station and looked up in the sky. He said that Jesus was there with two angels. He was wearing a golden colored gown and a red cloak, with a gold crown on his head and golden sandals on his feet. He said that the ground that Josephat was kneeling on was Holy Ground. He said that Jesus was pouring His Precious Blood from a golden chalice unto the ground so that the soil was mixed and blessed with His Blood. Jesus told us to scoop up some of the earth. He said it was the entrance to the caves. He said the earth around there was where we would plant vegetables. He said that we are not to worry because the caves underground would not be dark. He would provide the light. There would be another message at the next station. He looked up at the sky and received a message. He said that we should not be afraid: that the world was in bad trouble. We should pray the Rosary. He would provide food and water in the caves. He said that we should come on December 1st and He would give us a big message."

    Bold or strange?

    As always: go nowhere without praying and fasting first.

    -- Michael H. Brown

    [resources: The Final Hour, Prayer of the Warrior, and Michael Brown retreat, Atlanta]

    [see also: An index of unapproved apparitions, Video: unusual sky formation at Medjugorje?, and Report: tumor disappeared after girl attended apparition; also: Video: discipline during an apparition and Video: the moon pulsating?]

    [Video mentioning Sister Lucia]

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