The approval and dramatic elevation of a French apparition once more casts a light on alleged appearances of the Blessed Mother, and leads us to note several others that are obscure and yet appear from time to time in the Marian literature.

The approved apparition, at Laus, south of Grenoble, was fully sanctioned by the Church two weeks ago -- putting other obscure apparitions into sharper focus.

One is "Our Lady of Good Success" in Ecuador, where Mary appeared to a holy woman named Mother Mariana of Jesus Torres. That one is interesting because it occurred just before Laus and a prayer to the Madonna under this title has the imprimatur of a bishop, Carlos Maria, archbishop of Quito, who provided it in 1941 as a partial approval.

It is claimed that in Ecuador the Blessed Mother predicted the declaration of papal infallibility, which occurred two centuries later, and the dogma of the Immaculate Conception a century after that. But "the most important prophecies of Our Lady of Good Success spoke of the worldwide crisis in the Church and society that would begin in the 19th century and extend throughout the 20th century," notes one rendition. "In the Catholic Church the sacraments would be profaned and abused, and the light of faith would be almost completely extinguished in souls. Truly religious souls would be reduced to a small number and many vocations would perish. Great impurity would reign and people would be without any care for spiritual matters."

We can't verify if Mother Torres actually spoke those words, and rumor in such circles is rampant. At Laus, an alleged end-time prophecy was denied last week by a shrine official.

But there remains the issue of lesser-known historic apparitions -- ones that remain "under the radar" -- and also more recent mystical claims, including an extensive, little-known, and rather incredible series of apparitions that allegedly took place between 1986 and 1988 near Catania, Sicily.

Those apparitions -- 32 in all, at Belpasso -- have been favorably looked upon by Archbishop Luigi Bommarito, who consecrated a sanctuary around the rock [below, left]: one of the most tangible sorts of ecclesiastical approval.

The apparitions were witnessed by 15-year-old Rosario Toscano -- who first heard the voice of Mary as a locution and then was told he could meet her at a rock in the middle of a nearby lava site (the remnants of a Mount Etna eruption in a spot that, it turns out, was a refuge for those fleeing the volcano).

Rosario saw Mary as dressed in very bright white -- like reflections on a placid, crystal-clear lake, in one depiction -- with a shift in the color of the sky behind her. According to that account, the Virgin came with a "cloud" that opened "in the same way a flower blooms" (revealing her) and wore a white mantle from head to feet with a gold-colored sash around her waist.

"As soon as I had been made responsible for my diocese, I saw Rosario Toscano coming," the archbishop said. "We met three times, and we scheduled other meetings. I must say the boy is really clean. This is a real fact I have further ascertained in our meetings. Rosario is healthy, well-balanced, serene; he doesnít like to attract attention. Once he told me literally: 'How happy I am now that people no longer look for me, but go to the rock and pray to the Holy Virgin.'"

It was in 1669 -- around the same time as Laus -- that Etna erupted -- followed by an epidemic of malaria that at its peak was accented by an earthquake at Belpasso itself.

Although a formal pastoral declaration of approval has not been issued, the Archbishop blessed the statue of "Our Lady of the Belpasso Rock" on January 5, 2000 and consecrated the chapel as a Marian sanctuary -- attaching a Jubilee indulgence to it and making it the most obscure of recent apparitions that enjoy a level of approval.

The proximity to Etna is additionally ironic in that Rosario claims to have been given "secrets" by the Blessed Mother, who after the formal apparitions -- which mainly involved prayer -- granted the boy 12 alleged and confidential prophecies.

The secrets, which were conveyed starting on January 3, 1987, are said to be both for the seer (two of them) and mankind in general (the remaining ten).

"That the contents of the secrets are grave and serious is a fact we can gather from several points," notes a website dedicated to the event. These are "the worried, excited tone of the entire message given by Our Lady on 01/03/87; the revelation delivered the next month, that 'there are most serious chastisements for mankind;' the attitude and expressions of the visionary after the apparition of 01/03/87, and in the further accounts given by him.

"The words used by the Blessed Virgin leave no room for doubt. They are especially 'unpleasant events' (01/05/98), 'most serious chastisements' (01/04/87), 'purification' (01/10/87)."

"Many have asked themselves whether these disagreeable events are to be very sorrowful," Rosario reportedly said on November 5, 1987. "Just know that I cried for weeks, and maybe I wouldnít have peace any more if the Heart of our Mother hadnít consoled me and the Grace of Our Lord hadnít assisted me."

They are strong words from an apparition at such a high level of diocesan favor. Yet, it is noted, at least some of the events can be lessened. However -- it is equally said -- they can not erased.

"The messages as a whole let us understand that God has made a decision and fixed time limits: therefore the secrets are to be realized and can only be attenuated (Rosario said 'mitigati,' mitigated)," reports the same website.

"Sins that draw chastisement are 'superficiality' (01/02/88), 'spiritual idleness' (01/05/88), 'to have sold themselves consciously to worldly gratifications' (01/02/88), 'forgetfulness of God and His laws' (01/05/88), and 'indifference to Jesus and his sacrifice' as well (01/06/87)," continues the description of events.

There has been special attention on Rosario's seventh secret, which seemed especially momentous but in 1991 was said still to be "in the distant future."

That seventh secret will allegedly revolve around an event that displays "the glory of the Church to the world." It is said that Rosario has indicated it would involve "something that was forgotten" that will be restored.

"On the contrary," claims the account, "we can think that at least the first three secrets are about to occur."

"Now I'm full of hope in the goodness of the Lord," Rosario is quoted as saying. "In fact, the Lord doesn't intend to terrify his children, but only put them on their guard. Just think of Our Lady girded by a white sash: it's a symbol that means we must always be ready. The Lord never abandons his creatures; His love for them is limitless. When the world is afflicted by unpleasant events near their point of culmination, a lighthouse will shine in the night: the seventh secret. About this secret the Queen of Peace has stated 'it will be replaced by another event, which will be pleasing for all the people of God scattered all over the earth.'"

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