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The communications director for a shrine at Laus, France, where an apparition has attained unusually high Church approval says the approval came during the beatification process of the seer there, Benoîte Rencurel, who saw Mary from 1664 until her death in 1718.

"It is the longest apparition of Mary of all the history in the Catholic Church, because Mary appeared for 54 years," that spokesman, Guillaume d'Alançon, told Spirit Daily, underlining various aspects of the apparition's significance. The only major apparition approaching that length of time has been Medjugorje in Bosnia-Hercegovina, where reputed appearances have been ongoing for half that time -- 27 years.

He said that while local bishops through the centuries had recognized  Benoîte's apparitions, Laus has been thrust into an elite class because it is now backed by a canonical letter from the Vatican's Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which has now formalized the seer's mysticism -- a key part of her cause.

"It was necessary to have this text recognize the reality of Mary's manifestation," said d'Alançon, adding that the sanctuary is now "waiting for a miracle" that will open the way to the final recognition of  Benoîte as "blessed" -- the last stage before a full canonization process (which would necessitate two fully documented miraculous cures). "We are hoping for those miracles," he said.

The shrine is located south of Grenoble in the French Alps and seemed to come out of nowhere last week when news services carried reports that the bishop had made another declaration of its authenticity.

That declaration was at an extraordinary Mass with forty cardinals and bishops present -- something that would not have occurred without Rome's unusual entrance into the matter.

While hundreds of apparitions, visions, and miraculous statues related to Mary have been approved since the first century (when the Blessed Mother appeared at Zaragossa, Spain, and then soon after in Le Puy, France), the text from the Vatican separates it, placing Laus in a tier of apparitions that in modern times includes Fatima, Lourdes, Guadalupe, Knock, LaSalette, Kibeho, and a handful of other appearances.

It is not known how many sites have been visited by pontiffs during the Church's entire 2,000-year history.

D'Alançon said that in 1855 Rome acknowledged Laus less directly when Pope Pius IX sent a bishop to visit the shrine and then again at the end of the 19th century when Pope Leo XIII declared the church there a basilica.

Such are all stages in gauging degrees of acceptance -- which often takes unique pathways. The highest level is considered to be an actual visit by the pontiff, which has occurred at Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe, and Knock.

D'Alançon said 120,000 visit the French shrine each year -- a number destined to increase in wake of the higher level of approval.

The most important message, said the spokesman, is reconciliation with God and partaking in the "sacrament of penance." He denied that there was a prophecy from Benoîte pronouncing  that Laus would be "forgotten and ignored" until just before the last times (as has been widely reported on blogs).

"There is no prophecy on the end times," said the spokesman. "The prophecy is about the sanctuary not being destroyed, but there are no other predictions. The prophecy known is that the sanctuary will last until the end of the world."

[resources: an entire history of Marian apparitions: The Last Secret]

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