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By Susan Tassone

In 1830, Catherine Labouré was blessed with the apparitions of Mary Immaculate to which we owe the Miraculous Medal, the feast of which is this Saturday.  The first apparition came on the eve of the feast of St. Vincent DePaul, July 19. The mother superior had given each of the novices a piece of cloth from the holy founder’s surplice. Because of her extreme love, Catherine split her piece down the middle, swallowing half and placing the rest in her prayer book. She earnestly prayed to St. Vincent that she might, with her own eyes, see the Mother of God. 

And so it happened, as she recounted in her own words: "About half-past eleven, I heard someone call my name. I looked in the direction of the voice and I drew the curtain. I saw a child of four or five years old dressed in white who said to me: 'Come to the Chapel.  The Blessed Virgin is waiting for you.' Immediately the thought came to me that I will be heard. The child replied, 'Be calm, it is half-past eleven, everyone is asleep. Come, I am waiting for you.' I hurriedly dressed and went to the side of the child. I followed him wherever he went. The lights were lit everywhere. 

"When we reached the chapel, the door opened as soon as the child touched it with the tip of his finger. The candles were burning as at Midnight Mass. However, I did not see the Blessed Virgin. The child led me to the sanctuary and I knelt down there. Towards midnight, the child said: 'Here is the Blessed Virgin.'  I heard a noise like a rustle of a silk dress...a very beautiful lady, in a blaze of glory, sat down in Father’s Director’s chair. The child repeated in a strong voice:  'Here is the Blessed Virgin.' Then I flung myself at her feet on the steps of the altar and put my hands on her knees. 

The Blessed Virgin put her arms around Catherine and said: "God wishes to charge you with a mission. You will be contradicted, but do not fear; you will have the graces to bear it. Tell your spiritual director all that passes within you. Misfortunes will fall upon France; the entire world will be overcome by evils of all kinds...but... come to the foot of this altar; there, graces will be poured on all those who ask for them with confidence, and fervor. They will be poured out on the great and the humble..."

Catherine’s mission was not revealed to her until November 27, 1830,  when the Blessed Virgin appeared to her and this time gave her the design of the medal she wished to have made and the prayer she would have her children say to her: "O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee!" Catherine was instructed by Our Lady  to go to her spiritual director, Father Aladel, about the apparitions. He didn't believe Catherine, although she approached him about the medal three times. When Catherine shared her dismay with the Virgin Mary, Our Lady said to her: "He is my servant, and he should be frightened of displeasing me." Catherine shared that with Father Aladel, saying simply, "The Virgin is angry." These words deeply affected him and tormented him. Eventually (though not without an intense struggle) the medal was struck -- and since the 1830s more than a billion have been distributed!

Many know these details. What we have not heard are the parts of the mission that met roadblocks -- obstacles that perhaps link to other apparitions.

The Blessed Mother’s second request was to open and enlarge the chapel for pilgrimages. As recounted by the great Mariologist René Laurentin, in his book Catherine Labouré: Visionary of the Miraculous Medal, the seer "was still tormented by wanting an altar, with the Virgin holding the globe, which would commemorate the apparition and open up the chapel to its destiny as a place of pilgrimage."

While the chapel was enlarged -- beginning in 1849, nineteen years after the apparitions -- Catherine was dissatisfied with a statue because it did not portray the Blessed Mother as she had seen her -- holding the ball of the world in her hands.

Meanwhile, the chapel had been enlarged -- but was not opened to the public.

Twenty-eight years passed and Our Lady decided to go somewhere else! That place was to the south in France at Lourdes -- where in 1858 Mary appeared in a way that reminded many of the Miraculous Medal. On that medal were the words, "Mary, conceived without sin" and at Lourdes the Blessed Mother came as the "Immaculate Conception"! Miracles, conversions, and cures, abounded.

Writes Father Laurentin: "When Catherine heard people talking about the Lourdes apparition, she said, 'It's the same one!' 'What is most extraordinary.' wrote Sister Dufés, her superior, 'is that, without having read any of the published works, Sister Catherine was more conversant with what had taken place there than those who had actually made this pilgrimage.' "According to Sister Tranchemer, her companion, Catherine said, 'You know, these miracles could have happened in our chapel.'"

She said the same to another sister. What occurred later at Lourdes could have occurred at Rue du Bac.

"According to Sister Pineau, Sister Dufés found 'in Catherine's belongings a piece of paper; on it were written these words in the sister's own hand: 'My kind Mother, here no one wants to do what you want: manifest yourself somewhere else!'"

Said a Sister Cosnard: "On different occasions, Sister Catherine went to great lengths to persuade me that the pilgrimage of Notre Dame des Victories and the Lourdes pilgrimage had been granted by the Blessed Virgin in order to compensate for those that the superiors had not seen it necessary to authorize via our chapel. 'However,' she said to me several times and with a remarkable tone to her voice, 'pilgrimages will come there just the same.'"

A third request made by Our Lady to Catherine was to build a monumental Cross in Paris. It would be called the Cross of Victory and the object of much veneration. People would come from all over the world for devotion and pilgrimages. 

Again, Catherine tried in vain to fulfill the Immaculate Virgin’s request. And again, the request was denied. 

To this day, the Cross was never built.

Crosses were, however, built elsewhere, including one in 1933 on a mountain in Bosnia-Hercegovina overlooking a hamlet called Medjugorje.

[resources: A Holy Life (the writing of St. Bernadette) and Catherine Laboure and Christmas Books, specials]

[Further note: on November 27, 1989, at a meeting of the prayer group at the Blue Cross in Medjugorje, the Blessed Mother allegedly said, “Today is the feast day of the miraculous medal, and I want that you pray, in a special way, for the salvation of those people who are carrying this miraculous medal. I want you to spread the devotion and the carrying of this medal, so that more souls may be saved, and that you pray in a special way.”]

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