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For cautious discernment:


What is one to think of YouTube videos from the district of Yopougon, Abidjan, in Ivory Coast, first aired on Afrika-United TV, that purport (underline "purport") to show the Blessed Mother manifesting in a flaring sun?

It certainly seems spectacular -- this scene from April 21, to which we have previously linked, whereby those living in the West African country shout and scream and (with cell phones) record a miracle of the sun reminding one of Fatima, Medjugorje, Betania, and the apparitions of Kibeho in Rwanda on the same continent (which were preceded by similarly tremendous solar happenings and later holy images that thousands witnessed).

The sun "miracle" is one thing. But starting at about 1:10 minutes into the 3:14-minute video and then around 1:15 something seems to begin materializing in the flare just above the trees as the crowd cries and shouts and then goes haywire at about 1:34 (on this version) as a dark but detailed silhouette of the Blessed Mother greatly resembling the Miraculous Medal suddenly appears, disappears, and appears again in a vaguely blue cloak, the onlookers -- "thousands," according to one unconfirmed report -- now in a frenzy which seemed spontaneous and unrehearsed and is the most convincing aspect. 

But is the image equally authentic, or did someone "photoshop" or otherwise digitally manipulate and superimpose the famous Miraculous Medal image (which occurred in France, a nation with close ties to Ivory Coast, which has a large Catholic population) onto the clip? Simply put, it seems a bit too defined. At the least, it seems to have been videographically enhanced. Conversely, it does seem to be moving -- the "Virgin" waffling and floating above trees and there is no denying the crowd reaction to something. A month before the happening, many in the region were upset when a popular miraculous statue of Mary was relocated from a shrine. Was there a connection? Meanwhile, Ivory Coast (formally known as the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire) has been in the throes of civil war that has turned thousands into refugees as happened, on a greater scale, in the 1990s, in Rwanda following the apparitions -- and sun phenomena -- at Kibeho.

Whatever the upshot will be, the videos come at a time when many around the world are reporting odd sights in the sky -- fireballs, streaks of lights, aerial booms (see Virginia last week) and other occurrences that tempt one (here underline "tempt") to revisit Acts 2:18-10 ("And I will grant wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke"). Those who find it a bit too coincidental that volcanoes and quakes and tsunamis and tornadoes and floods and civil unrest and war are dovetailing can be excused for paying particular attention to such passages, as well as YouTube claims of oddities. Great caution must be exercised with YouTube -- especially related clips to the right of such videos, which can stray into the realm of UFOs. A while back, the YouTube sensation was a strange formation of light in the former Soviet Union that -- also wavering -- resembled a Cross. Reported a television newscaster there: "An inhabitant of the city Sharya, Russia, became a witness of the strange phenomenon: in the sky right above his house he had seen a glowing cross. Vladimir Rostovcev shot this video on his camera [see also at bottom]. Early in the morning he was going to the job, but he had found out he couldn't start up an engine of his car. At this moment his attention was attracted by the incredible sight... A cross was hanging in the middle of the air a few minutes. Then it had dissolved. Vladimir says: 'It is strange, but after cross had dissolved my car had been off without problems...'"

Another possible hoax -- or at least enhancement? Difficult to say. In yet another video, a Corpus seems to be on the Cross (which, in keeping with Russian, is an Orthodox Crucifix). Three years ago, in Mexico, what looked like another Cross in the sky was recorded (here were special concerns about the UFO aspect). In still other instances -- including again Russia -- strange clouds are seen, among them a wide, luminous, perfectly circular cloud high over Moscow in 2009. Experts claimed it was an optical illusion, others a known meteorological event. Similar phenomena have been observed in the United States. We are curious about towering lights because of one reputed prophecy (see Tower of Light) from 1990 saying there would be a future manifestation of Jesus as a "towering" apparition (though somehow what has occurred thus far does not yet fit the bill, unless there are going to be a number of occurrences). In 1988, tremendous aerial spectacles were claimed -- and some videotaped -- in connection with alleged apparitions of the Blessed Mother in Lubbock, Texas, that the local diocese later rejected. Here's another very strange cloud formation (from 2007). Is it all known only due to the internet? Some even think it's "Project Blue Beam," a conspiracy theory that claims that NASA is attempting to implement a New Age religion with the Antichrist at its head and start a New World Order, via a technologically-simulated Second Coming. It can get far-out.

But the sky is certainly alive -- at least meteorologically -- and so is the realm of prophecy. We are having great difficulty discerning much of it. On a number of occasions, we have reported the "predictions" from the Virgin Mary as seen by one man in Brazil. Most recently -- in January -- he made a reference mentioning "the great and famous river that crosses the nest of the eagle will be contaminated." Was this a reference to the Mississippi -- and what about his mention a year ago of a great quake in Japan and then a prediction that the land of "Akita" (an apparition site in Japan) would shed tears -- predictions just before the quake and tsunami (and nuclear disasters)? Does the Blessed Mother speak in riddles and mention so many places by name (most recently, Halifax, Letônia, Lithuania, Brazilia, Vancouver, Porto Santo, Tenerife, Olhão, Piuma, Ajuda, Socorro, and the island of Madeira again, in just the last four weeks). We will have a fuller report at our retreat next month in New Jersey.

While open-minded -- and mindful that many things may happen (and have happened) in many places -- we must also be wary that the deceiver not deceive "even the elect" (Matthew 24:24). What seem like signs continue. After heavy downpour, a very steep vivid colored rainbow intersected with a line of white clouds to form a cross over the skyline of Kuching city, Sarawak, Malaysia. Surely, scientists can explain it away. But because a "sign" can also have a natural explanation, does that exclude it from being supernatural?

[resources: Michael Brown retreat, New Jersey]

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[resources: Tower of Light]

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