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The announcement was stunning.


More than four centuries after the first Mass on its soil, after 234 years of formal existence as a nation, and having seen dozens of sites approved elsewhere, the United States -- which is larger than Western Europe -- now had its first fully approved apparition of the Blessed Mother -- Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin (once Robinsonville)!

The announcement was made by Green Bay Bishop David L. Ricken shortly after 11 a.m. EST Wednesday during his homily at a small, invitation-only Mass at the chapel that marks the spot where a devout young woman named Adele Brisé saw Mary in 1859.

There had been many alleged apparitions. There had been an Indian who saw the Blessed Mother, back in the nation's early days. There had been apparitions to a sick person in Louisiana. Our biggest river, the Mississippi, once had been known as the "River of the Immaculate Conception." Hundreds have claimed to see or hear her in our own time. An archbishop lent his imprimatur to one from Ohio. In the 19th century, there was an apparition in San Francisco.

But one and only one -- this one, in Wisconsin --  has won full "approbation" of the formal Church by way of a decree, which is the true definition of "approval." It was one of only eight that have met with full Roman Catholic Church approbation since 1900, and in our region of the world, it joins Guadalupe.

Moreover, the apparition confirmed that Mary does indeed predict chastisement -- for the Wisconsin apparition had warned of precisely such and was followed by a spectacular, historic wildfire -- one that, as a further miracle, spared a chapel built at the apparition site!

The events, said Bishop Ricken -- "the apparition and locutions" -- "do exhibit the substance of supernatural character, and I do hereby approve these apparitions as worthy of belief."

There it was! An approval, after study of the apparition by three experts.

In a nation where the clergy has too often been swept into an anti-supernatural frame of mind, where belief in such matters is often considered superstitious, even among regular churchgoers -- or archaic -- and on a continent where many bishops and Catholic writers have chosen to all but totally ignore claims of the supernormal, the announcement bore more significance yet.

Was it a turning point for the way the American hierarchy would view miracles?

"For over one hundred fifty-one years, a continuous flow of the faithful has come to Champion, Wisconsin, to pray, to seek solace and comfort in times of trouble and to petition Our Lord Jesus Christ through the powerful intercession to Our Lady of Good Help," said the bishop Wednesday at the small shrine. "Incessant prayer has gone up in this place based upon the word of a young Belgian immigrant woman, Adele Brisé, who in October 1859 said that the Blessed Mother, a Lady clothed in dazzling white, had appeared to her on this site. The Lady was elevated slightly in a bright light and gave words of solace and comfort and a bold and challenging mission for the young immigrant woman. The Lady gave her a two-fold mission of prayer for the conversion of sinners and catechesis. 'I am the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same. You received Holy Communion this morning and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners… Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation… Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments; that is what I wish you to do. Go and fear nothing, I will help you.'"

Continued Bishop Ricken:

"Adele Brise began immediately to fulfill the mandate and mission entrusted to her by the Lady and oftentimes at great personal sacrifice went to the homes of the children to instruct them in the largely unsettled and forested area in Wisconsin. Adele was ever obedient to the authorities of the Church and steadfast in the mission entrusted to her by Our Lady, no matter what difficulty she encountered. The mission given her became such a commitment that she set up a Catholic school of instruction for children and even began a community of Third Order Franciscan women, who assisted her in her obedience to the mandate of Our Lady to pray for the conversion of sinners and to instruct the children. A long tradition of oral and some documented sources recounting answered prayers at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help include conversions and many physical healings attributed to the Blessed Mother’s intercession.

"Many physical healings are memorialized by the multitude of crutches and other mementoes of thanksgiving for answered prayers left at the Shrine," added Bishop Ricken. "Prayers for physical healing are answered even to this day through the intercession of Our Lady of Good Help. Though none of these favors have been officially declared a miracle by the Church, they are clear evidence of spiritual fruitfulness and the history of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Shrine."

This was a bishop speaking!

"Graces have been poured out through the sacraments celebrated in this place especially through the celebration of the Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, as well as through the recitation of public devotions and private prayers. Our Lady has lessened or relieved the burdens of the People of God, whether about financial, familial, relationship or employment matters or even through diminishing inclement and tempestuous weather. This holy place was preserved from the infamous Peshtigo fire of 1871, when many of the faithful gathered here with Adele and prayed through the intercession of Our Lady of Good Help, with the result that the fire that devastated everything in its wake in this entire area stopped when it reached the parameters of the Shrine. There is clear testimony to the upright character of Adele Brisé, her devotion to Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her unwavering commitment to the mission Mary entrusted to her. Moreover, the uninterrupted history of faith and devotion testifies to the spiritual fruits bestowed upon the pilgrims to the Shrine."

The approval, falling on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (in a country that was consecrated to the Immaculate Conception), also came at a time when another recently approved apparition, Kibeho in Rwanda (Africa) has been gaining steam as a place of pilgrimage. The two -- 7,765 miles apart -- have intriguing similarities.

Both are the first approved apparitions on their respective continents (excepting Central America).

Both have connections to Belgium (Adele was from there, and Belgium ruled over Rwanda for decades, remaining a predominant foreign influence).

Both foresaw chastisement: Robinsonville the fire, Kibeho a horrid genocide which occurred there. And both apparition sites were proximate to the subsequent chastisements, as fire swept all around but did not touch the Wisconsin shrine, while Kibeho is within a quarter mile of a great slaughter that occurred during the Rwandan war in 1996. At Kibeho, fire is mentioned as playing some kind of role in a future event.

Are both of these apparitions final graces whereby the Blessed Mother is offering her help one more time, before our nation faces a disaster as Wisconsin once faced fire, but (as in Rwanda) on a larger scale?

For now, we hover on this thought: North America (north of Guadalupe) finally has an approved apparition!

[Text of decree, 'Basic information']

[Directions to shrine]

[See also: Shrines rise at African apparition site]

[See too: Miracles abound at Wisconsin apparition site and Witness to approval: come home to holy ground]

[Light a candle at Wisconsin shrine]

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[resources: [resources: Our Lady of KibehoA Visit from Heaven and The Final Hour]]

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