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It may be timely in the wake of certain events to discuss alleged "secrets" from apparition sites. It is a topic about which there are many questions and few definitive answers. The aspect we'd like to look at right now: are there links between the secrets at various reputed apparitions?

While we don't have the room here for a full discussion, let's look at a few aspects.

The first secret associated with an apparition was arguably when Jesus told His apostles not to mention the appearance, on the mountain, of Moses and Elijah.

Mountains! Visions! And secrets.

Why secrets?

They seem to add gravity to an apparition, and perhaps what they contain is meant to be secret because it can change or is only meant only for the seer, who is then charged with praying about it. In the case of Jesus, it was probably to withhold full notions of Who He was until the fullness of time.

There have been secrets attached with phenomena of the Blessed Mother for centuries, but most notably since LaSalette, France, on September 19, 1846, and twelve years later on February 11, 1858 at Lourdes -- where Bernadette was given a secret she took to her grave (saying it was not even meant for the Pope, despite false versions of it that recently have circulated).

The most famous was the third secret of Fatima, which saw an angel with a flaming sword, ready to torch the earth.

And here we get to the crux of it:

For since LaSalette, and of course Fatima, the secrets had to do with punishments due to sin in the world.

It is hard to put a positive spin on that.

In 2 Thessalonians (1:8) it says "with flaming power He will inflict punishment on those who do not know God nor heed the good news of Our Lord Jesus."

This idea -- that chastisements are coming (but also that the light of Mary, bolstered by our prayers, can quench the fire) -- has been powerfully continued at Medjugorje in Bosnia-Hercegovina -- where there ten secrets have been given to three seers since 1981 and nine secrets to each of the remaining three (who will receive one more each).

It appears the two male seers were given more personal secrets or at least have indicated less emphasis on major world events while the four women have said they have been given secrets pertaining to events to come as "warnings to the world," the prediction of the great sign and miracle, messages to do with the Church, foresight pertaining to Medjugorje, and secrets about great chastisements to come. Note that both "warnings" and "chastisements" are plural.

No one knows how many "secrets" they share, including the visionaries themselves, who are not allowed to discuss them.

We do know that they share a message pertaining to the alleged future occurrence of a great sign and a miracle at the Hill of Apparitions because they all have mentioned it (what they can mention, that is).

What are we to make of all this?

How much can we accept?

What are the similarities?

At Lipa, in the Philippines, a seer named Teresita Castilla whose case has been reopened after rejection decades ago claimed she had secrets. "I'll tell you this much," she said to a journalist. "One is for China, not Russia (which was the focus of the Fatima secrets)."

In Venezuela mystic Maria Esperanza would not discuss certain things she had been "told" but she too mentioned the Orient (the rising up of the "yellow races").

There have been secrets to visionaries in Ireland -- including to a young man named Mark Treanor in Bessbrook who was not at liberty to speak of what Christ allegedly told him but whose experiences were at the same spot as a woman named Beulah Lynch who claimed she was shown a coming event involving a quake and a great flood from a roiled sea. "Very suddenly the road began to shake and vibrate very violently," she told me.

Another prominent seer there saw a "sign" that would come as a "warning" -- again hearkening to language at other places.

But here we see the puzzling features of reputed private revelations: in one case "sign" is differentiated from "warning," while in another where they seem to be part of the same event.

"At the end of the apparitions in the world, I will leave a great sign in this place and in all those where I have been," yet another seer, Pachi Talbott, said she was told by the Blessed Mother near Cuencha, Ecuador, in the Andes highlands, where she allegedly encountered the Virgin during the late 1980s (and where thousands saw aerial phenomena).

In 1988, during a trip to Guadalupe, Mexico, Pachi Talbott of Ecuador claimed to receive secrets while she and four other young women were on Tepeyac Hill. The messages seemed especially intense and included the prediction of a major chastisement which one of the women, whose name was Bernardita (and who like Pachi was a model) then saw in a dream. "Bernardita, you know a part of the sacred chastisement," Mary supposedly said in a message for Bernardita during an apparition to Pachi. "This is a sign. You, my beloved daughter, know already one of the ten sacred secrets. Do not talk about it until I ask you. My little soul, I grant you that one month before this circumstance happens you can notify all my children."

A fire that once erupted mysteriously at Medjugorje in 1981 and left no burn marks was described as "a forerunner of the great sign." That's in seer Vicka Ivankovic's third secret and reportedly she has been shown visions of it (a permanent sign on Apparition Hill) at least three times.

Vicka cried upon learning her ninth secret (on April 22, 1986).

Since then, she has received no further major secrets -- at least none we know of.

"Great sign" is precisely the terminology that was used at Fatima to describe the great Fatima sign (an unusual aurora borealis) of 1939, which presaged World War Two.

At Medjugorje, seer Jakov Colo once told an interviewer it will be "something that has never been on the earth before" -- which would differentiate it from the northern lights.

Father Rene Laurentin, who conducted many interviews with the visionaries, described it as a "final warning."

Medjugorje is difficult because the visionaries shun any discussion of the secrets, making it impossible often to even verify certain peripheral details. Vicka did once tell me that her secrets do not pertain to the anti-christ or the end of the world.

It was rumored that she told others the secrets would begin when belief in Medjugorje was almost extinguished  -- a claim that is disputed by others and seems less plausible now that interest in Medjugorje has surged due to the visit of a prominent cardinal who endorsed it (and is close to Benedict XVI).

There have been claims of secrets in the U.S. There have been alleged secrets elsewhere in Europe.

At Cuapa, Nicaragua -- in Central America, where apparitions to a young man, Bernardo Martinez, who later became a priest [right], were approved by the bishop -- there was no formal secret but stark warnings and careful discretion, even secrecy, at the onset of apparitions. Sometimes it is a bishop or priest who imposes the secrecy.

In southern Italy, at Manduria, a young girl named Deborah Marasco received alleged visits from Our Lady every 23rd of the month starting in 1992. The story is that she had a very rough time from her bishop and local priests -- as so often happens, sometimes with reason. 

Rumor is that in 1997 the Holy Father sent for Deborah and spent twenty minutes with her, then invited her to attend his private Mass, after which "he called the local bishop and ordered him to carry out a proper investigation of the apparitions."

The messages at Manduria -- alleged messages (there were statues bleeding from the eyes here, which often give one pause) -- refer primarily, it is said, to the future of the Papacy, the Vatican, and Italy. When Deborah returned to Manduria her prayer group asked if she had told the Pope what Our Lady had said. She replied 'No. He told me!'"

Or so it is claimed. When it comes to foreign seers and especially anything at the Vatican, verification is impossible -- though it is known that John Paul II had an affinity for seers and did privately receive Mirjana and Ukrainian Josyp Terelya, who said he saw Mary while serving time as a Catholic activist in the Soviet gulag.

How much is true? How much is linked?

One thing we know: seers at Medjugorje have wept while viewing events in their secrets, which the Blessed Mother still discusses with them, especially Mirjana, who now sees Mary once a month and then on her birthday. Another, Ivanka Ivankovic, reviews her secrets during an annual apparition. "There are some things that are good," she has said. "And some things that are bad."

Another said hers included "upheaval in a region of the world."

"People will tear their hair, brother will plead with brothers, they will curse their past lives without God," said one visionary. "They will repent, but it will be too late."

The Vatican was sent a memorandum on the general thrust on December 2, 1983.

Yet another message from Mary there: "Many pretend to see Jesus and the Mother of God, and to understand their words, but they are, in fact, lying. It is a very grave sin, and it is necessary to pray very much for them."

What is true? Which "messages" are not? Which simply fascinate?

For your discernment. We can sense this: something is coming. At the same time, we also know the world will definitely end for each of us upon death when more important than any earthly thing we enter the secrets of eternity.

[resources: The Final Hour and The Last Secret]

[Retreats: San Francisco retreat, February 27: spiritual healing, afterlife, prophecy secrets St. Augustine, Fl. retreat, March 6, and  St. Louis retreat, March 27]

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