Marian Apparitions Meet Ancient Need

National Catholic Reporter, September 6, 1996 | Go to article overview

Marian Apparitions Meet Ancient Need


The Vatican recently reaffirmed an earlier statement forbidding "official" pilgrimages to the site of Marian apparitions in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina. The statement cited lack of proof that supernatural apparitions had occurred.

One wonders if the statement was based solely on fact: no celestial visions, no spinning sun, no rosaries turning gold. It's a pity the Vatican didn't probe deeper. One question remains unanswered: What hole in the heart drives people to come, at great personal expense and inconvenience, to out-of-the-way places where statues of Mary weep and heavenly images appear to overlay bleary photos?

There's always the political side to be sure. For that reason, Medjugorje may not be a useful place to begin a probe of these so-called apparitions that appear to be popping up all over. Even convinced Medjugorje believers like Sr. Lucy Rooney and Fr. Robert Faricy (Medjugorje Up Close) admit to conflicts caused by parishes being restructured and the expulsion of two Franciscans. Judging from what the visionaries said, even the apparition knew about the conflict and came down on the side of the Franciscans!

But in a deeper sense, Medjugorje reflects the deep fears of a people suffering the horrors of civil strife. The apparition appeared as a young Croatian woman of the region with black hair, blue eyes and pink cheeks. She appeared to the Croats, a people suffering and in near despair under the heavy hand of Serbian domination.

Marian apparitions reflect an underlying need for someone who is supportive and comforting -- a female counterpart to a male god. The need grew out of the Old Testament when goddesses were ejected from Jewish beliefs because they might reflect the goddesses of the Canaanite religion, according to Rosemary Radford Ruether in Mary: the Feminine Face of the Church. In the Christian era, the church condemned Gnosticism partially because of its cosmic goddess who was committed to the world's redemption.

As a way of countering this devotion, ancient goddess sites became a favorite place to erect churches and shrines devoted to Mary. At Guadalupe, writes Carol Frances Jegen in Mary According to Women, Mary replaced Tonantzin, the ancient fertility goddess of the Aztecs. …

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