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Colin wrote:

Hello all,

Thank you for your time.

I'm 35 years old and live in Seoul, Korea. I went to Catholic school pretty much my whole life, but didn't attend church until fifteen years after graduating from high school.

My question revolves around the apparitions of Mary in Egypt. While I believe these sightings are generally hidden from the public eye, the most famous of these sightings was in Zeitun, Egypt, in the 1960's. However, I recently found out that additional sightings occurred in Assiut in year 2000.

These are apparitions visible to several hundreds of thousands of people, over the span of several years at a time, and have, in some instances, been photographed and even filmed. I have seen footage of a white light appearing out of thin air, and the crowd responding with cries. It's almost hidden completely, even on the Internet, but it is there.

  • What has been bothersome about these apparitions is, first of all, why are they so hidden from view?
  • With everyone making such a huge deal about Medjugorje, which has all sorts of question marks attached, why has nothing been said about the recent sightings in Assiut?

Secondly, these apparitions, at least the two I mentioned above, have occurred on the rooftops of Coptic Churches, not Coptic Catholic, but just Coptic. Coptics do not recognize the Pope, and so by definition they are against Papal Infallibility, and by extension, against the Catholic Church, which I fully believe to be the True Church.

  • Why would Mary do this?
  • Why would she sow the seeds of confusion?

She could have just as easily appeared on the top of a mountain or even in mid-air. If I were a Coptic, I'd be quite convinced that these apparitions were a vindication of the Coptic way.

  • So what gives?

Colin

  { Why has there been no publicity on the Marian apparitions on non-Catholic Coptic rooftops? }

Richard replied:

Hi Colin,

Thanks for the question!

You said:
It's almost hidden completely, even on the Internet, but it is there.

  • What has been bothersome about these apparitions is, first of all, why are they so hidden from view?

The Catholic Church doesn't make official statements about reported miracles or supernatural messages among non-Catholics, unless Catholics are involved in some way. That said, it's normal that there is no official talk in the Church about the reported appearances of Our Lady. In this case though, the Coptic Catholic Patriarch has spoken about the Zeitun apparition, since Catholics were among the witnesses. It's mentioned here.

Just as an example, the limits of this rule appeared in the case of Vassula Ryden, who is Greek Orthodox; the reason CDF issued a warning about her messages was that she was being allowed to speak in Catholic churches.

You said:
Secondly, these apparitions, at least the two I mentioned above, have occurred on the rooftops of Coptic Churches, not Coptic Catholic, but just Coptic.

If you are asking why would Our Lady appear to non-Catholics, it's hard to know, because the Church generally doesn't judge these cases.  If some alleged message from Heaven were to contradict the Catholic Faith, the Church of course would not accept it, but as far as I know, the Church doesn't automatically rule out the possibility of a supernatural event among non-Catholics.

If a reported miracle claim appears among the Eastern non-Catholic Churches, including the Copts, we Catholics tend to be about as open to it as we would in the Catholic Church.   These separated Eastern Christians are very close to us in doctrine, they do possess the grace of all the seven Sacraments, and they have bishops who can make the appropriate evaluation and discernment.

You said:

  • With everyone making such a huge deal about Medjugorje, which has all sorts of question marks attached, why has nothing been said about the recent sightings in Assiut?

To start with, Medjugorje looked plausible. Herzegovina is a poor, but strongly Catholic country, where traditional piety lives. It was easy to present that to Catholics in Europe as a place to go on pilgrimage.

It was easy to get there too, since Catholics in Germany, Austria, Italy, and Poland could travel to Medjugorje by bus in a day. In fact, the nearby coast of Yugoslavia, even under the Communists, was already a popular tourist destination with some of the best beaches in Europe.

In contrast, the Egyptian events happened away from Europe, in an unfamiliar country where Christians are a harassed minority.

Several constituencies tried to benefit from Medjugorje and had an interest in promoting it:

  • The Franciscan friars in Herzegovina were in conflict with the Pope and the local bishops at the time, in a jurisdictional dispute going back decades. Through the Medjugorje messages, they seemed to get Our Lady to endorse the friars' resistance to authority.

  • Croatian nationalists in Herzegovina adopted the Medjugorje phenomenon as a sign of divine favor as they demanded independence.

  • Many leaders of the charismatic movement promoted the alleged apparition, because the pastor of St. James Church in Medjugorje, a charismatic, took the events as a fulfillment of a "prophecy", which evangelist Sr. Briege McKenna had spoken personally to him at an international conference.
    Before long, the "Gospa" (Our Lady) was even giving messages that endorsed the charismatic movement.

The international network of the charismatic movement, took this phenomenon to many Catholics who previously had little acquaintance with Marian apparitions.
For them, discovering a devotion to Our Lady became tied with their Medjugorje pilgrimage experience. This was "their" apparition; at the same time, it was met with skepticism among the generally conservative groups that promoted Marian devotion and apparitions before that time.

Hope this helps!

— RC

David Elya commented:

I didn't think there were any problems with the Medjugorje apparitions, since the Church doesn't officially recognize apparitions until they stop occurring. So even, true ones will not be sanctioned until they end, and I think they are still going on, even daily at times — which alone makes them questionable, I guess! Nevertheless, I didn't think there were any doctrinal problems with the messages.

  • Were there?

A whole lot of apparent healings and conversions are coming out of it. I guess I thought the "jury" was still out at this point, but if it's not doctrinally sound then it won't ever be approved.

Dave

If you want God to hear your prayers, hear the voice of the poor. If you wish God to anticipate your wants, provide those of the needy without waiting for them to ask you. Especially anticipate the needs of those who are ashamed to beg. To make them ask for alms is to make them buy it.

— St. Thomas of Villanova

Richard replied:

Hi, Dave!

There may be some doctrinal issues here or there about Medjugorje — a little bit of indifferentism in the messages — but that's not where most of the trouble lies.

To be brief about it, the most obvious issues are:

  • certain lies the seers told (they have acknowledged some)
  • the messages' endorsement of certain disobedient priests in the Franciscan-diocesan conflict, and
  • the banal, repetitive content of the messages.

This is all well documented in the books about Medjugorje by Michael Jones [second book]
and Ivo Sivric.

Church authorities can indeed give a judgment while the phenomenon is ongoing, if it is a negative judgment. The bishops' verdict is non constat de supernaturalitate (it has not been confirmed to be of supernatural origin). While this isn't the strongest negative judgment, it's negative enough, and in the old days when people respected their bishops more, that would have been enough to dissuade most Catholics. The CDF (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) has presented the Yugoslav bishops' judgment as authoritative and has indicated that pilgrimages, based on the idea that there are apparitions going on, are not permitted.

— RC

The documentation I've gathered on Medjugorje can be found here:

Richard followed-up later in September 2009:

Hi Dave,

To clarify about pilgrimages to Medjugorje: individual Catholic faithful cannot be forbidden to go to St. James Church in Medjugorje. It is, after all, a Catholic parish, and people can go there to attend Mass or for any other legitimate reason.

What is forbidden is making pilgrimages: that is, going there on the basis of claimed supernatural events. Many well-meaning people have never heard that the bishops of Yugoslavia have prohibited pilgrimages, and intended the ban to be so sweeping. Anyone needing clarification, especially priests, can and should write to the bishop of Mostar-Duvno (even by e-mail to biskupija@cbismo.hr !) for information.

Here are some resources:

This document cites statements and directives by the Yugoslav bishops and CDF officials. Note: the English version is a bit awkward in places.

A news item, as it appeared on my blog:

Former advisor to seers is laicized for suspect mysticism, heresy, disobedience, and sexual misconduct within the context of the Medjugorje phenomenon:

Books on the case:

The Medjugorje case is a complicated matter, with its own dramatic aspects, and the critical books about it are relatively few and unpublicized.

The best recent book on Medjugorje is by Donal Foley, and published by his small company Theotokos Books, which is in Britain. The book is pretty thorough about the history of the alleged apparition, including its problematic aspects.

I know it can't be easy to read a lot of skeptical material about something you might have been favorably disposed to, but I hope this helps!

— Richard

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