GOD ONLINE: Exploring media spirituality

Web sites, TV, films, books and the search for meaning.

Something about Mary

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For millions of people, Mary is more than a mere supporting player in Christmas pageants. Devotees, in fact, claim to have seen supernatural apparitions of Mary in Spain and Portugal, Japan and Korea, Egypt and Venezuela.

For the Festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Dec. 12, let’s take a look at Web sites that promote these appearances.

Catholic Online gives a typically crisp rendition of the Guadalupeapparition in 1531, to a Mexican Indian named Juan Diego. The story is remarkable for yielding an image of Mary on a cactus-cloth poncho — a picture still visible five centuries later. (See a picture of the original image at the right, from http://www.sancta.org.) It’s also unusual for being among the few apparitions that have gained official church approval.

Yet the many Marian Web sites, like this one and this one, cheerfully lump in the approved with the others. You’ll see not only accounts of the approved Our Lady of Lourdes and Fatima, but the unapproved Garabandal and Medjugorje.

You can even see videos of some apparitions, courtesy of Google Video. One link leads to GodWay, a Coptic Orthodox site.

GodWay has some of the lesser-known apparitions, including Naju, South Korea, and Zeitoun, Egypt. The Zeitoun section has a collection of fuzzy-looking photos purporting to show a woman robed in light, walking the rooftops of Egyptian churches.

Taken together, the reported sightings reveal some unexpected things. One is a quiet, gentle rebellion against the Catholic hierarchy. Even if the Church doesn’t approve an apparition, people flock to them anyway.

Another observation: For many Catholics, even Jesus isn’t enough. They seem to feel a need to see, not just believe.

Finally, some church thinkers are surprisingly indulgent about the apparitions. I once asked Eugene Kennedy, a Catholic psychologist, why people saw Mary so much. His answer: “Why are you surprised? The mother is one of the most powerful images we know.”

I was amazed. He artfully left undropped the other shoe: that people may be inspired by the apparitions, whether they’re real or not.

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Written by Jim Davis

December 13, 2008 at 5:14 am

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