by MICHAEL OTTO
Two apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary that were claimed to have happened in New Zealand have been depicted in a recent National Geographic feature article.
The magazine’s November 8 feature, “How the Virgin Mary Became the World’s Most Powerful Woman”, by Maureen Orth, explored the worldwide phenomenon of devotion to the Mother of God.
This is in anticipation of a December 13 National Geographic Channel special, The Cult of Mary.
In the Orth feature, a graphic prepared by MiracleHunter.com showed hundreds of reported apparitions and their locations and Church status throughout the world.
On the MiracleHunter website, Michael O’Neill, a Stanford University graduate in mechanical engineering and product design, has codified every known apparition of Mary back to AD40. He recently published a book, Exploring the Miraculous.
The National Geographic article notes MiracleHunter data that of the 2000 Marian apparitions reported since the Council of Trent in the 16th century, only 28 have been approved by local bishops. And only 16 of those have been recognised by the Vatican.
NZ Catholic asked Mr O’Neill about the two New Zealand apparitions depicted in the National Geographic graphic, where they appear as two blue dots. (Blue dots mean “unconfirmed — apparitions are not supernatural, have not yet been investigated, or are under investigation”.)
Mr O’Neill replied that the two reported New Zealand apparitions happened in 1993 in Auckland and in 1995 near Taumarunui.
The 1993 apparition happened during the visit to New Zealand of Medjugorje seer Ivan Dragicevic.
According to a New Zealandia report at the time, Mr Dragicevic had a vision of Mary in St Patrick’s Cathedral, before Mass.
While this took place, hundreds of people reportedly said they saw the sun (with the shape of a host, Our Lady, the crucifix or a dove) pulsating and spinning, and changing colour.
Some people present reportedly said that some or all of the silver parts of their rosary beads had turned to gold. Mr Dragicevic also reportedly had a vision in the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Palmerston North the same year. Some people’s rosary beads were again reported to have changed colour.
The New Zealandia report quoted local church authorities as saying these revelations were private ones, not public ones.
The other New Zealand apparition on Mr O’Neill’s books is claimed to have happened at Manu Ariki Marae near Taumarunui in 1995.
According to the Miracles.mcn website, the vision of a lady in white happened for nearly three hours at the marae, before slowly fading away.
The community there at the time reportedly had beliefs loosely based on Christianity, but with an emphasis on the female side of God.
Given that the New Zealand-claimed events occurred relatively close together, NZ Catholic asked Mr O’Neill how often such “clusters” of apparitions occur.
He replied: “It is quite common for there to be some mimicry involved when apparition claims arise.
“Prime examples include Lourdes, where Fr Leonard Cros, an early chronicler of the apparitions to Bernadette, identified at least 30 other girls nearby who began to make similar claims.
“In Kibeho, Rwanda (1981), the site of the most recently occurring Vatican-recognised apparitions, apparitions were claimed by a few school children, but, after time, many in the school made claims to see the Blessed Mother.
“In 1932 and 1933, two Church-approved apparitions in Belgium occurred in Banneux and Beauraing. The following year 12 of the 15 documented worldwide claims of apparitions happened in Belgium.
“A more modern mimicry phenomena has happened with the apparitions claimed by six children in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Hercegovina. It has not been locals making the claims, but the the vast majority of those people in the United States who have claimed apparitions in the 1980s and 1990s have an affiliation with or have personally visited the site there.”
Given that New Zealand was undergoing significant economic and social upheaval in the early 1990s in the wake of Rogernomics and Ruth Richardson’s “Mother of All Budgets”, NZ Catholic asked Mr O’Neill about any correlation between reported apparitions and such troubled times.
He replied: “Throughout history, Marian apparitions have commonly followed times of great turmoil — war, plague and famine.
“The apparition at Knock in Ireland (positive results in two investigative commissions and visited by Pope John Paul II) is a prime example of this. The majority of the apparition cases in my book 365 Days with Mary are stories of the Virgin Mary coming at a difficult time to ease suffering and despair.”
According to the National Geographic article, to be worthy of belief and Church support, apparitions must be deemed miraculous with a high degree of certainty and in line with Church doctrine, and be found to have a positive impact.
According to a Catholic Herald (UK) story earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed that the Church never requires the faithful to believe in apparitions, not even those recognised by the Church.