The passage to the third millenium has increased a peculiar activity in the religious creed, that of the expectation of the end of the world by the conclusion of a cosmic cycle.
The actual or latent wars in given regions, the social and economical problems, the crisis of values and the sense of precariousness characterising many social groups, have increased a "millenarian" anxiety, which has influenced human behaviours, sometimes up to the point of spasm.
Nevertheless, it has also created extraordinary events in the field of phenomena related to religious mysticism.
I will talk of the latter, describing them with the detachment of an observer and without dealing with the primary causes generating them, therefore without discussing the theological, philosophical, or psycological inherent problematics.
Prophecies, visions, healings, phenomena related to sacred images are attributed by popular faith to the intervention of the supernatural in the natural flow of things, on the providential action of God in the history of mankind, divine `signs' to reconduct humanity on the righteous path and avoid the gigantic catastroph.
My research in the field of roman and, more recently, maronite catholicism in the East, the greek-orthodox and orthodox church in the Ukranian patriarchy in Kiev, strongly suggested that, during histrorical emergencies and during economical and social stress, `miracles' multiply and become more and more astounding: the `irrational' appears to take over the events with its mysterious laws.
FATIMA OR THE APOCALYPSE IN PILLS
For catholics, contemporary history was predicted, and elucidated in its escathologic meaning, by Madonna, appeared in 1917 in Fatima, a portoguese village, and in particular by the Secrets revealed to three young shepherds, Lucia Dos Santos, Francisco and Jacinta Marto.
Even if we have been brought to the third millenium without great traumas, during which at the Jubilee of year two thousand, on June 26 Pope John Paul II revealed Fatima's Third Secret, perplexities and fears continue to haunt the masses, so much so that they have full citizenship in the context of a certain religious consumism.
Let us go back to around eighty years ago.
Starting in 1914, first world war was happening, and later the old world was shaken by the triumph of the Bolshevic revolution that is taking over exactly in 1917.
In Fatima, only the echo of the world war was percieved, and even less in the Cova di Iria (Valley of Peace) where Lucia, 10 years old, Francisco, 9 years old, and Jacinta, 7 years old, led sheep. But on May 13 "something like lightning" scared them. Fearing a storm, they rapidly fetched the flock. But the "light" of a second "lightning" brought them to a stop.
Subsequently they reported : "Above us, we saw a Lady dressed in white, shining more than the sun, diffusing light clearer and more intense than a crystal glass full of water penetrated by the most intense sun rays.
"The "Lady" spoke, saying that she belonged to the "Sky" and asking if they wanted to offer themselves to God, accepting the suffering for the end of the war and peace in the world, reparation from sins and conversion of sinners.
The three young people answered yes. They had the vision of God in which they saw themselves "clearer than the reflection", as they reported, "in the best mirror". The "Lady" gave them an appointment for the day 13th of every month, for the forthcoming six months.
During the Apparition on July 13, Madonna revealed a Secret made of three parts. Lucia, who survived among the three shepherds, began revealing the secrets once whe became nun, many years later, by order of the bishop of Leiria.
From her writings, soon published, we could read the first two Secrets. In particular from the "Third memory" of August 31, 1941, we could read the first part of the revelation, regarding the vision of Hell; the second part instead contains the announcement of the end of the war and the beginning of a larger and worse war, of world-wide extension.
Many decades had to pass before the Third Secret became public, whose divulgation took place with solemn form, probably to compensate the masses from the long waiting. Written by nun Lucia on January 3 1944, put in a sealed envelope that was kept at first by the bishop of Leiria-Fatima, and subsequently on April 4,1957 given to the Vatican Secret Archive (Sant'Uffizio), the Third Secret had to become public in 1960, following the suggestions of nun Lucia, whereas its content would have been "mas claro", clearer.
On August 17, 1959, the sealed envelope was given to Pope John XXIII , who wrote in his journal that he wanted at first to read it in front of his confessor. Instead, the Secret was not subsequently revealed.
Pope Paul VI read it on March 27, 1965, and similarly did not publish it. Pope John Paul II asked for the envelope after the assassination attempt taken place on May 13, 1981, and he did it on July 18. In fact, the date of the assassination attempt coincides with the date of the first apparition of Madonna: the Polish Pope in many occasions has declared that a "maternal hand has guided to trajectory of thee bullet such that it didn't harm vital organs, allowing the "agonizing Pope" to stop "on the threshold of death".
Wojtyla was to give the bullet left in the jeep after the assassination attempt to the bishop of Leiria-Fatima, so that it could be kept in the Sanctuary. The bishop made the bullet part of the crown of the statue of Madonna in Fatima.
The Jubilee of the catholic world in year 2000 has had its acme, as said before, in Fatima on May 13, when Cardinal Angelo Sodano, State Secretary of His Holiness, at the end of the Eucharistic Celebration for the beatification of Jacinta and Francisco Marto, has announced the subsequent publication of the Secret, adding that it "constitutes a prophetic vision, comparable to the Holy Book, that does not describe in a photographic sence the details of the future events, but summarizes and condensates in the same frame facts that are extended on a range of time in an unspecified sequence and extension."
Consequently, as the Cardinal added, the key for reading it has to be necessarily symbolic.
Let us come to the text, which is short, although in the past, precisely on October 15, 1963, the German magazine Neues Europa, by Louis Emrich, had published a longer version which, in comparison with the actual, appeared somehow different but of similar substance.
We add that the text arrived to the director of the magazine thanks to diplomatic rumors, since it was sent by Vatican authorities to Washington, London and Moscow authorities, considering its content necessary for the forthcoming Convention on banishing nuclear experiments.
"After the two parts that I have already exposed, we have seen on the left side of Our lady, slightly above, an Angel with a sword of fire in his left hand sparkling flames that seemed that could set the world on fire; but they extinguished at contact with the splendour that Our Lady emanated from the right hand towards him; the Angel indicating the earth with the right hand, loudly uttered: Penitence, Penitence, Penitence!
And we saw an immense light that is God - something similar to what people see reflected in the mirror when they pass by - a Bishop dressed in white - we suspected he was the Pope other Bishops, Priests, religious men and women climbing a high mountain, on top of which there was a big Cross made of raw wood as if it was made of cork; the Pope, before getting there, went through a large city in ruins and trembling, in deep pain, he prayed for the souls of the deads that he met on his path; once on the top of the mountain, standing on his knees at the feet of the Cross he was assassinated by a group of soldiers who hit him several times with bullets and arrows and, one after another, Bishops, Priests, religious people and laymen died as well, men and women of various castes and positions.
Below the two branches of the Cross were two Angels, each with a crystal watering-can in their hands, in which they gathered the blood of martyrs and watered the souls who approached God."
About the symbolic interpretation, Ratzinger wrote: "As the places on earth are symbolically represented in the images of the mountain and the city, oriented towards the Cross, so the times are presented in a contracted way; in the visions we can recognize the past century as the century of martyrs, as the century of sufferings and persecutions of the Church, as the century of the world wars and of many local wars, that have filled the second half of the century and have shown new forms of cruelty".
Again, the Prefect of Congregations for the Doctrine of Faith adds: "The facts referred in the third part of the `Secret` of Fatima seem to belong to the past".
Moreover, "Those who waited for exciting apocalyptic revelations about the end of the worlds or about the future course of history, will be deluded".
But his comment has been criticized by others, not only by common believers, but also by scholars.
We don't have a long time here for a more detailed analysis of the text, therefore we will say synthetically that from the text an apposite interpretation emerges: that the premonition regards future times, more awful than those that witnessed two world wars.
Also the event of the assassination attempt made to the Pope by the turkish Ali Agca, that the Pope himself has interpreted along the Fatima prophecy, does not correspond exactly to the prophecy, where it is told of a Pope who walks along the ruins of a city in the middle of a real devastation that struck the Church and humanity, until he himself is shot dead, not only of bullets, but by any weapon, alluding to a general warlike situation.
The legendary Third Secret of Fatima does not stop after its revelation since, beyond its legend, it probably is the eternal fear of the common soul.
IN LEBANON, PLAGUES OF PEACE TO EXORCIZE THE WAR
In the Middle East devastated by wars, the relation with God represents a primary need that manifests itself in extraordinary phenomena, that I wish to define unique in the world.
It was not easy for me to reach with the cameras of the italian TV Mediaset, programme Miracles, the lost villages on the Lebanese mountains, where the memory of a bloody civil war persists, and the tradition of hermits and monks is still alive.
Nation of 16 religious confessions, Lebanon has its main component in Maronite Catholicism.
Maronite catholics are Raymond Nader, Nouhad Chami and Hilane Abi-Khalil who, among other persons, I have met, witnessing how their mystical experience has origin from the sufferings for the horrors of the past, lived by themselves on their skin.
Raymond Nader is today 40 years old, he is married and father of three children. During the Lebanese war he fought as an official in the christian army.
Every day he saw tens of friends dying. This profound trauma explains the subsequent evolution in his life. After the war, he was employed as an engineer in a multinational.
Later on he had to go back to his home land, in the devastated Beirut that was slowly reviving.
He became manager in a Swedish company. When he was 33, he abandoned his profession. The choice for his lifestyle, shared by his wife, was the religious mission. "My granfather was a priest and he told me that his job was to pray".
From September 1 until Christmas, every evening Raymond climbed a mountain, in the San Charbel Hermitage, to read the Gospels, pray and meditate. He spend the whole night in this way.
One day, on November 10, 1994, something happened. "After around an hour I was surprised by a warm breeze, that became a strong and hot wind", he told me, "I thought that some oil stations were burning in Irak.
I observed that the candle lights didn't move. I feared to get some sort of allucination, tried to touch the candlelights with my hands but I fainted. I found myself in a different world; I had fallen in an ocean of light. It was the light of a pure crystal that, beyond its power, didn't burn. I felt the presence of someone, from whom a love, billions of times bigger than human love, was emanated.
Afterwards, the light disappeared and I found myself in front of the hermitage: I was shivering. Four hours had passed". Raymond fetched his things and went towards his car; meanwhile he felt something hot on his left harm.
In the car lights he noticed five footprints on his harm, with blood and water coming out, but feeling no pain.
Those fingers, whose origin cannot be ascribed to thermal, electrical, or chemical burning, are perfectly visible still today and do not produce any inflamation or pain.
Raymond explains that they could belong to the hand of San Charbel, and therefore he continues his mission by enlarging every day the size of his praying circles, named Circles of San Charbel's Family.
Nouhad Chami is a mother of twelve children, born in Jbeil 64 years ago. In 1993 she suffered from left hemiplegy, with leg, hand and tongue paralized.
Once in Sainte Martine Jbeil's hospital, after medical tests she was found an obstruction to cervical blood vessels. "In your case, there is no known cure that can heal you", was the physicians' response.
Later on, her elder son Saad went to Annaya Sanctuary to take benedicted oil and sand from San Charbel's grave.
When the woman was treated with them, she experienced ants on her paralized hand and leg. Some days later, the miracle happened, and Chami herself reported : "At 11 o'clock at night I saw in a dream a luminous ray appearing in my room e two monks coming towards my bed : San Charbel and San Marone.
The first monk put his hand on my neck and said ' I have come to operate your illness'. In that moment I felt an atrocious pain. San Marone took a glass of water from the table and ordered : `Drink!'. I answered that I could not drink without a straw.
He insisted and water dropped in my throat. They ordered to walk out of bed. I obeyed : I went to the bathroom on my own legs and discovered, by looking in the mirror, that on my neck I had two scars, the same I have today, one to the left and one to the right side, each around twelve centimetres long". Also, the sutures were visible, three on the right and two on the left side.
Even more astounding was the case of Hilan Abi-Khallil, born February 1, 1951, in Baskinta, a mountain village in the land around Beirut.
On may 1996, while she was binding together tobacco leaves, she feld a strong pain at her left hand, where she had been operated of cysts when she was a teenager.
In the following days San Charbel appeared and invited her to pray for love among people. He touched her painful hand, and there pure incense crystals began to pour out, a phenomenon that is lasting to date.
Incense was produced under eyes of impartial observers and myself I witnessed it pouring out of boiling flesh as soft matter, and rapidly solidifying. Numerous physicians have observed the phenomenon : Hilani has been put under strict medical observation, her hand X-rayed, operated several times, in Beirut and Biblos, and surgeons have alsways seen the reproduction of incense crystals, even after the wound was sawn, and even below the bandage.
The phenomenon has been studied in different unisersities, as in the American and Jesuit universities in Beirut.
ORTHODOX ICONS THAT CRY WITH PEOPLE FOR THE PEOPLE
The icon in the orthodox church is not a purely artistic product, but it is altogether a supernatural and a living product, and this explains why believers and icons vibrate together, sharing the same pains and partecipating in the same miracles.
In Damascus, Syria, in the city area of Soufanieh, for twenty years a miraculous icon has been worshipped. For a long time the icon has been pouring oil in the house of Maria Kourbet Al-Akhrasm, called Myrna, of greek-catholic father and greek-orthodox mother. Myrna has experienced visions of Madonna and she is considered an authentic mystic.
Recently, I have entered with cameras of the italian TV also in the greek sanctuaries of Oropos and Eghina, dedicated to the neo-saints San Porfirio and San Nettario respectively.
There, I have reported on numerous events of healings due to the symbiosis between the believers, the icon and the Saint, the latter being either alive or dead.
In Ukrain, the TV cameras in Lavra in the patriarchy of Moscow, in different churches (S. Wladimir, Vredenskij, S. Nicholas) and in the monasteries of Kiev and surrounding region, I have observed that the phenomenon of lacrymation, transunding of perfumed oil (named mirro), emanation of incense scent and other essences is today very popular.
In the apartment of Ludmilla Bernadskaja, in Kiev, the images of the recently caninized czar Nicholas II and of the imperial family, transude oil.
The painter Stefan Arpad Magyan, who was in the helicopter flying above the Chernobyl nuclear plan the day after the catastroph, is the only survivor of those who were on that helicopter and similar means: he affirms that he survived, despite his body is completely deformed by radiations, due to an icon of Mary that he casually, or miraculously, came across.
My research in the field has induced myself to reflect on the fact that there exists a religious perception, born and grown in order to revive the religious institution, and manifesting whenever the circumstances require it and the ecclesiastic structure is somehow adequate to contain the requests of people and of their faith.
We are not in presence of a spiritual product that originates from the need to consume it, although it can be used in such sense, in the form of search for the personal and collective gratification, and of speculation by others.
The Spiritual Supermarket: Religious Pluralism in the 21st Century
April 19-22, 2001
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