Marian Apparitions: Authenticity Matters

Last month, we spoke with Michael O'Neill, the founder of, about how he decided to devote his life to studying Marian apparitions. This month, we continue our conversation with him to learn more about what it takes for the Church to authenticate a reported apparition.

Do the apparitions in the early 1980s in Kibeho, Rwanda, where the Marian Fathers minister, have Vatican authentication?
Yes, the Vatican republished the letter from the local bishop when the original Kibeho apparition was approved. That was the first sign of Rome's recognition. In another instance, while talking to the bishops of Rwanda, Pope Francis encouraged them to draw close to Our Lady of Kibeho, reaffirming the authenticity of the apparition.

And the apparitions St. Faustina received as recorded in her Diary are also considered authentic by the Vatican?
Yes. The Church has made this clear in many ways, including the canonization of St. Faustina and the establishment of the Sunday after Easter as the Feast of Divine Mercy.

What factors indicate that an apparition is likely inauthentic?
There are a number of red flags the Church looks for: pursuit of financial gain - if the visionary is seeking fame or unnecessary attention; if there are doctrinal errors found in the messages attributed to God or to Mary (there's no such thing as Mary authentically appearing and saying things that contradict Church teaching); failed psychological tests for the visionaries; and of course, if the facts simply don't add up.

Has the Vatican ever overruled a local bishop's judgment?
On only a couple of extremely rare occasions, there's been a bishop who has approved something but then the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith has come back and ruled against it. Take "Our Lady of Lipa" in the Philippines for example. In 1948, a Carmelite novice allegedly had visions of Mary. In 2015, the local bishop reversed a previous, negative judgment and recognized the visions as "worthy of belief." Then, within several months, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reversed this, re-establishing the phenomena as "not supernatural."

So why does Mary appear to the Church at times? What is the purpose of authentic Marian apparitions?
The point is to draw people to her Son. In many apparitions, she requests a church to be built, like Our Lady of Guadalupe asked of St. Juan Diego. When you look across the board at different apparitions, she always encourages people to pray. Some of her messages have very specific points of address - some are for the local community, some are for the nation, some are for the world. But in every apparition, her purpose is to bring people to Christ in a more powerful way.

Our interview with Michael O'Neill concludes next month. He will tell us how he has made an impact in secular media.

- Marc Massery

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