Review: God-Sent : A History of the Accredited Apparitions of Mary

God-Sent : A History of the Accredited Apparitions of Mary by Roy Abraham Varghese, Price: $39.95, Hardcover: 228 pages, Publisher: Crossroad/Herder & Herder; August 2000 – ISBN: 0824518438. Reviewed by Donal Anthony Foley.

God-Sent : A History of the Accredited Apparitions of Mary, has some useful points in its favor, but ultimately, it must be said to be unsatisfactory, not least because of the inclusion of some alleged apparitions under the heading “accredited,” and this is particularly the case with Medjugorje. One gets the impression that the author is anxious to hurry on to some of the more questionable modern Marian “events” rather than linger over those apparitions which have received the fullest support of the Church.

This book reminded me of a certain Protestant “history” of Christianity, which paid lip-service to figures like St Augustine, and some other Catholic pre-Reformation theologians, whereas the real interest was in figures like Luther and Calvin, and some of their less well-known successors—of the great Catholic thinkers of the post-Reformation era, there was hardly a mention.

The predominant mindset of this book, then, is that while apparitions like Lourdes and Fatima are all very well, we are now in the age of Medjugorje and Amsterdam, and similar alleged apparitions, and that these represent the continuation and fulfilment of the earlier apparitions. But, of course, it is possible to take a completely different view of this, and see, for the most part, that the majority of these alleged apparitions are very suspect, when compared with the major approved apparitions, and that they may well be nothing more than products of the human imagination, or hallucinations, or even as ultimately due to the devil.

However, the introductory chapters, which deal with the history and theology of apparitions, are quite well done, and contain some useful information, although there are a few not-too-serious errors. The book is also useful in that it deals with approved apparitions which normally do not get much attention, such as La Vang in Vietnam, and Vailankanni in India. Another good point is that Varghese does exclude clearly false events, such as those which took place at Necedah and Bayside.

But the uncritical tendency to “accredit” quite suspect apparitions becomes apparent as soon as Varghese moves on to deal with the alleged apparitions at Amsterdam, involving Ida Peerdeman, as well as other lesser known events. This results in “messages” from approved apparitions being placed in the same category as ones from unapproved ones such as Medjugorje, a process which can only lead to confusion. The author takes it as read that Medjugorje will eventually be approved by the Church, but this seems to be rather presumptuous in the light of the many criticisms and concerns that have been voiced about that particular “shrine.”

There are some quite questionable claims made about Medjugorje, too, such that it has “caused more conversions than any other apparition in history with the exception of Guadalupe.” (p. 40) More than Lourdes, a shrine which has been attracting people since 1858, or Fatima, which was responsible for the “conversion” of Portugal back to the faith?

Much is also made of the “twenty million” pilgrims who have visited the shrine since 1981, but in the same period, given that Lourdes and Fatima both attract something like 5 million pilgrims each annually, they will both have seen something like five times as many pilgrims as Medjugorje. It is actually very difficult to gauge lasting conversions, and a serious study needs to be made of the real effects of Medjugorje. What about all the people who have had negative experiences, or the vast majority for whom it is nothing more than just another place of pilgrimage, which has had no lasting effect on their lives whatsoever?

Having said all that, clearly a good number of people have been affected positively, but as for exact numbers, and claims of great waves of converts, it is apparent that any genuine judgement on this must await the future, when all the “fruits” of Medjugorje, both good and bad, have been fully ascertained, and when the enthusiasm of the moment has died down. A different story will probably emerge then, and this is to say nothing of the fact that Medjugorje, and all these other alleged events, have been a huge distraction from the work of promoting the message of Fatima.

There is also some “wishful thinking” in trying to link Fatima to these alleged apparitions, in, for example, the claim that the Fatima message, too, speaks of a “final chastisement from Heaven,” (pp. 55, 57), this being understood in the “Akita” sense of “fire from heaven.” But actually there is nothing explicit in the Fatima message about such a heavenly chastisement, and rather the emphasis is on the threatened punishments of “war, famine, and persecutions fo the Church,” that is on punishments essentially due to human activities.What does seem clear is that in the use of the word “annihilate” in the second part of the secret, Our Lady was not apparently implying the meaning, “annihilate with some sort of heavenly chastisement.”

This word—’aniquiladas’ in the original Portuguese—can also carry the meaning of political “destruction,” that is of a country being wiped off the map politically, as happened during the time of Communism in regard to the Baltic States. Of course, it could also refer to something like a future nuclear war, but the main point is that the idea of a “heavenly chastisement” is definitely not explicitly found in the message of Fatima, and it is misleading to claim that it is.

The next section of the book, following a series of colour photographs, is actually a quite useful series of summaries of the events surrounding the various apparitions, and their essential “messages,” starting with Saragossa in Spain, in 40 AD, and moving through the major historical Marian apparitions up till Banneux in the 1930s, and then on through the more controversial modern ones. And at least as far as the latter are concerned, this approach does allow the reader to make up their own mind as to how believable these messages really are. I think any sensible person reading some of these accounts would have to agree that some of them strain credulity to breaking point—and beyond.

Amsterdam stands out in this respect, given the title it proposes for the Blessed Virgin, that is of the Lady “who once was Mary,” amongst other difficulties. It is also regrettable that the fact that the Amsterdam “apparitions” were effectively condemned by the original bishop, a decision backed up the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the time, and during the seventies, is not brought out.

God-Sent : A History of the Accredited Apparitions of Mary, finishes with a series of useful appendices, which include a short interview with Cardinal Ratzinger, and as previously mentioned, although it has some good points, and the author is well meaning, the reader who wants a truly Catholic overview of Marian apparitions, needs to look elsewhere. In fact, it is hard to think of a suitable book in English, and the only volumes that are really available are in French. The lack of an index is also a drawback, especially in a book which retails for $39.95.

To sum up, the main problem with this book is the almost indiscriminate mixing of true and very questionable apparitions, and like the Protestant theology book mentioned above, what Varghese’s analogous approach does is give us a false view of the Marian apparitions in history, and regrettably, this seems to be the predominating view now as regards these important events.

As Our Lady said at Fatima, “In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph,” but it seems that before that triumph can take place, some of the clutter from all these alleged apparitions will have to be cleared away in order that that message of Fatima can shine out with all its power and beauty.