Apparitions strengthen and confirm existing faith
Being a cradle Catholic, Mary Czyz always felt a special connection to Jesus' mother.
Now, that feeling is even stronger.
Czyz and her husband, Jim, fulfilled a lifetime dream last year on a Catholic Voice pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, and Fatima, Portugal, where Mary appeared in 1858 and 1917, respectively.
"I was so excited because I thought, 'I get to see Fatima and Lourdes,'" she said. "All my life I would hear about those apparitions, so it was something I had always wanted to see."
As a young girl growing up Catholic, Czyz said she had the same love for Mary that many girls have growing up. The fact she shared the name Mary also gave her an especially close feeling.
Since visiting Lourdes and Fatima, Czyz has become more devout, including praying the rosary more often.
"You really come away knowing you do need to change your life and that it is real," she said. "The experience makes you realize that you can go to [Mary] with your problems."
Father Dan Kampschneider, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Omaha, said many people visit Lourdes with a desire to be physically or spiritually renewed.
"I would say almost everything can be healed in some form when people come to a Marian shrine like Lourdes," Father Kampschneider said. "There can be a healing of their body, their mind, or most importantly, their souls."
For Father Kampschneider, who has visited Lourdes twice since 1995, standing in front of the water that flows from Lourdes strongly connected him to St. Bernadette and Mary.
"There is a peace at Lourdes and other Marian shrines which highlights a sense of the presence of Mary with her children of the church," he said.
While the apparitions at Lourdes and Fatima and many others are widely known and accepted by the church, there isn't a formal approval process, Father Ryan Lewis, a canon lawyer for the Archdiocese of Omaha and pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Omaha, told the Catholic Voice.
"The pope has visited Lourdes and Fatima and that's a way he's put his stamp of approval on them," he said. "But there are others where the Vatican hasn't said one way or the other ... (such as Medjugorje)."
The church, he said, trusts the people of God to have a sense for whether the apparitions are truly divine in their origin, he said.
"The church doesn't just jump every time someone claims they are having an apparition because there are a lot of people claiming to have them," he said.
But the church has to get involved when apparitions begin to create a stir among the faithful, Father Lewis said.
The investigation starts at the local level with the bishop of the diocese where the apparition has taken place and, if necessary, will continue through various levels to the Vatican.
Criteria for investigating an apparition include a medical and psychological examination of the person who claimed to receive the apparitions; and a review of the content of the apparition.
"If, in the apparition, Mary is saying all kinds of off the wall things that don't go along with our faith, then that's a pretty good indication that you don't have an authentic revelation," he said.
Father Lewis said the point of the apparition isn't to add or complete anything about Christ's revelation to the faithful but rather strengthen and confirm the one true faith as it already exists.
Apparitions can help people see how the faith is active, present and relevant in the contemporary world, Father Lewis said. They are reminders that faith is timeless and ever new - just as Christ is.
"Mary, in Scripture, always led everyone right to her son," Father Lewis said. "And the church recognizes that Mary, in the apparitions, is leading people to a deeper faith, to her son."