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National Geographic: How the Virgin Mary Became the World’s Most Powerful Woman

1. dec. 2015

Researcher Michael O'Neill relays some fascinating facts about Virgin Mary apparitions. EXPLORER: THE CULT OF MARY AIRS SUNDAY DECEMBER 13 at 8/7c.

Maureen Orth, National Geographic, skriver bl.a.:

Mary barely speaks in the New Testament, but her image and legacy are found and celebrated around the world.

MICHAEL O’NEILL, 39, a Stanford University graduate in mechanical engineering and product design, is the Virgin Mary’s big data numbers cruncher. On his website,, he has codified every known apparition of Mary back to A.D. 40. Systematic investigation and documentation of supernatural occurrences began with the Council of Trent, the Catholic Church’s ecumenical reaction to the Reformation, more than 450 years ago. Of the 2,000 apparitions reported since then, Miracle Hunter cites a mere 28 as approved by local bishops, who are the first to decide whether “seers” seem plausible. Sixteen of those have been recognized by the Vatican.

O’Neill, in his newly published book, Exploring the Miraculous, details the Vatican’s painstaking process when deciding whether to endorse an apparition as miraculous—“truly extraordinary.” The “authenticity” and mental stability of the seer are prime, and anyone suspected of trying to gain fame or riches from contact with the Virgin Mary is ignored or condemned.

Medjugorje is one of some two dozen sites in wait-and-see mode for Vatican approval. The local bishops with authority over Medjugorje have never given credence to the apparitions and have been at odds with the Franciscan priests who run the parish and are staunch believers. To resolve the impasse, a Vatican commission was appointed. It concluded its work in 2014.

The Vatican would never approve an alleged apparition whose message contradicted church teachings, and the faithful aren’t required to believe in apparitions. Many, including priests, do not. “What is from Mary versus what is captured and interpreted by the seer is hard to distinguish,” says Father Johann Roten, director of research and special projects at the University of Dayton’s Marian Library, with more than a hundred thousand volumes on Mary. Ultimately the decision is based on faith

“Miracles transcend physical nature and physical laws,” says Robert Spitzer, a Jesuit priest who heads the Magis Center in California, which according to its website is dedicated to explaining faith, physics, and philosophy. As Spitzer says, “Science looks for physical laws in nature, so you’re up against a paradox. Can you get a scientific test for miracles? No. Science will only test for physical laws or physical results.”

Nonetheless, over the years, as part of the church’s investigative process, seers have been subjected to batteries of tests. There have been attempts to get the visionaries in Medjugorje to blink or react to loud noises while they experience apparitions. In 2001 the peer-reviewed Journal of Scientific Exploration reported on the visionaries’ “partial and variable disconnection from the outside world at the time of the apparitional experience.” The extreme sound and light sensations traveled normally to their brains, but “the cerebral cortex does not perceive the transmission of the auditory and visual neuronal stimuli.” So far, science has no explanation.

In the medical profession what you and I might call a miracle is often referred to as “spontaneous remission” or “regression to mean.” Frank McGovern, the Boston urologic surgeon who had done all he could for Arthur Boyle, told me that the cancer’s virtual disappearance was a “rare” but statistically possible happening. But, he added, “I also believe there are times in human life when we are way beyond what we ever expect.”

Did the intense heat Boyle experienced when Vicka Ivankovic-Mijatovic held his head in her hand play a part in his healing? According to the 2006 book Hyperthermia in Cancer Treatment: A Primer, “Spontaneous regression of some cancers has been demonstrated to be associated [with] the induction of fever and activation of immunity.”

Boyle said that although he continued his tests after his return from Medjugorje, “it was faith that enabled me to get into a state of peace where my immune system rebooted itself and killed the cancer—that was all done through God.”

Tune in Sunday, December 13, to National Geographic Channel’s Explorer series episode The Cult of Mary.

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In 1981, six children claimed to experience visions of the Virgin Mary. It launched a following that continues today and has led some of the faithful to extremes. Explorer: The Cult of Mary premieres Sunday December 13 at 8/7c.

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Explorer examines the global phenomenon of the “cult” of Mary. The episode opens a window into the many ways devotees venerate the Virgin Mary. From a small community in Alabama to thousands of people gathering in Mexico, Mary draws millions of people to shrines and sustains religious tourism that’s estimated to be worth billions of dollars a year. The film is a journey into the heart of modern-day Mary devotion around the world.