11 May 2017
Seeing is believing
The experiences of child seers like Angela Volpini, the Italian girl who had visions of the Virgin Mary between the ages of seven and 16 – and went on to become an influential figure in the spirituality movement – belong to Europe’s past
Today, the apparition shrine at Fátima celebrates the 100th anniversary of the first of six visions that took place each month from May to October 1917.
Pope Francis will canonise the two visionaries beatified by Pope St John Paul II in 2000, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, both of whom died as children. The cause of the third visionary, the main narrator of the Fátima story, Sister Lúcia, who died in 2005 aged 98, is under consideration in Rome.
The canonisations indicate the impact that Fátima had on the life of the Church in the 20th century. Many later apparitions of the Virgin Mary reflect some of the features of the events at Fátima, with origins in a time of social change and political uncertainty, and the promise of great miracles and even the famous “sun dance” phenomenon. One such case is that of Casanova Staffora, an Apennine village in southern Lombardy. The visions there began nearly 70 years ago on 4 June 1947 to Angela Volpini, then a seven-year-old girl, now 76; I interviewed Volpini as part of the research for my book, Our Lady of the Nations: Apparitions of Mary in 20th Century Catholic Europe. These apparitions came at a time of acute uncertainty, when politicians from left and right were sparring over the leadership of post-war Italy. The events occurred at a site called Bocco, close to the village, and were attended by thousands of pilgrims as well as journalists.
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