The Silent Call of Our Lady
Spectacular apparitions of Mary that occurred nearly a century apart had strikingly similar characteristics—primarily silence and light. They conveyed messages of great import for people at the time and for humanity today. Some readers may recall learning about the second appearances when they took place. They happened a little more than fifty years ago in an area that was experiencing great strife and where tensions remain high in the twenty-first century. This reflection completes my year-long series about Marian apparitions.
Something luminous shone on the gable of the parish church in the village of Knock in County Mayo, Ireland. It was about 7:30 pm on August 21, 1879. Nearby, fifteen-year-old Margaret Beirne gave it nothing but a glance. After tending to an ill parishioner, Margaret met up with Mary McLoughlin, a housekeeper for the parish priest. She walked with the girl back to the church to lock up.
As they got closer to the church, they witnessed three motionless figures apparently standing in place, surrounded by a brilliant light. Amazed, they believed the figures to be the Virgin Mary and possibly St. Joseph and John the evangelist. The Blessed Virgin’s eyes were lifted toward heaven, and her arms were raised in prayer and intercession. The observers also viewed an altar and a cross, in front of which stood a young lamb. Eventually, a group of about fifteen people gathered to see the same sight.
It was reported to have been raining, yet people came and went, gazing at the figures for nearly two hours. The apparition, which came to be known as Our Lady of Knock, was silent. No request or instruction was given in any form to anyone. The local priest refused to go see what was happening, assuming the claims young Margaret brought to him were false or exaggerated.
Another mass Marian apparition with the key elements of silence and light appeared repeatedly over a period of a couple of years in Zeitoun, a district in Cairo, Egypt. On April 2, 1968, a pair of Muslim workmen from the public transport system, located across from the Coptic Church of St. Mary, were the first to witness the phenomenon. A woman dressed in white who appeared to be kneeling beside the cross at the top of the dome emerged on the roof of the church. The men said the figure, who came to be known as Our Lady of Zeitoun, rose to her feet as a luminous being dressed in shimmering robes of light. Suddenly an unexpected movement on the middle dome attracted the peaceful attention of people on the street.
She appeared young and of great beauty, moving about on the dome very slowly, holding what appeared to be an olive branch—a well-known symbol of peace—in her hand. The church custodian suggested the figure was the Virgin Mary. She remained silent, just as she had in Knock.
Ecumenism is another key element in this vision, which occurred in a nation where the primary religion was and remains Islam. At the time of the Marian appearances, few Christians lived in Egypt.
These extraordinary apparitions of Mary are significant for everyone. Recall the passage in Revelation that describes the woman dressed in the glow of the sun, her head crowned with twelve stars, and the moon under her feet. In both apparitions recounted here, there is much to unpack, but a vital takeaway is in the action of the people who witnessed it. Like the mysterious figures, those who gazed were at peace. We are called to a spirit of ecumenism and to contemplate these visions of our Lady in a manner similar to those present in Revelation: with silence, reverence, and faith. Uttering not a sound, Mary is calling us.