Skip to comments.Pilgrims Flock to Site of Alleged German Apparition
Posted on 04/27/2002 11:11:50 AM PDT by history_matters
SIEVERNICH. More and more visitors are coming to the village church of St. John the Baptist in Sievernich. Not waves of pilgrims yet, but in Sievernich, a district of Vettweiß in Voreifel near Bonn, the influx of visitors is increasing. The village has 460 residents, about 360 of whom are Roman Catholic.
Like other visitors, I cross the churchyard where the gravel between the graves crunches beneath my feet as I search for the entrance. My eyes wander through the church.
Just past the door on the left stands a Fatima Madonna. Candles lit by earlier visitors burn in front of it. I study the walls, looking to see what I can find.
The apparition is supposed to have occurred to the left of the main altar, but all I can see is a church window that has no picture and through which gray-colorful light is filtered. The small church that holds well more than 150 is light and friendly, carefully cleaned and lovingly taken care of. But I cannot find anything unusual.
And yet there has to be something special here. For some time now, hundreds of people have been gathering here on Mondays for the meetings of the Marian prayer group, Blue Prayer Oasis.
There is talk of miracle healings and visions of the Virgin Mary, who is said to dictate messages to a 35-year-old visionary named Manuela.
Word spread quickly among the wide circle of those who venerate the Virgin. Well more than 1,000 visitors and worshipers were present at the last prayer meeting, but no one dares to predict how many will turn up at the next one on May 13, the highest Marian holiday. It is also the anniversary of the visions at Fatima and the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in 1981. That alone is reason enough to seek out a place where past and present, and the real and apparent worlds meet.
Father Heribert Kleemann, who celebrates his 52nd birthday this week, plays down the situation. Nothing unusual happens, he says, and there is nothing wrong with people gathering to pray. But nor does the clergyman think it anything special if heaven opens up a crack, and this and the other world touch. After all, as a priest, he is an interface between the earthly and divine worlds.
Father Kleemann has been the priest in Sievernich for 18 years. When celebrating Mass, he follows the liturgy strictly. He has no patience with subjectivism in the ritual. He is a firm adherent of the Pope and the church who does not think much of the many committees, councils and votes. He also venerates the Virgin Mary, whom he regards as a role model for the church. "Cum Petro, per Mariam, ad Jesum" ("With Peter through Mary and Jesus") is his motto.
It hardly seems coincidental that it was to Father Kleemann that Manuela came two years ago with reports of her visions and to ask for a room for her prayer group. She had been sent to Sievernich, she said. Father Kleemann noticed even then that Manuela, who made an "absolutely credible" impression, obviously had a special relationship with the other world. Such things are perfectly possible.
The messages received by Manuela were not erroneous and did not violate the church's teachings. Moreover, they broadly corresponded to his own vision of the church.
As it is perfectly appropriate for Christians to meet for prayer, Father Kleemann invited the group to Sievernich. Every Monday evening, Mass is celebrated, and before that, at 5 p.m., the rosary is said. After the Mass, Father Kleemann says a prayer for healing in accordance with the rites of the church. That is nothing more than a prayer for blessing with a request for healing.
In the beginning, the prayer group consisted of 10 to 15 members. Slowly but steadily, its number increased. What impressed Father Kleemann was the large number of young people between the ages of 16 and 30. Many of them made increasing demands on him to hear their confessions, a further indication to him that he was dealing with people who took their faith seriously. The date of the next meeting was announced at the one before and at each meeting, the number of those praying grew. Father Kleemann could no longer cope with the number of confessions he was asked to take and had to ask colleagues to help.
Nobody outside Sievernich and the odd Marian circle was aware what was going on, until the bishop's office in Aachen made an inquiry. Father Kleemann submitted his report and the diocese was satisfied. Only after the media discovered the "visions in Sievernich" and over 1,000 people besieged the small church did the private prayer meeting threaten to come apart.
The bishop sent a commissioner, Hermann-Josef Beckers, to Sievernich. He and Father Kleemann quickly reached an agreement -- possibly for different reasons -- not to make too much of the thing. Neither of them wants the prayer meeting to be commercialized. "We do not sell candles or even rosaries here," the priest says. And neither does the commissioner really see anything disreputable going on. Nobody is forced to attend the meetings or to believe.
The Virgin does not need to come to Sievernich to pass on her messages, Father Beckers says. Both men agree that the content of the messages is simple, their language characterized by a "beautiful simplicity," as Father Kleemann says. They deal with contemporary issues, war and peace, call upon believers to pray and to remain faithful to the Pope and the church. Before the messages are proclaimed, Father Kleemann receives a written copy that he sends to the bishop in Aachen where they are collected. There are no secret messages that have to be kept under lock and key, only "a sermon from heaven," as Father Kleemann says.
Earlier, Manuela, who avoids the media and who permits neither photographs nor sound recordings to be made of her, received her visions at her prayer meeting in the church. She fell into a trancelike state, which was apparent to those around her. Her eyes closed, her lips moved, and she wrote down the messages that she received.
Now, there is no room left for the "visionary" in the church. It is so packed that the doors to the confessional box cannot even be opened. Manuela follows the prayers from the sacristy, "so that she has room to write."
From there, she sees what cannot be seen -- the altar, and to the left, in a ray of light, the Virgin Mary. She identifies and describes people whom she has never met and who are seated in the nave of the church, which she cannot see into.
The phenomenon is not unknown. So far nobody has thought of declaring Sievernich to be a place of pilgrimage. But the pilgrims come anyway. After May 13, the messages will come to a temporary end until October, the rosary month. Why Mary will be taking a vacation in the summer is only one of the many unanswered questions about the visions in Sievernich.
Mary, Queen of All Saints, pray for us.
This has nothing to do with Blue Oyster Cult, right?
"Cum Petro, per Mariam, ad Jesum" ("With Peter through Mary and Jesus") is [Father Heribert Kleemann's] motto.Bad translation. Should be "With Peter, through Mary, to [or 'toward'] Jesus."
For the record, this should be translated "With Peter, through Mary, TO Jesus." Catholics believe that if you pray to Mary, she will direct you and your prayers toward her Son. Invariably her aim is to bring people to Jesus, not to keep them for herself. The wording of the motto brings that out.
Nothing about this apparition is like Medjugorje. But today all I really can say is that the news of this apparition brought me a sense of joy and was the sort of thing God would remind us of in light of the high school massacre in Germany and the sorrows of the Church elsewhere. May God bless this little village, their priest and Manuela.
God bless you Father Elijah wherever you are!
Hope I spelled it right.