It’s still hard to believe

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Brandon Gresham/Reporter Staff Writer

The idea of visions and apparitions has always been a hard pill for me to swallow.

As the son of a pastor in a non-denominational church, I was rarely presented with the idea of receiving a visit from a heavenly being.

But when I heard about the visit of Marija Lunetti to Shelby County this past week, I decided that it would be interesting to see what all the excitement was about.

My wife and I headed out to Sterrett via Highway 43 on Thursday night, the eve of what the members of the Caritas organization believe to be the Virgin Mary’s birthday (The Catholic church officially celebrates her birthday on Sept. 8).

Almost a mile before we even reached the entrance to the now famous field, we were greeted by lines of cars on both sides of the road. But more amazing than the number of cars were the license plates on some of the vehicles.

My wife was able to find car tags from Kansas and North Dakota, and I located a few from Ohio and one from Maine.

It’s a pretty easy assumption that these cars weren’t just “passing through.” These people had driven thousands of miles to spend a number of days in the heat and humidity of central Alabama, hoping simply to hear the words of a woman who claims to be able to see and converse with the Virgin Mary.

I still find it really hard to believe.

The Christian faith encompasses a number of different denominations, and through the years, religions that were founded on the same beliefs have moved farther from one another.

From the viewpoint of an outsider, what went on in that field last week strayed a little too far for my comfort.

All religions, whether you’re talking about Buddhism or Catholicism, require faith – faith that the preaching you listen to, the instructions you follow and the path that you take with your life will eventually lead to a closer relationship with God.

As I stood by and watched the people who had traveled so far and devoted so much of their time and energy to this event, I began to wonder where their faith was being led.

We’re talking about a woman who claims she sees the Virgin Mary and is willing to share that with anyone who is willing to listen – innocent enough. But when you stand back and examine some of the facts that surround the “apparitions” at Caritas, it makes this believer start to wonder.

First, before and after the “visions” occur, spectators at the field are given the opportunity to listen to majestic music played over a number of louder speakers.

There are priests close by, ready to talk to anyone willing to share their innermost feelings. Emotions are definitely running high.

Second, the apparitions are conveniently scheduled each night around 6:40 p.m. central time. The Virgin Mary communicates these times to Lunetti. With thousands of people showing up to see the visionary – rarely, if ever, is the Virgin late.

And finally, donations the Caritas are always welcome.

I believe there are open communication lines between God and his subjects. Through prayer and our every day actions, we can profess our devotion to him. In return, he blesses us.

I also believe that visions and apparitions exist. These are miracles given to us by God so we can have just a slight understanding of his power.

However, as I got into my car Thursday night following the “apparition” experience of Marija Lunetti, it was extremely hard for me to categorize what I had just witnessed as a gift from God.

The pilgrims who trekked thousands of miles to see Lunetti came with faithful hearts and a strong devotion to their beliefs. I admire them their willingness to lay everything aside and make such a sacrifice.

I am concerned, however, that long after that field in Sterrett had emptied and the pilgrims had returned home overjoyed and filled with the spirit, the leaders of Caritas were left counting their profits and scheduling the Virgin’s next visit to Shelby County.

Brandon Gresham serves as staff writer for the Shelby County Reporter. He can be reached at