The epicenter of the earthquake that caused a deadly March 11 tsunami is located near the site of an apparition in which Mary warned about a worldwide disaster that could afflict humanity.
Japanese church officials have confirmed that the Diocese of Sendai, in the north of the country, was hit hardest by the 8.8 magnitude earthquake – the worst in Japanese history – and the resulting 23-foot waves.
Hundreds of people have already been confirmed dead in the city of Sendai, located less than 90 miles away from the apparition site of Our Lady of Akita in the town of Yuzawa.
The city of Akita, which experienced fire damage and flooding along with many parts of northern Japan, is a place of veneration for Catholics.
In 1973, the Virgin Mary was said to have predicted a number of future events – including natural disasters even more serious than Friday's earthquake and tsunami – during three appearances to a Japanese religious sister, Sr. Agnes Sasagawa.
The purported appearances of the Virgin Mary in Japan were reviewed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 1988. During his time as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith prior to his election as Pope Benedict XVI, he let stand the local bishop’s judgment that the apparitions and the messages were acceptable for the faithful.
The messages warned of chaos within the Church, and disasters which could afflict the world.
“If men do not repent and better themselves, God the Father will inflict a terrible punishment on all humanity,” Mary reportedly told Sr. Agnes. “It will be a punishment greater than the (biblical) flood, such as never seen before.”
“Fire will fall from the sky and will wipe out a great part of humanity, the good as well as the bad, sparing neither priests nor faithful,” she said. “The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church, in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops.”
“Churches and altars will be sacked. The Church will be full of those who accept compromises, and the demon will press many priests and consecrated souls to leave the service of the Lord.”
“Each day, recite the prayers of the Rosary,” she told Sr. Agnes. “With the Rosary, pray for the Pope, the bishops and priests.”
Two years after the last message, the statue of the Virgin Mary in the chapel where the apparitions had occurred began to emit tears and drops of blood. The occurrence continued for more than six years.
Reports from Akita following Friday's earthquake indicate that the city received significantly less damage than other parts of northern Japan, despite its proximity to the epicenter. However, residents did report power outages, burst pipes, and fires.
Bishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi of Niigata, whose territory includes the Akita apparition site, is also the president of Caritas Japan, which will be working to assist victims of the earthquake and tsunami. The relief organization is accepting contributions to its emergency fund at www.caritas.org.