On Sunday during a Mass celebrated in the town of Laus in the French Alps, Bishop Jean-Michel de Falco of Gap, accompanied by numerous cardinals and archbishops from around the world, announced the official approval of the Church of the Marian apparitions to Benôite (Benedicta) Rencurel between 1664 and 1718.
During the Mass, attended by Roman Curia officials including Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, Bishop de Falco noted these are the first Marian apparitions to be approved in the 21st century by the Vatican and the Church in France. He called it the most singular event to take place in France since the apparitions of Lourdes in 1862.
“I recognize the supernatural origin of the apparitions and the events and words experienced and narrated by Benedicta Rencurel. I encourage all of the faithful to come and pray and seek spiritual renewal at this shrine,” the bishop said.
“Nobody is obliged to believe in apparitions,” he continued, “even in those officially recognized, but if they help us in our faith and our daily lives, why should we reject them?” he asked. Bishop de Falco’s comment was apparently aimed at the French Communist Party, which last week described the announcement of the ceremony as “a marketing ploy of the Church” and denounced the presence of French government officials at the ceremony as a “violation of the separation of church and state.”
The shrine of Our Lady of Laus attracts some 120,000 pilgrims each year. The Catholic philosopher Jean Guitton called it “one of the most hidden and powerful shrines of Europe.”
Our Lady’s message
Benedicta Rencurel was born on September 16, 1647 in Saint-Étienne d'Avançon (in the southern French Alps), and suffered the death of her father when she was 7 years-old. She never learned to read or write and her only education came from the homilies at Sunday Mass.
One day in May of 1664, Benedicta was caring for the animals of some neighbors and praying the rosary when she saw a dazzling lady standing on a rock, holding a beautiful child in her arms. “Beautiful Lady!” she exclaimed. “What are you doing up there? Do you want to eat with me? I have some good bread which we can soften up at the fountain.” The girl’s simplicity brought a smile to the Lady’s face, but she said nothing. “Beautiful Lady! Could you give us that child? He would make us so happy.” The Lady smiled again without responding. After remaining a few minutes with Benedicta, she took the child in her arms and disappeared into a cave.
For four months, the Lady appeared to Benedicta every day, talking to her and preparing her for her future mission. Benedicta told the woman who owned the flock that she cared for about the visions, but she did not believe her. One day, however, the woman secretly followed her to the Fours valley. She didn’t see the vision, but she did hear Mary’s voice, who told Benedicta to warn her that her soul was in danger. “She has something on her conscience,” Mary said. “Tell her to do penance.” The woman was deeply moved by the message, returned to the sacraments and lived piously for the rest of her days.
On August 29, Benedicta asked the Lady what her name was. She replied, “My name is Mary.”
During the winter of 1664-1665, Benedicta went up to Laus frequently, each time receiving a vision of the Blessed Mother, who told her to “pray continuously for sinners.” News of the apparitions spread throughout the entire region.
On September 18, 1665, when Benedicta was 18 years old, the apparitions were officially recognized by the diocese and that fall, construction began on a small church to receive the hundreds of pilgrims coming to visit.
Mary revealed herself in Laus as the reconciler and refuge of sinners, and therefore she offered signs to convince them of the need to repent. She told Benedicta that the oil from the sanctuary lamp would work miracles with the infirm if they received the anointing with faith in her intercession.
Benedicta took the mission she received from Mary seriously and dedicated herself to preparing sinners to receive the sacrament of Penance. She encouraged the two priests at the shrine to receive penitents with charity and kindness in order to help them convert.
Mary asked Benedicta to admonish women and girls about living lives of scandal, especially those who commit abortion, the unjust wealthy and the perverse. She also encouraged priests and religious to be faithful to their vows.
Between 1669 and 1679, Benedicta received five visions of the suffering Christ. On a Friday in July of 1673, the suffering Jesus told her: “My daughter, I show myself in this state so that you can participate in my Passion.” After more than two decades of suffering and continual apparitions of the Blessed Mother, Benedicta received Communion on Christmas Day 1718. Three days later she made a confession, received the last rites and around 8p.m. said goodbye to those around her. Benedicts then kissed a crucifix and passed away peacefully.
Today the shrine is run by diocesan clergy with the assistance of a community of the Brothers of St. John who are dedicated to promoting the sacrament of Reconciliation.