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Miraculous Multiplying Pizzas? Not So Fast, Says the Vatican

Earlier this year the Vatican issued a new guideline on how the Catholic church is to deal with claims of miraculous manifestations and purported apparitions of the Virgin Mary.

The document represents an update from the old protocols which had been used by the church since the days of Pope Paul VI in 1978. Published by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and followed by a televised press conference, the guideline does not a priori negate the existence of paranormal phenomena, but largely cautions prudence about adopting a posture with regards to the authenticity of an alleged supernatural manifestation (since this could be exploited as an endorsement by unscrupulous third parties). Only the local bishop of a diocese is authorized to announce an official posture with the authorization of the Dicastery, and that posture could be one of six possible decisions:

  1. Nihil obstat. Not an official endorsement (as previously explained) but the absence of “problematic” elements and the positive virtues of the manifestations can be interpreted as an intervention of the “Holy Spirit,” which could result in a renewal of faith within the community, devotional prayers or new conversions. The bishop may encourage diffusion of the event(s) and even an annual pilgrimage —e.g. the current status of Fátima in Portugal or Lourdes in France.
  2. Prae oculis habeatur. Along with the positive virtues there might be some “problematic elements” observed in the events —unreliability of the witnesses for instance, or the phenomena may not be 100% in alignment with Catholic orthodoxy and could cause confusion among the congregation— which may require further discerning. Any possible ‘messages’ or writings obtained as a result of the manifestations would require careful scrutiny.
  3. Curatur. Problematic elements are detected, but since the events may have gathered ample publicity and “spiritual fruits” —e.g. healings or other miracles— have been verified, the bishop should neither forbid public devotional practices nor should he encourage them.
  4. Sub mandato. The problems detected are not part of the phenomena per se but are associated with one or more individuals who may seek to take advantage of it for personal gain —like charging money to visitors of an apparitional site. The bishop should intervene in order to take control of the situation.
  5. Prohibetur et obstruatur. Though there may be genuine supernatural manifestations and some positive outcomes, those are outweighed by risks caused by problematic elements which contradict the teachings of the church. The Dicastery will therefore charge the bishop to prohibit further devotional practices in order to “reorient the flock toward the right path,” as it were.
  6. Declaratio de non supernaturalitate. There are no genuine paranormal manifestations, and the bishop is authorized to declare it as a fraud.

With that in mind, the first official sentence from the Vatican using the updated guideline was just published. It involves the claims of a Sicilian woman named Gisella Cardia of 54 years old, who claims to have direct communication with the Virgin Mary and carry stigmata wounds on her face and body as proof of it —Stigmata, according to Catholic faith, are wounds that mimic those suffered by Christ during his passion and death on the cross, and are commonly recognized as one of the signs of sainthood (even though they have also been reported by highly controversial individuals like Italian UFO Contactee Giorgio Bongiovanni).

Gisella Cardia

Gisella Cardia (who in 2013 was accused of fraudulent bankruptcy) said she saw an image of the Virgin ‘weep’ tears of blood. If that was not fantastic enough, she also claimed to have witnessed a miraculous multiplication of pizza pies and gnocchi dumplings(!) just like the multiplication of loaves of bread and fish that Jesus performed to feed the masses who came to listen to his teachings, according to the four gospels of the New Testament.

News of the calory-rich prodigy spread faster than a “free pizza!” announcement, and as a result of it Cardia created an association that earned her a fortune thanks to the collecting of “personal donations.” The notoriety of the case prompted the diocese to initiate a formal investigation in 2023.

“After an “attentive” evaluation of the case, “listening to testimonies at the site, and consulting with a commission of scholars,” including a psychologist and an expert on the Virgin Mary, bishop Marco Salvi decreed “the non-supernatural nature of the events in question.””

[Source: Vida Nueva Digital]

The celerity by which the church judged Gisella Cardia as a fraud is noteworthy, given how sometimes the Vatican takes decades in trying to reach a conclusion about these type of phenomena. Take for instance the visionary experiences reported by four girls in Garabandal, Spain: the events took place in the 1960’s but it wasn’t until 1991 when a pontifical commission declared their neutrality toward the authenticity of the supposed apparitions and the messages received by the girls —Curatur, according to the new guideline— even though prior to that the bishop of Santander had once denied the supernatural nature of the events.

The girls of Garabandal

With Medjugorje, in Bosnia Herzegovina, it’s a similar situation: the church has never officially declared the supernatural authenticity of the apparitions —and chances are that with the new guidelines, they never will— but they allow annual pilgrimages to the site nonetheless (Prae oculis habeatur or Curatur? You decide) even though Pope Francis has publicly spoken about Medjugorje in negative terms, saying he finds the claims of ongoing apparitions and the receiving of messages at the site problematic —“ I prefer Mary as mother not the Madonna of the post office,” he once said.

Medjugorje’s pilgrimage site
Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández

UFO aficionados may analyze the Vatican’s guidelines and conclude they have little to do with the modern UFO phenomenon. And even at the press conference in March, cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández (prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith) at the express question from one of the journalists, said the Vatican had no interest in investigating UFO reports — “give unto Caesar what belongs to Casear,” one might say.

People looking at the 'Miracle of the Sun' at Fatima
Photo taken at Fátima, Portugal, during the alleged “Miracle of the Sun”

And yet, serious students of the paranormal know fully well that sometimes the line distinguishing religious apparitions and UFO encounters turn incredibly blurry. As researched by Portuguese authors Joaquim Fernandes and Fina d’Armada in their book Heavenly Lights, not only was the famous “Miracle of the Sun” witnessed by thousands of individuals in October of 1917 consistent with the descriptions of modern UFO reports, but even the original descriptions of the children when they described the appearance of the “lady” they claimed to have been in contact with, greatly differed from orthodox religious iconography —Lucia, the older of the three, described a short being with a bald round head, a sharp contrast to the statues one finds inside Catholic temples.

Personally, it is clear to me that purported virgin apparitions never really conform 100% to orthodox dogma. It is after many years, when ecclesiastic authorities have had time to ‘doctor’ the narrative, that they allow a certain event to be declared as a true ‘miracle’. Or even when that is not the case, the church will not oppose to the emergent devotion of the common folk if it serves their interest.

…But when it comes to magical multiplying pizzas, even the Vatican is forced to say “Basta!”

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