Monday 19 November 2012

Soul searching over alleged Virgin Mary sighting

2012 has been declared by Pope Benedict XVI as the year of faith.

But Catholics in Malaysia would not have expected to have to grapple with an issue of faith over what is believed by thousands to be an alleged miraculous apparition of the Virgin Mary.

Since Nov 9, many from across the country have thronged at the Sime Darby Medical Centre (SDMC) in Subang Jaya, that has played host to the alleged apparition that manifested on a glass pane on its 7th floor.

The management of the hospital has been supportive of this outpouring of faith - it has erected marquees, provided bottled water, allowed the church to place candle holders on the grounds, and worked with Rela on traffic control.

People of all religions, ethnicities, ages, believers and non-believers alike, have shown up.

Catholics from all walks of life have been seen reciting the rosary, singing hymns, and discussing the ‘miracle'.

Visibly moved 

While some were visibly moved by the phenomenon - others were wrestling with doubt.

Eunice Fernandez, 54, from the Church of Divine Mercy, said that for weeks before the miracle, "I was looking out of my window while driving, looking for a sign, praying that a miracle would soon happen."

Eunice explained that she took it upon herself to lead the prayers at SDMC because she felt a calling to do so.

Joanne Wong, 48, a Buddhist said, "I am not a Christian, but I believe this is a miracle."

Chrislind Lionel, 29, marketing manager said: "It was a humbling experience, the image is too apparent to be a coincidence, I believe that there are people who need her (The Virgin Mary) and she is here with us. Never have I felt such a sense of security."

Amreeta Sarjit, 27, Microbiology technical officer in Sunway College, said "I am a believer, but there is a need to look at all aspects including science. There will be questions from non-believers, and we should have rational answers."

A Muslim ice-cream vendor who refused to be named, said "Sekiranya ini boleh berlaku di seluruh dunia, kenapa tidak di Malaysia?" (If this can happen around the world, why not Malaysia?)

While the majority of the believers clung to their rosaries in prayer and devotion, some were not as quick to embrace the event and were uninhibited in expressing themselves online.

Dickson Sundaram, a high school headmaster, decided to vent his disbelief over the Internet as he posted numerous comments over news reports on the phenomenon.

"This just shows how easily people can be fooled because of blind faith. Everything boils down to perception. People should always look at logical explanations to anything especially on phenomena like this."

Another online sceptic, Chasie Tan, said, "To me, the human mind can make its own interpretation based on its own experience".

John Doe commented online: "In this age of high speed broadband, social networking and hi-definition photography, there is absolutely NO need to crowd around a hospital gawking at something that may or may not be what vaguely appears to be the Virgin Mary, and in the process, slow traffic down to a crawl with indiscriminate parking, overcrowding and general disregard for the possibility that this congestion could very well impede the delivery of health care to others, particularly those requiring emergency services. How about a little common sense and consideration?"

A widely-travelled engineer who declined being named, told Malaysiakini: "I have travelled around the world, been to places of real miracles, this seems to me just a stain."

Catholic Church projects unanimous front
While Malaysiakini made rigorous attempts to get views from the Catholic Church, priests and lay-ministers remained mum, insisting that the validation process takes time and cautioned Catholics against faith without reason.

An attempt to get a response from Archbishop Murphy Pakiam was gently turned down by his office and reference was made to the editor of the Herald, Rev Father Lawrence Andrew (right), parish priest of St Anne's Church, Port Klang.

Lawrence, who has been to the site of the alleged apparition, said, "The role of the church is to use reason in deepening the faith. It is not advisable to arrive at a conclusion by depending on one's emotions or subjective feelings - we have to use the faculty of reason to understand the phenomenon."

Regarding the authenticity of the alleged apparition, Lawrence said: "This cannot be answered because the process of examination has not been undertaken."

While the process of validation usually takes quite a while, parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes church Rev Father Michael Chua in his blog post, explained that the process of validation may be conducted by the diocesan bishop on his own initiative or at the request of the faithful, the national conference of bishops and the Apostolic See (Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).

The authentication process, known to be long and arduous, includes three major steps.

Firstly, by judging the positive and negative criteria of the apparition.

Secondly, if the examination appears favourable, to allow certain public demonstrations of devotion, while continuing to investigate the facts with extreme prudence.

Thirdly, after a lapse of time, a judgment on the authenticity of the supernatural character would be given.

Chua in his blog reiterated, "This alleged apparition has not received official approval from the local Ordinary, the archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, or from the Apostolic See.

"The archbishop has instructed that the glass panel be respectfully placed in a place conducive for prayer in Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Klang, pending further investigation to determine its authenticity.

"This is not to be interpreted as a tacit approval or recommendation by the church authorities that the image is worthy of private or public veneration".

Not entirely happy 

Many Catholics are not entirely happy about the decision of the church to remove the pane from the hospital, which was revealed by Church of St Thomas More parish priest Rev Father Simon Labrooy last Monday, in a letter to members of his parish in Subang Jaya.

Norman Balanz, a retiree who sought out Malaysiakini said "Please bear with us, as this pane is meant to be here - or else it would have appeared in the church."

Jhonson De Silva, 52 said "It would be disrespectful to remove the pane from the hospital, this is where it appeared, this is where it should be - this message is not only for Catholics, it is for the public."

While the public struggles to show respect for the decision of the church, Catholic leaders remain mildly skeptical and cautious.

Martin Jalleh, Catholic lay leader, speaker, and writer told Malaysiakini "All I can say is that if the supposed apparition helps one's faith to grow and deepen, well and good but let us not place too much dependence and importance on them.

"After all Jesus did say: "Blessed are those who see not, and yet believe!"

The Catholic Church has consistently treated such apparitions which much caution. There were more than 1,500 visions of Mary reported around the world. Only nine cases have received church approval as worthy of belief -four with Vatican approval.

Jalleh said "As Catholics we are advised to view and treat such appearances with a discerning spirit, wisdom, sound judgment and spiritual maturity".

Spotted on the grounds of SDMC on Friday, were tourists from Kerala, Catholic priests from as far as Perak as well as Bersih co-chairperson Ambiga Sreenevesan.

On Nov 16, Rev Father Simon Labrooy (left) released a second statement to correct rumours claiming that the pane would be removed this weekend and to state he did not send out SMSes requesting the people to follow the pane from SDMC to Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Klang.

The statement also requested that the people read:

1. Catechesis on Apparitions
2. Norms for Judging Alleged Apparitions and Revelations, CDF

Labrooy's statement expressed that the church advised the people to practice consideration by praying and singing at a volume that would not deprive patients from the rest they need.

Rational explanations
Freelance civil engineer Catherine Yee told Malaysiakini that having seen the alleged apparition, it is obvious that the building is leaking, "as you can see watermarks on both sides of the wall alongside the window pane".

A possible explanation of the phenomenon would be that "cement used these days in buildings have limestone compounds. When there is a leak, it creates the white stain which is lime.

"The lime accumulation would have taken over a span of one to two years, and can only be removed with acid," Yee explained.

On the different colours emanating from the stain, Yee said that it is a reflection of the seven colours of the sun and "that is why we cannot see the image in the dark."

Behavioural psychologist and clinical hypnotherapist Sheila Menon (right) Principal of London College of Clinical Hypnosis - Asia on the possible explanations of the phenomenon from the perspective of psychology, said "there is a tendency for people to look for answers that will support what they believe in, give hope and confirmation, while discounting facts that would take away that belief as there is a need in human beings to find closure on questions they are asking."

Menon went on to explain projection as when people look at something that does not make sense, they tend to project outward what is within themselves.

"This is the reason why different people have claimed to view different images of the apparition," she said.

However, according to Menon: "Belief and faith have tremendous impact as there is a positive expectation, a rise in hope. They therefore assist in recovery and health, making healing take place swiftly."

"Therefore, this is a learning experience for us to understand our own health and expectations when dealing with sickness, that an expectation of health does have positive benefits," she commented on the possibility of healing taking place upon sightings.

To date, the windowpane with the purported image of Virgin Mary has yet to be removed from SDMC.


  1. The Lord does not appear by way of a stain on the glass nor by miraculous ways of a statue growing taller or crying or smiling. The Lord is the Spirit and deceive of the devil is in here. The Lord Jesus is the truth and the life. He is one Spirit with us and in us. The devil uses many ways to deceive His believers away from the truth to believe that He appears in idols, relics, stains, apparitions. We don't not need an idols relics stains and apparitions to believe in the Lord. The Lord is the Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and in truthfulness. Little children, guard yourselves from idols. Idols need not only be in the form of statue but anything that we put more important than the Lord is an idol. We must give our first love to the Lord. Amen

  2. The Lord is the Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and in truthfulness. Blessed are those who are pure in heart for they shall see God. Come back to the Lord do not get mixed with the world. The world includes politics. If you do anything independently and in the Lord you are in the world and the worldly things are typified by pharaoh, Egypt where Mosses lead the children of Israel out of Egypt means here the Lord does not want us to be one with the world but one Spirit with Him. Amen

  3. I apologize for typo error.The sentence above should read like this - "If you do anything independently and not in the Lord you are in the world and the worldly things are typified by pharaoh, where Mosses lead the children of Israel out of Egypt means here that the Lord does not want us to be one with the world but one Spirit with Him. Amen

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