The Batim Apparition: An Objective Study
-Dr. Christopher Dias
(Written in the year 2000)
Eversince the Blessed Virgin Mother has been appearing in Batim, Goa,(India) there has been a steady increase of Marian devotees trudging their way up Mount Gancim every First Saturday in a Spirit of prayer, penance and reparation.
This devotion, nothing other than the Fatima devotion, adheres to the message of the Virgin, whose basic core is the call to conversion and penance, as in the Gospel. "This call was pronounced at the beginning of the 20th Century and has thus been addressed to this century in particular. The Lady of the Message seems to read the signs of the times- the signs of our time- with special insight." (address by John Paul II at Fatima, 13th May, 1982)
Is the Blessed Virgin Mary really appearing at Batim? What are we to make out of the messages received at Batim? These are relevant questions, facing the Church that needs some soul searching.
Reports of Other Apparitions:
In his book " Marian apparitions today, Why so many?", Fr. Edward O’Connor C.S.C., observes that ‘Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary and kindred phenomena are being reported more frequently today than ever before in the history of the church. Besides Medjugorje, which is world famous, in recent years, there have been reports from Italy (TreFontane, Sicily, San Damiano, Montechiari), Egypt (Zeitun), Spain (Garabandal Es-Corial), Rwanda (Kibeho), Japan (Akita),..." Batim may soon find its name among the lesser known ones. Cardinal Ratzinger, in the Ratzinger Report, pg 111, has declared that ‘one of the signs of our times is that the announcements of Marian apparitions are multiplying all over the world."
DISCERNING AN APPARITION:
To make one’s own personal judgement about the Batim Apparition is not easy. There are no automatic formulas, no simple litmus tests we can use. Discernment is a work of prudence- not human prudence but the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Fr. Rene Laurentin in ‘The Church and Apparitions, Their Status and Function: Criteria and Reception’, reports on a set of guidelines issued in 1978 by Cardinal Seper, the then Head of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith for Bishops to use in investigating reports of apparitions and revelations. While intended for the use of official committees, this document gives indications that can be useful for everyone. Among the important guidelines listed in this document are: i) The establishment of the facts ii) Doctrinal truthfulness iii) Predictions and Prophecies iv) Subjective qualities of the visionary. v) Lasting spiritual fruits vi) Inner witness of the Spirit.
Let us examine these guidelines vis-a-vis the Apparition at Batim.
i) The establishment of the facts:
The story of Batim unfolds on September 24, 1994, when the visionary Iveta Gomes, a Canadian of Indian origin beholds the Apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Mount Gancim, Batim, Goa. There were a few relatives and friends present on that day with Iveta. Our Lady was believed to have told Iveta on that day that ‘The people should come and pray on this Mount every first Saturday of the month.’ This was to be the beginning of a series of Apparitions and other extraordinary signs witnessed not only by the visionaries Iveta and Martinho, but also by a few people assembled there. Many of these experiences and testimonies are contained in the books - ‘The Happenings of Batim,’ by Rosario F. Rodrigues and ‘Was Mary there?’ by Marc De Souza. Such phenomenon were also recorded at other apparition sites. But did the claimed supernatural event actually occur?
Confronted with such a reported apparition, the matter lies with the ArchBishop-Patriarch of Goa, to test the spirits, to exercise discernment; if the case calls for caution, it demands also a fundamental openess to the possibility of divine intervention. True, the substance of our faith is given in the doctrine of the Church and the Sacraments and Apparition do not add to these. But they can be helpful in motivating us to a greater appreciation of the Eucharist or reconciliation. " Can the Mother with the force of the love that she fosters in the Holy Spirit and with the desire for everyone’s salvation, can the Mother remain silent when she sees the very basis of Her Children’s salvation undermined? No, she cannot remain silent. Neither should you remain silent. A simple way to console Our Lady is to make Acts of Reparation, to make the first Five Saturdays, and to offer our prayers and sacrifices for the conversion of sinners." (Pope John Paul II on Fatima).
Many have established the truth about Batim for themselves, either through physical cure or a spiritual healing or through a vision or sign. What is it to establish one’s faith in the Apparition? Is the belief accorded to a prophetic revelation, as in the Batim case, an act of ‘divine faith’ - like the faith we have in Christ and His teachings, or is it of mere human faith - such as we have in things that other people tell us ? Theologians as different as John of St. Thomas, Suarez and Karl Rahner agree that private revelations (and presumably apparitions) can be object of divine faith. The great Marian Bishop Robert Branberg (German) maintains that there is a frightening minimalism in this matter. The general consensus would be as in the Fatima, Lourdes and Garabandal apparitions that an authentic apparition is ultimately a message from God addressed to human beings. God surely does not let them occur without an accompanying grace; hence the recipient has a certain obligation to recognise and assent to her action.
How solid is the faith of Iveta in the Apparition ? "I see Her like a living person in flesh and blood standing before me" said Iveta once. "I’ve seen a lot of beautiful women in my saloon back in Canada - but not one of them compares with the beauty of Our Lady" added Iveta who once worked as a hair dresser.If we can compare the faith of Iveta (to the said apparition) to that of the apostles who saw the risen Christ with their own eyes, then could the faith of the people who merely hear about the vision be compared to that of the disciples whom the apostles preaches?Towing the line of Fr. Edward D. O’Connor, it would be pertinent to mention that ‘in both cases, the assent is a religious act because motivated, not by the evidence perceived, but by the ‘testimony of God within’. What is the testimony of God within ? In Mathew 16:17, ‘Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah, flesh and blood have not revealed that to you, but my Father who is in heaven’. God gave to Peter the grace to recognise Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. He likewise opened the heart of Lydia to believe in the preaching of St. Paul (Acts 16:14). Thus, Fr. O’Connor concludes ‘In the case of modern Apparitions, it is presumed that God gives the grace to believe in the Apparition both to the visionary and also to all those for whom the Apparition is meant. (maybe a handful of people; maybe a great multitude).’
One of the most important criteria in judging the Batim apparitions is truthfulness or fidelity to Church doctrine. The revelation given by God through his Son, Jesus Christ is the standard by which all subsequent revelations are to be measured. Anything that conflicts with the doctrine of Christ can be set aside as certainly not authentic. The fact that a message is doctrinally sound is, of course, no guarantee that is supernatural; it may mean only that the visionary knowS her catechism. However when the messages are long or numerous, touching as many different subjects, especially when the visionary has had little education, it becomes less and less likely that an illusion can be sustained without error.
The doctrine or devotion followed at Batim, in compliance with Our Lady’s request, is the Fatima devotion of the observance of the first Saturday, acts of reparations and offering of prayers and sacrifices for the conversion of sinners. These tenets of the Catholic faith are founded in the Gospel. The Angel’s words at Fatima to the three children call to mind texts of Holy Scripture. First, he says, ‘offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High’, corresponding to St. Paul’s instruction "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess 5:17). But above all, the Angel adds, ‘accept and bear with submission the suffering which the Lord will send you’. This is simply the command of Christ himself; ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself; and take up his cross, and follow me.’ (Mt. 16:24)
Reparation, practised in this spirit, gains many graces for the conversion of sinners and peace in the world.What is Reparation? This is a devotion least understood and therefore hardly practiced. There is a great difference between sorrow for the sin we commit and making reparation for it. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen describes it clearly, "Many think that all they have to do when they do wrong individually or socially is merely to ask to be forgiven. They must also make reparation for the wrong. The equilibrium and the balance of justice have been disturbed, and that balance must be restored by penance." And being co-redemptors in the Mystical Body of Christ having to "fill up those things that are wanting in the sufferings of Christ, for His body the Church " (Col 1:24), such reparation can be offered vicariously by the living members of the Church on behalf of sinners.
The faithful at Batim begin their sojourn up the hill by meditating on the stations of the Cross ( see image). To participate in the Way of the Cross with Iveta, is essentially to participate in letter and spirit, the crucifixion of Christ. Iveta usually makes her way up to the hill in the middle of the gathering. Clad in a long skirt with a full sleeve blouse, her head bent in reverence beneath a veil. She makes her way up slowly towards the grounds that to her are sacred and holy. In imitating Christ, we learn to participate in the sufferings of Christ by grafting our crosses and ordeals to that of Christ. It is in doing this in the reparative spirit of Iveta that one is purified and transformed. As the prayer group ascend the hill, it is not uncommon to see Iveta lying prostrate on the ground and to take part physically in the suffering that Jesus experienced during His passion and death on the cross. Sometimes, she would suffer His flagellation, sometimes the crowning with thorns, sometimes the carrying of the heavy wooden cross and usually even the crucifixion. Such a participation in the redemptive agony of Christ calls for a certain spirit of discernment and is incomprehensible to an earthly mind. Such occurrences are not uncommon in the history of the church - especially in the lives of saints and those wholly attuned to the will of God. Fr. Hefferman, Iveta’s spiritual director offer’s to explain:, "What you see here are the effects of sin. It was awful the way the Lord suffered for our sins. We have to turn against this. We have to love the Lord as he loved us."
As the flock reaches atop the hill, the number swells to thousands. The fifteen decade Rosary begins. Iveta begins the Rosary. She kneels bare on the ground and very reverently, not distracted in the least, begins with a firm but soft voice pronouncing each and every word as though addressed to the person right in front of her. Why is the Rosary, the favorite prayer of Pope John Paul II, so efficacious ? Fr. Gobbi, in his book ‘To the Priests, Our Lady’s beloved sons’ quotes from Our Lady herself: ‘Because it is a simple prayer, a humble one, and it forms you spiritually in littleness, in meekness, in simplicity of heart. By contemplating its mysteries, you are led to understand the plan of Jesus, as spelled out in all of his life, from the Incarnation to the consummation of His Glorious Passion, and thus you penetrate even more profoundly into the mystery of redemption.’ The manner of meditation and recitation of the Rosary by Iveta is certainly remarkable and is definitely a grace to seek.Iveta usually has her visions around 3.00pm. The messages are poignant and usually short. "Repent my children for the time is short, Visit the Blessed Sacrament daily. Forgive your neighbour. I desire much prayer from you. The hour is at hand. Pray the Holy Rosary in your homes daily." Such is the concern of Our Mother for us !
iii) Predictions and Prophecies:
Scripture itself declares that, ‘even though a prophet speaks in the name of Yahweh, if his oracle is not fulfilled or verified, it is an oracle which Yahweh did not speak’ (Deu 18:22)
There are a number of prophecies about Batim. Some of them are yet to be fulfilled. Fr. Pedro Francisco Pereira who renovated and reopened the dilapidated church atop the Mount in 1973 is often quoted by many priests and parishioners who knew him. ‘One day Batim will be a great pilgrimage center’, he was testified to have said. Is this the beginning of the fulfillment of this prophecy? Our Lady has also promised Iveta that many masses would be celebrated on the sacred grounds at Batim - and that we have to pray for this (April 13, 1995). Hitherto, eversince the church was renovated, masses were said every first Thursday of the month. (Prior to this period, the Church was isolated and laid barren for over two hundred years due to the infamous plague that made the locality inhospitable.) So keen is the Mother of God to bring the Holy Eucharist to these Sacred grounds, that on 1st Jan’98, She says "In union with the Merciful Heart of Jesus raise many Holy Sacrifices of the Holy Mass to bring forth many fruits upon this Holy Hill". Ever since this request of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we have been graced to have the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass every first Saturday after the high noon prayers. Yet another prophecy fulfilled! The water from the well adjoining the Church is revealed to Iveta to be miraculous, as after its re-excavation, it will be a source of spiritual and temporal grace. ‘The well, you ask, why has it not been dug? You have not prayed my children. Only prayer will open the minds and hearts of brothers and sisters.’ (Message of 15 April, 1995). The prophecy of the ‘Chastisement’ sign will also be seen at Mount Batim ( Message of 13 October, 1996). It is an ardent desire of the Mother of God that we ‘consecrate Goa to Her Immaculate Heart’( Message of 13 October, 1996). And further... ‘Pray, Pray -Pray that Goa will be consecrated to my Immaculate Heart. Let it not be like the error of Russia’, cautions Our Lady. It is believed that these prophecies will be fulfilled before the ‘triumph of Her Immaculate Heart’. Batim is a potential reservoir for Conversion and Cures and if exploited in a Spirit of Prayer, Sacrifice and Reparation will certainly be a boon for the local Church. To Iveta has been entrusted a whole lot of prophecies and revelations. Many of these remain with her and Fr. Hefferman - who discerns the time and need for revealing these prophecies. St. Ignatius in his ‘Spiritual Exercises’ writes that ‘the subject may unconsciously add human element to authentic supernatural revelation’. Before Iveta relays Our Lady’s message, she always invokes the Holy Spirit and says a prayer of discernment.
iv) Subjective qualities of the Visionary:
To Iveta, I’m sure, this is a topic not to be written about. ‘ I’m just a bit of paper’ she once told us, "Just tear me up and throw me out." But then isn’t Humility the hallmark of any God’s chosen instrument? Outside her visionary and mystical experience, Iveta is a total normal person with a good sense of humour. She is a person who can live without visions and does not need any extraordinary experiences in order to stay on a spiritual high. In short, she is able to return to the normal regime of faith. Like every Christian, Iveta has to make her way in to heaven by a life of Faith, humility and charity. She places a much higher value on receiving Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. To behold Iveta partaking in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is to behold an Angel performing her office at the very throne of God. It appears that the veil has been lifted between Iveta and Jesus in the Eucharist. Her adoration of the Eucharist is most profound. It goes without mention that Iveta, also a victim soul and gifted with a profound sense of reparation for Our Lord does feel the pain of that Adorable Heart which we sinners outrage, offend and blaspheme. In thus making a Eucharistic reparation, Iveta consoles and placates the arm of Divine Justice. In exercising the virtue of charity, Iveta brings Jesus through Mary to the suffering and poor in Spirit. She has travelled extensively in and out of Goa with a few friends of Batim taking with her ‘a very frail cord’ : the Holy Rosary. In performing Our Lady’s ‘fiat’, Iveta seeks our consecration to Our Lady, placing us under 'her mantle and seeking ‘to renew our lives in a spirit of prayer and penance, the fervent participation in the celebration of the Eucharist and in the works of the Apostolate, the daily recitation of the Holy Rosary and an austere manner of life, in keeping with the Gospel’. The prayers conducted by Iveta have been an experience of a lifetime. Iveta is steadfast in her obedience to the Church. She never forces herself, keeping in mind that ‘Christian obedience is based on faith in God, who has many ways to ensure that His plans are accomplished inspite of obstacles of whatever sort.’
vi) Lasting spiritual fruits:
A very visible sign of an authentic apparition is a healthy devotion and rich, lasting fruits (e.g. the spirit of prayer, conversion, works of charity, etc). We are now commemorating the sixth year of the first Apparition. There has been a steady increase in the number of people who come to Batim every first Saturday. A good number of people come all the way from Bombay. There are special bus services from Panjim, Mapuca, Margao and Calangute to the sacred grounds. You see the young and old making their way up the mount and thus any pilgrimage to Batim itself involves penance. The testimonies of the devotees run into hundreds and are documented in the books mentioned above. Thus Our Lady, the Mediatrix of all Graces, helps to sanctify us - as she promises ! We also have a motorable road to the hillock. Masses are being offered now every first Saturday. What is to be noted is that the church normally waits a long time before issuing a pronouncement about a particular apparition. If everybody waited for the Church to make a pronouncement, there would be no fruits, and in fact no occasion for the church to make any judgement at all. If the people waited until the church pronounced on Lourdes or Fatima (It takes years), we would not have heard of either of them today. Moreover, the Church approval once declared only authenticates that which has been happening there for years.
vi) Inner witness of the spirit:
When a message is from the Lord, it has a way of touching us in such a way that we recognize His voice in it. This was the case with St. Peter, which is why Jesus said to him, ‘flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my father who is in Heaven’ (Mt.16:16). ‘However goes on Fr. O’Connor, " it does not follow that a genuine apparition will be recognised by everyone who examines it in good faith. It may be also that a given apparition is intended for the benefit of a limited group, not for everyone. The Holy Spirit gives different graces to different people. But it is very important that these different attractions not turn into hostile sects or cliques. When the devotees of different apparitions become hostile or close to each other, Satan is the winner and the church is the looser." Therefore it is important to know several Apparitions in the past and in the present in order to study the circumstances and similarity of the messages.
"You have lost the love you had. Realise how far you have fallen. Repent and do the works you did at first." (Apoc.2:4-5) Mary seems to be echoing this message today as her Apparitions seek to shake us out of our lethargy, rekindle our fervour and reprimand our faults. If there is weighty reason to believe that the Mother of Jesus has appeared and spoken at Batim, we had better take her seriously.
It is surely not for any trivial matter that Jesus sends her to appeal to us. If we disregard her, are we not in danger of hearing repeat to us what he said to Jerusalem " You did not recognise the time of your visitation. ?" (Lk 19:14), but if like Elizabeth, we appreciate what a great grace for the Mother of the lord to come to us, may be not expect that the sound of her voice will bring us to a new infilling of the Holy Spirit?