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A 97-year-old priest associated with famous mystical events near Akita, Japan, died last month with what those holding vigil at his side said was the odor of sanctity.

The priest, Father Teji Yasuda, who chronicled the events, was living at what is known at St. Michael's House of Prayer in the suburbs of Tokyo when he passed on November 22, 2013. Witnesses assert that the fragrance -- often depicted as a cross between lilies and roses -- was so strong that hospital personnel were baffled.

With him was the seer, Sister Agnes Sasagawa, a Handmaids-of-the-Eucharist nun who reportedly received dramatic messages from the Blessed Mother in front of a statue of Mary that investigators for the bishop affirmed had shed inexplicable tears on at least 101 occasions from January 4, 1975 until 1982. It is believed she still receives visions and locution, ostensibly from the Virgin Mary.

A pastoral letter acknowledging the phenomenon as well as the messages was issued by Bishop John Shojiro Ito in 1984 after consultation with and the approval of then-prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI). It was said that the 101 exudations were related to Genesis 3:15 (the woman crushing the serpent).

An initial inquiry in the 1970s had stated that the supernatural could not be established (by one account, it concluded that Sister Agnes was psychologically unbalanced and manifested "ectoplasmic" phenomena), and when Bishop Ito requested a second commission, the papal nuncio declined, on orders from Rome. But Bishop Ito, requesting a deeper inquiry, and when that was granted, investigators found that the tears were chemically identical to human ones and that an x-ray of the statue showed the impossibility of fraud. That second commission voted four to three in favor of recognizing the phenomena -- the tears -- as supernatural. Bishop Ito found Sister Sasagawa of very sound mind but put off official judgment until 1984, after the statue stopped weeping and following the miraculous cure of Sister Agnes from deafness. In 1988 Cardinal Ratzinger approved of that opinion.

However, a subsequent bishop, Francis Keichi Sato, disapproved of the happenings and banished Sister Sasagawa from the convent near Akita. A wealthy follower of the events built the house of prayer and Sister Agnes, another nun, and Father Yasuda took up residence there.

It's there that the priest spent his final days: with Sister Sasagawa, who is also stigmatic, in a sort of exile.

Bishop Sato was followed by the current prelate, Bishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi, whose exact views on the phenomena are not known but who personally conveyed an invitation for representatives of the Akita chapel where the phenomena occurred to participate as an official shrine with nine other Marian shrines in a major event at the Vatican that was presided over by Pope Francis on October 13, 2013, to commemorate the last formal apparition and the great sun miracles at Fatima. The messages from Akita are often linked to Fatima. One message from Akita warned that if men continued their wayward path, a "great fire" would fall from the sky, destroying a large part of the planet. The third secret of Fatima included the image of an angel ready to torch the earth. Moreover, the Akita events occurred on Fatima anniversary days (including October 13, 1973). Before revelation of the Fatima secret, Cardinal Ratzinger had told the then ambassador to the Vatican from the Philippines, Howard Dee, that the Fatima secret was similar to the Akita message -- as indeed proved to be the case.

Father Yasuda, whose wake was held at the house of prayer, wrote a book about the Akita statue and messages that -- strikingly -- bore a message from Bishop Ito, who said: "I recommend this book and testify that its contents are true."

Other Japanese bishops, most notably the Niigata prelate, who oversaw Akita until 2005, have taken a far less enthusiastic view. One man close to the situation, John Mathews of Minster, Ohio, a former program director for the Catholic Relief Services whose wife is Japanese and in direct contact with Sister Sasagawa, told Spirit Daily that the nun is believed still to receive mystical experiences and "messages," though she does not speak about them explictly.

The Akita message, besides a massive world event, foresaw a great division in the Church, including "bishops against bishops, cardinals against cardinals," with churches pillaged.

Sister Sasagawa is now 82 and herself in failing health. Back in Akita, her former convent, once fifty-strong, has dwindled to twenty members, only four young enough for a full daily workload.

Mathews said about thirty people were present when Father Yasuda died, including four priests and three nuns from Akita. Some claimed the priest's face transformed upon death into a radiant visage.

What is certain is that Akita is now an official shrine. Some believe the same may occur at the apparition site of Medjugorje in Bosnia-Hercegovina: that it will be declared a shrine while the Church maintains a distance from visionaries. Representatives from Medjugorje were likewise invited by the Vatican to the October event in Rome, although not as publicly and officially announced as ten other invited shrines, including the one in Japan.

[resources: The Final Hour]

[see also: the messages of Akita]

[see too: the Akita timeline]

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