Whatever Happened To Lubbock, Texas -- Where Massive 'Miracles' Were Claimed?
By Michael H. Brown
It was 15 years ago, during the feast of the Assumption, and a little parish in Texas was suddenly at what seemed like the epicenter of the spiritual world. There were reporters. There were television cameras. There were priests. There were also so many people, so many pilgrims, that 500 Eucharistic ministers were necessary.
And in the sky, oh, in the sky: signs all over the place. The sun pulsing -- and soon, making motions as dramatic as those reported at Fatima. There was a fountain of light coming from it. This was captured on video. There were images seen in the sun, and other miracles claimed by the 22,000 who were there -- including a point at which a golden light seemed to fall on all the prayerful.
This was Lubbock, Texas, 300 miles west of Dallas, on August 15, 1988, and a case study that raises many questions. Was it really supernatural? Was it of God? What happened?
In the coming weeks, we will be looking at various apparitions, in anticipation of new guidelines from the Vatican on discerning apparitions. We'll start here with Lubbock -- one of the first in a wave of apparitions that swamped the U.S.
The events actually began the last part of February of that special Marian Year at St. John Neuman Church, where the pastor, Father Joe James, had just returned from Medjugorje (the apparition site in Bosnia-Hercegovina) and had conducted a retreat at the parish. There was a charismatic prayer meeting on Sunday nights, and he went to join it, even though few had shown up that night. "I was tired and was ready to go home and the Lord told me, 'You've got all the saints and angels in Heaven you can pray with, and where two or three are gathered to pray in My Name I'm there,' so that really touched my heart and I announced it to everyone else," says the priest. "I think the others were also feeling that it wasn't worth being there with only six or seven people.
"Anyway, we all fell down on our knees, and at that time I sensed the Blessed Mother coming around and touching each one on his shoulders," recalls Father James. "I'd been to Medjugorje for a month in December of 1987 and had decided to fast twice a week and pray the 15 decades of the Rosary each day to see what the Blessed Mother might have to say about the parish.
"Well, two months later she started showing up. I just told everybody I sensed the Blessed Mother had put her hand on the shoulder of everyone [at the prayer group], and two of them saw her standing in the middle of the chapel about two feet off the ground. It was originally two women and then later the Blessed Mother appeared at the foot of the bed of a parishioner named Mary Constancio. She said, 'If you would pray the Rosary daily, in six months the spirit of this parish will be transformed.'"
Other messages and phenomena followed. A man from Dallas was healed in June from a knee problem he'd had for 17 years and wanted the whole world to know it, explains Father James. He wrote the Dallas Morning News, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, New York Times, and the L.A. Times, with his testimony. The Dallas paper jumped on it. They carried a large story on July 3. "That hit the international wire services the next day," recalls Father James. "I got calls from Greece, from Africa, from South America." The bishop was heading off for vacation in England. When he returned, he was met at the airport by 17 camera crews.
It all worked toward the crescendo of August 15, when an estimated 22,000 converged on the parish for the Feast of the Assumption. They came because there was word the Blessed Mother would manifest in a special fashion, and the Blessed Mother had even indicated the number of people who would come. Such was claimed in weekly messages at what became a Monday Rosary prayer group. "The Blessed Mother had shown up for five months before, and gave us messages every week," asserts Father James, who is now retired. "She told us she was going to come and do something very big. She told us to come and celebrate her crowning in glory by her Son.
"We had a fantastic parish," he continues. "We asked for our parish to be designated as the diocesan pilgrim shrine for the Marian year, which the bishop gladly acceded to. There wasn't another parish in the diocese that even asked for it."
The messages came to Mrs. Constancio, who wrote them in a notebook. All were interior visions. They were not full-scale apparitions -- at least not as far as Father James knows. Were they real? Next, a man named Michael Slate, retired from the Air Force, claimed experiences. One message said to prepare because 20,000 would come for the August feast. Father James did just that, enlisting the Eucharistic ministers. "We had to make 250 cups and then the Communion bowls," he says. "One woman who was making these for us wore out her fingerprints making chalices and bowls. It's unheard of that you would give Communion under both species to that many people, but I was determined to do it."
Fox television was also there, and what they captured would permanently damage the credibility of the alleged events. During a Rosary meeting another woman claiming messages said she was told by the Blessed Mother that people would not listen to her words or her Church, but maybe, as the Indians do, they would listen to nature, that the heart of God was like that of a lonely wolf due to the slaughter of His aborted children. "Listen to the coo of the turtle dove, and you'll know something of the Heart of God as His children are being slaughtered." It went through several animals. Then, "Listen to the lonely howl of a wolf," said this strange message -- and the "seer" then was "told" to go into the church dressed in black, give the message, and howl three times like a wolf. Fox got it all on tape.
This was something Indians did; this was something Native Americans incorporated into mysticism. But it was at the very least spooky -- enough to turn many away from this alleged site of apparitions. It was aired Saturday night, before the planned feast of the Assumption.
Did an evil spirit infiltrate? Or was it all a deception to begin with?
"I learned a lot about Old Testament prophets from that," claims Father James, who still doesn't believe it was evil. "The media distorted it."
As prophesied, more than 20,000 showed up for the feast day. "We had Communion stations in this sea of people. We were running out of people. At that time we only had 250 people in the parish," says the priest. "At about six o'clock in the afternoon, the crowd turned gold. Their sunglasses were reflecting gold, their clothes were gold, absolutely everything was gold."
It rained as at Fatima and according to the priest, in three minutes everyone was completely dry. The sun seemed to plummet from the sky -- also like Fatima. The phenomena were captured by 20 to 25 home video cameras. What was most extraordinary? There were 28 claims of apparitions. There were images of salvation. What looked like the Head of God turned into the thorn-crowned Head of Jesus. Tears were seen coming from His eyes. There was a Pieta with Jesus on the ground and Mary stretched out over Him. There were images of a battle between good and evil. There was the image of a demon chained. There were conversions. The RCIA doubled. The CCD doubled. Convalidations doubled (newly validated marriages).
Then there was the bishop. Most Reverend Michael J. Sheehan didn't know what to make of it. Father James had faithfully taken him the weekly messages, but didn't know if the prelate, who told him to keep things "low key," actually read them. The bishop happened to be out of town when things broke loose (largely due to an article about the claimed visions that went across the international wires), and when he came back to Lubbock, 17 TV stations met him at the airport.
"The bishop was locked in on this word 'miracle,'" says Father James. "He comes up with a statement saying almost everything was supernatural, nothing was a miracle. It was so emotional it was difficult to speak with the bishop about it."
Actually, what a commission assigned by the diocese to investigate and composed of a Dominican priest, a Jesuit, a Marianist, a vicar general in Dallas, and a nun concluded was that "the messengers and those involved at St. John Neumann's were good and sincere persons and that there was no evidence of deception or desire for financial gain. The Visitation Committee reported that many people were helped spiritually by the devotions and the Mass of August 15. The report mentions the large number of people, confessions, spiritual healings, reconciliations, and incidents of spiritual renewal on the part of those participating. The Rosary Messages were found, generally, to be within the boundaries of sound Roman Catholic doctrine and Christian traditions and that they were Christocentric and Trinitarian. Some of the messages, however, portray an angry God in language that is strident, affected, and makes one question the claim to Divine inspiration," said a synopsis obtained by Spirit Daily from the diocese.
The committee was "moved" by the deep and fervent devotions to the Blessed Mother," but added that "the limited phenomena we have been able to examine with sufficient analysis admit of natural explanations." The committee studies reported phenomena such as the sun spinning and pulsating, rosaries changing colors, and healings, determining that "none of these were miraculous in nature." Also looked at were images in the sky, the moon changing colors, and reports that onlookers had been able to stare at the sun for abnormally lengthy periods of time without eye damage. Some 250 written testimonies were reviewed.
The team distinguished between "miraculous" and "supernatural" and noted the supernatural grace of Christ that seemed to be operative in the lives of many connected to the events. "The committee found no convincing evidence that there were private revelations involved in the Rosary messages," said the diocesan statement issued in October of 1988. "The messages of Mary Constancio and Mike Slate were seen as exhortative prophecies urging upon the Church important elements and practices of Christian faith."
But the instance was not outright condemned, and in fact the committee allowed the dissemination of the messages. There was no mention of the howling, which remains the most disturbing element of the case. We are also interested in the fact that the night before the feast, people saw a formation of lights in the sky over the church. Many years before -- in 1951 -- there had been a famous sighting in this very same town of Lubbock of what many insisted was a wing-tipped "UFO," a formation of lights in a triangular formation. We take a dim view of UFOs, believing most are a deception. But were they the same lights? Or were the lights seen in 1988 angels (as witnesses at the church preferred to think)?
We'll leave this up to your judgment as we look at similar cases where there is a mix of phenomena. Let's leave it at this: whatever happened at Lubbock on that incredible day, the Holy Spirit took good from it, much good from it, and St. John Neumann may never be quite the same. "We still have a lot of people who come here for August 15," one woman who works at the parish told Spirit Daily. "As far as people saying they still see things, I'm not sure how to answer that. It's still going on. We still have 2,000 to 4,000 people who come for the feast day."
[Resources: for discernment see The Day Will Come or the cassette tapes, Discerning Spirits]
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