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Is there true significance in the play of light? Do quirks of luminosity hold mystical truths (and hints)?

It is a time of countless such claims -- especially at major apparition sites -- and there is little doubt (despite attempts to discount them all as trivial) that they often occur at pointed times and -- whatever their cause -- come with a special feeling of grace.

At Fatima, it was a sun miracle seen by as many as 70,000 (even skeptical atheists). At Medjugorje, repeated such phenomena have been witnessed by millions since June 24 of 1981: glowing orbs, tongues of fire, mysterious solar phenomena, and peculiar luminous clouds. Above are various photos taken of a seer named Vicka Ivankovic-Mijatovic, whose appearance during a recent pilgrimage was met by the simultaneous appearance over the roof of her house of the sun pulsing and sending down peculiar rays.

"These were taken as Vicka was descending the stairs to speak to the crowd below," noted a pilgrim. "Notice how the sun's rays are pointing right in her direction? And no, there is no Photoshop work in this photo. Vicka is one of those very rare people who radiate such love and positive energy. And, I think  Heaven knows that too."

Around the world, Catholics have photos that seem to show the sun acting strangely or light shining in a way that forms holy images. Some of it we can certainly question.  Many are those who have taken shots of the sun in which there seems to be a dark spot. That largely appears to be an artifact of digital cell-phone photography and the way the "shutter" works (at least most of it: there are a few cases in which the spot also has been seen simultaneously with the naked eye). Often too, streaks from the sun are lens refractions that appear when the sun is photographed in any setting, religious or other.

But there is little doubt that there has been an explosion of luminosity. Is it a sign of the times? In the updated version of an excellent book, Queen of the Cosmos, lawyer Jan Connell quotes another of the six seers when she notes that "Marija [Pavlovic-Lunetti] says there are now signs preceding the great sign in Medjugorje, occurring in many places to warn the world and to call God's people to true conversion. For many people these are personal signs of healing -- physical, spiritual, and psychological. For others there are luminary signs. In fact, Marija reports that people who come to Medjugorje have had extraordinary signs -- some hearing the Blessed Mother speak to them in their native languages."

Above at right is an orb of light that appeared on June 9 on the hill of apparitions. Just a refraction in the lens (as indeed is often the case)? What about times when there seems to be an image? Below at left is a streak of sun that appears to penetrate as a luminous stream out of Vicka's prayer books, as she greets pilgrims. Below that [also at left] is a streak of light over a cross on Apparition Hill.

Nor is it just at apparition sites. A rainbow was rather famously seen right after a rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow at a memorial service in the Kennedy Center for newsman (and devout Catholic) Tim Russert last week. (When asked his reaction to explain the sudden appearance of the rainbow at the exact moment, Tim's son, Luke, asked: "Is anyone still an atheist now?")

Light, light, and more light: all kinds of manifestations. Can we discount it all?

In fact, the reports of such phenomena span across denominations and even into the secular world. Caution is in order: the New Age also has an interest in orbs, as do spiritualists. Are some from the good side and others not (as is true of virtually all phenomena)? In Stephenville, Texas, "orbs" were reported even by the constable (Lee Roy Gaitan) -- who saw the brilliant red lights hovering in the sky. We have warned constantly of special caution when it comes to what Indians once knew as "spirit lights" and the media calls "UFOs." They can be a demonic deception.

Also, we have carried a number of explanations on lens flares and how orbs in photos are often the result of moisture or particles of debris -- whether dust or snow -- that as one knowledgeable adviser put it, "will expand, blur, and become semi-transparent."

Does that discount all of it? "Several years ago, [seer Ivan Dragicevic] came to a Marian conference," noted Francie LaFortune of Las Vegas. "Afterwards, one of my friends told me Ivan would be having his apparition at one of the local churches here at 5:00 p.m. 

"[He] came in and we began to say the Rosary and he stopped at a small altar on the right side, right in front of us. I was pleased that we could see him. When the time came for the apparition, he knelt down and I saw orbs of light circling around him where the Blessed Mother would be. I saw an orb come right over to him and stop in front of him. These orbs were golden on top and clear on the bottom so you could see through them. 

"When I say golden on top, I mean the light on top was a yellow-gold light like a regular light bulb. There were maybe four or five of these globes. Next I saw a lit Cross and this Cross was all like a bright white light and it stayed for about thirty seconds, long enough for me to see it.

"I began to think maybe I was seeing things, but when Ivan was finished, he went to the podium and told us that Our Lady gave us a message. She came with four angels and a lit Cross! So I was very blessed to see all of this! I have never thought that the orbs were bad. I thought they were angels even before he told us the angels came with our Lady. I have never taken a photo and seen orbs of light in there but a friend of mine who is in our prayer group took a picture of the traveling Lady of Fatima statue that was in their house and there were orbs of light in that picture."

Many are those who claim to see tiny meteor-like lights fly into the Cross on Apparition Hill at the moment of a hillside apparition. Others have seen balls of fire erupt, extinguish, and erupt again, or the Cross on Mount Kricevac light up, or illuminated clouds. Others have reported forms of light in which can be seen Mary's profile. This -- especially phenomena associated with Christ -- is becoming more frequent. We will be discussing such at upcoming fall retreats now announced for Cincinnati, South Florida, and Nevada (details to follow).

Recently, in the nation of Moldova, villagers claimed to see a bright image of a crucified Jesus Christ in their night sky [right]. Local priests called the towering luminous image a "sign from God."

Is it? Are they? Do we approach the great sign foreseen in secrets?

[see also: video on of Jesus in sky and Rainbow at Russert funeral]

[resources: Jan Connell's updated Queen of the Cosmos]

[see also: Midwest Michael H. Brown retreat, Cincinnati, Sept. 20]

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This time, a week later, but in the same room at the parish, a group of kids are finishing up a week of Totus Tuus and there is the orb again in a completely different location. (Actually, in this photo