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QUESTIONS REMAIN ABOUT JAPANESE PROPHECY AND COMMENTS MADE BY JOHN PAUL IN GERMANY

Since Friday, when the quake hit Japan, we have been reporting on the potentially interesting prophetic aspects of phenomena and locutions in Akita, Japan, which, if they materialize, would be stunning. It is a prediction of dramatic implications for all of society, a society that, it seems, should be rushing toward repentance.

Located on the western side of the country near the Sea of Japan -- the coast opposite of where the tsunami hit, on this narrow island-nation -- Akita is the capital of the Akita prefecture in the Tōhoku Region, 111 kilometers in width and known for its rice, its sak, and the dog that goes by the same name.

Thus far, there are no reports of serious damage there. While tremors were felt, the city has become a refuge of sort at least for some members of the U.S. media, reminding us, on the far larger scale, how the apparition site of Kibeho, Rwanda, became a refuge during a genocide there in 1994 and the way in which Medjugorje in Bosnia-Hercegovina served as a refuge during Yugoslavia's civil war. More to the point, it is one more example, it appears, of how Mary manifests in a nation soon to suffer trials -- following the examples not only of Kibeho and Medjugorje (discounted mainly by those who have never visited), but also Egypt and Iraq, which also have been the setting for recent phenomena.

It was in 1973 that the nun named Sister Agnes Katsuko Sasagawa at a convent run by the Handmaids of the Eucharist in Yuzawadai on the outskirts of Akita heard a voice coming from a statue of Mary modeled after yet another apparition, Our Lady of All Nations, that had begun in the 1940s in Holland.

It was strange enough to hear a voice from a statue -- and stranger still that Sister Agnes had been deaf since late winter of that year from gradually diminished hearing that culminated on March 16 of that year -- ironically, the anniversary date that commemorates discovery in 1865 of descendants of hidden Christians on the site of O'ura in Nagasaki.

Of sorts a "victim soul" since birth (she was born prematurely), Sister Agnes suffered paralysis at the age of 19 due to a faulty appendectomy, a condition that lasted for sixteen years but from which she was eventually cured -- after drinking water from Lourdes, the French apparition site. Her first vocation was in Nagasaki, site of the infamous atomic-bomb blast in 1945 (and another irony, in light of the current nuclear disaster).

It was a life not only of suffering but spontaneous mystical experiences.

During one stay in a hospital, Sister Agnes lapsed into a coma and when she was given the Sacrament of the Sick, a strange light seemed to encompass her and the priest heard her recite the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be in Latin -- although she was still unconscious and had never learned that ancient language. Later, she recalled seeing, during her comatose state, a "beautiful person in a place which seemed like a pleasant field."

"This person with a movement of the hand, had invited me to approach her," she said, as quoted in a book, Akita: The Tears and Message of Mary, by Teiji Yasuda, O.S.V. and issued by the 101 Foundation in Washington, New Jersey. "But I was hindered from doing it by people as thin as living skeletons who gripped at me."

After more prayer, the unconscious nun "saw" a gracious person appear at the side of her bed -- a "person" (believed to have been an angel) who taught her to pray: "Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven and especially those who are most in need of Your Mercy" -- word for word a prayer that had been given to the Fatima children during that famous apparition six decades before -- apparitions that also began with an angel. The "person" turned out to be Sister Sasagawa's guardian.

The first extraordinary events at Akita occurred on June 12, 1973, when Sister Agnes saw a brilliant light coming from the tabernacle in the convent chapel. "Seized with emotion, I prostrated myself immediately with my face to the floor," she once wrote. "I remained perhaps an hour in this position."

The light would turn up on subsequent days. So did "something like fog or smoke," which gathered around the altar with the rays of light. The very space around her seemed to open up. "Then there appeared a multitude  of beings similar to angels who surrounded the altar in Adoration before the Host," said Sister Agnes -- accenting the power of the Eucharist.

"Absorbed by this surprising spectacle, I knelt down to adore," she said. "Then I was seized with the thought that there could be a fire outside.

"Turning around to look through the bay window in the back, I saw that there was no fire outside.

"It was indeed the altar which was enveloped in this mysterious light."

Sister Sasagawa also suffered the pain of stigmata in the palm of her hand. But her most famous experience involved the voice she heard from that "Our Lady of All Nations" statue. "My daughter," it said, "you have obeyed me well in abandoning all to follow me. Is the infirmity of your ears painful? Your deafness will be healed, be sure. Be patient. It is the last trial. Does the wound of your hand cause you to suffer? Pray in reparation for the sins of men."

The nun also had heard this prayer: "Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, truly present in the Holy Eucharist, I consecrate my body and soul to be entirely one with Your Heart, being sacrificed at every instant on all the altars of the world and giving praise to the Father, pleading for the coming of His Kingdom. Please receive this humble offering of myself. Use me as You will for the glory of the Father and the salvation of souls. Most Holy Mother of God, never let me be separated from your Divine Son. Please defend and protect me as your special child. Amen." It is a prayer we should circulate urgently.

As we have reported a number of times in past years, the messages of Akita also included very apocalyptic ones -- a prophecy of coming events that would constitute a "great chastisement on all mankind," including one "greater than the Deluge" (referring to Noah) if men did not repent and "better themselves." Fire, she was told, would fall from the sky and wipe out "a great part of humanity." These words could be tossed aside as overwrought but for the fact that after an initial rejection by a bishop's commission, a subsequent bishop issued a pastoral letter approving her experiences, after consultation with Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) at the Vatican, which was also initially against the experiences and has not yet issued a final discernment.

"With my Son I have intervened so many times to appease the wrath of the Father," Mary told Sister Sasagawa. "I have prevented the coming of calamities by offering Him the sufferings of the Son on the Cross, His Precious Blood, and beloved souls who console Him forming a cohort  of victim souls. Prayer, penance, and courageous sacrifices can soften the Father's anger."

Does the fact that Akita occurred in Japan -- and in the same general northern region of the quake -- bear significance? And what of such drastic prophecies -- as dramatic as what was said at Kibeho?

In the past we have referred to "Mystery Akita" and we call it that because parts of the message are inexplicably similar to a version of the third secret from Fatima that was claimed by a German publication, Neues Europa, in 1963 -- a version that was denounced as a fabrication by Church authorities (including the Fatima bishop, along with seer Lucia dos Santos). It is not known whether Sister Agnes was privy to that report.

According to Dr. Rosalie Turton, director of 101, the nun had not even known of Fatima.

The Neues Europa "secret" (which was undermined with at least one glaring factual error) foresaw a time when "fire and smoke will fall from the sky and the waters of the oceans will be turned to steam -- hurling their foam toward the sky, and all that is standing will be overthrown. Millions and more millions of men will lose their lives from one hour to the next... There will be tribulation wherever the eye can see."

Therein is one mystery.

For in November of 1980 -- during a visit to Fulda, Germany -- it was claimed (by another German publication, Stimme des Glaubens) that John Paul II had said, when asked by pilgrims about the third secret of Fatima, that "all Christians must be content with this: if it is a question of a message where it is said that the oceans will entirely flood certain parts of the earth, that from moment to moment millions will die, hearing this, people should not long for the rest of the secret."

This is enthralling because -- as we have just seen -- it matches up fairly well with that "bogus" Neues Europa "secret."

For many years, a small cadre of Catholics has asserted that aside from the image released as the third Fatima secret (showing an angel ready to torch the world), there was also a version with text. Might there actually be another aspect to the secret?

It is a mystery and perhaps will always remain so. One could also say the image itself conveyed all these same indications. We have no reason to doubt the Church. But tantalizingly, the Neues Europa "secret" also foresaw a satanic infiltration of the Church such that "cardinals will be against cardinals, and bishops against bishops." Now fast-forward to what Sister Sasagawa claimed to hear:

"The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against other bishops," is another passage from her messages. "The priests who venerate me will be scorned and opposed by the confreres."

Interesting here -- according to Turton -- is that Sister Agnes received the message in Japanese, except for the second use of the word "cardinal" -- which was given to her by the Blessed Mother in English (another language she did not know). Struggling to pronounce it, she even asked the bishop what the word "cardinal" meant.

And so the mystery deepens.

Now 79, Sister Agnes is no longer in Akita. The convent at Akita remains open, for the faithful to venerate the statue. But there still lingers controversy among bishops over the authenticity. Intriguing it is, however, the way one prediction, issued by the Blessed Mother at Akita, already materialized.

This had to do with that message that Sister Sasagawa would one day be cured of her hearing disability.

For indeed, on October 13 one year shortly after the experiences, the nun suddenly heard the phone ring -- and answered it. On the other end was a shocked Bishop John Ito -- who knew Sister Agnes was deaf and was aware of the prophecy that she would one day hear.

It was Bishop Ito, as head of the Niigata Diocese, who later issued the approval of Akita on April 22, 1984 -- Easter Sunday. Meanwhile, October 13, of course, is the anniversary of the great sun miracle at Fatima.

[resources: 101 Foundation, The Final Hour, and Retreat in Dallas: prophecy, current events, afterlife ]

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