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The story of the apparitions that appeared at St. Mary's Church in Egypt begins in 1920. Tawfik Khalil Abraham was a Coptic Christian. He owned a plot of land in Zeitoun. This is a suburb of Cairo, Egypt. Abraham agreed to have a hotel built on the property. He said the Blessed Virgin Mary visited him in a dream. She asked Abraham to forget about the hotel and to build a Coptic Church there in her honor. She also told him if he did this, she would perform a miracle at the Coptic Church in the future.
The Coptic Orthodox Church of St. Mary was finished in 1925. On April 2, 1968, miracles began to happen at the church as was promised. Two Muslim garage attendants were working when they notice a woman at the top of the Church. They believed she was about to jump to her death. Farouk Mohammad Atwa was one of the Muslim men who yelled up to the woman to not jump. Soon a crowd formed. They were all looking up at the woman and suddenly realized she was not an ordinary person. Many people in the crowd believed they were seeing the Blessed Virgin Mary herself. The apparition appeared at the church between 1968 and 1971. It is estimated that over a million people witnessed the luminous female figure at the top of the roof of St. Mary’s Orthodox Coptic Church in Zeitoun.
Egypt is a Muslim-majority country. Coptic Christians are a large but persecuted minority in Egypt. The Holy Family's flight from Herod occurred in Egypt and is told about in the Book of Exodus. The apparitions started appearing a year after Egypt had been defeated in the Six-Day War with Israel. It was a time when the country was dealing with the death of over 2,000 of its soldiers and Israeli forces occupying the Sinai Peninsula.
Millions of Witnesses
The apparition appeared at the church regularly from 1968 to 1971 It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, as well as many foreigners, witnessed the luminous female figure at the top of the church's roof. The apparition was most often seen during feast days. It was often able to be seen for several minutes. The longest time it appeared was approximately nine hours. Many who saw the figure believed it was the Virgin Mary holding an olive branch. This is a symbol of peace that many people around the world believed was needed in the Middle East. Others claim they saw the apparition bow in front of a cross as well as walking over the church's dome. Some believed they saw the Virgin Mary blessing the crowds. Over 250,000 people were present during a single appearance of the apparition.
People claimed to have also seen luminous doves flying at night. These birds don't normally fly at night. Some said they also saw bright colors flashing. This is similar to the Miracle of the Sun in Fatima. Some people claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary accompanied by Joseph or holding the baby Jesus. Some said they saw the figure of Jesus at the age of twelve. Many said they could smell incense when they were in the town of Zeitoun. Several non-Christian medical professionals saw the apparitions and had no explanation for what they were seeing. People claimed the Virgin Mary didn't speak at Zeitoun. They believe she was communicating through her silence.
Egyptian authorities started to worry about the growing size of the crowds. The country's police and secular authorities were ordered to conduct an investigation concerning the apparitions. The investigators were unable to find any lighting or projectors that could be used to create the apparitions. They meticulously searched a fifteen-mile area around St. Mary's Church. Numerous pictures of the apparition were published in Egyptian newspapers. Footage of it was broadcast on Egyptian television. Most of the skeptics at the time tried to provide a psychological explanation. One psychologist said those who saw the apparition had a religious background. They believed there was a social expectation to see the lights as related to the Virgin Mary.
Many photographs were taken of the apparitions. Some of them are considered inconsistent. Many are of low quality and blurry. Some do appear to be a photograph of the Virgin Mary. The sourcing of some of the most popular photographs is not known. Some skeptics have pointed out the bright sunlight on the heads of the onlookers as the sky remains dark. Some photographs show the apparition being translucent. Others show it to be opaque and bright which matches the account of witnesses.
A religious order known as the Nuns of the Sacred Heart witnessed the apparitions. They provided a detailed report of what they had seen to the Vatican. An envoy from the Vatican came and was able to witness the apparitions. They sent a report to Pope Paul VI. Since the apparition appeared over a Coptic church, the Vatican felt the Coptic authorities would be best able to conduct an investigation. Kyrillos VI was the Pope of Alexandria. He was the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Kyrillos appointed a committee of high-ranking bishops and priests to investigate the apparitions. The committee was headed by Bishop Gregorios. Kyrillos VI issued an official statement after the committee finished its work. They confirmed the apparition as being a miracle. After this official statement, the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism issued a validation of the events occurring at St. Mary's Church.
The apparition at the church was witnessed by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. This moment was captured by Egyptian television and newspaper photographers. Continued investigations by the Egyptian authorities were not able to provide an explanation for the appearance of the apparitions. The Egyptian government officially labeled the apparitions as true.
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