She came away with a “more personal relationship” with Mary than an intellectual one, saying she understood Mary more as a person after talking with so many who are devoted to her.
She also witnessed the deep faith of many who have travelled great distances to be where apparitions of Mary are said to have taken place such as Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, where six village children said they first saw Mary in 1981 and continue to see apparitions there. A Vatican doctrinal congregation is still studying these claims.
In the small village, Orth met four stage-4 cancer victims last November: Two have since died, one is under treatment and another shows no signs of the disease. All four spoke of spiritual conversions and inner peace, she said.
A 59-year-old hockey dad from Boston told Orth that in 2000 one of the Medjugorje visionaries prayed with him for a cure of the cancer that riddled his body, giving him only months left to live. During the prayer, he felt a sensation of heat in his body. When he went back to Boston a week later, a CT scan at Massachusetts General Hospital revealed that his tumors were almost gone.
Since then, he’s been back to Medjugorje 13 times.
The editors at National Geographic wrote in the margin by Orth’s account of his story: “Why do miracles happen to some people and not others?” Orth, who doesn’t have an answer to that theological query, noted the challenge of explaining spiritual accounts in a scientific magazine.
One of Orth’s most inspiring stops for the story, primarily because she had not been unaware of it, was the small village of Kibeho, Rwanda, described as the place where Mary appeared to three young girls in the 1980s and foretold the genocide that took place in that country in 1994.
In 2001, that Vatican verified the claims of the three girls. One had been killed in the genocide, one became a monastic sister in Italy and the third fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and then Kenya during the three-month onslaught when the majority Hutu attacked the minority Tutsi and more than 800,000 people were killed.
The girls, Orth writes, “said they spent countless hours in conversations with the Virgin, who called herself Nyina wa Jambo, Mother of the Word. Mary spoke to the girls so often that they called her Mama”.
But even though Mary is said to have spoken of the love of Jesus and gave these girls motherly advice, she is also said to have shown them images of heaven, hell and purgatory along with horrific images of genocide that she warned could happen if Rwandans did not renew their hearts and dispel evil.
Orth said that the people she spoke with who said they saw apparitions all seemed genuine. She approached them as she would an investigative journalist. Their stories have been consistent throughout the years and they also have undergone extensive questioning from Vatican officials.
Orth pointed out that very little is known about Mary from the Bible, but as her story reveals, the lack of details about Mary has not stopped people from reaching out to her in prayer and devotion as a way to better understand and approach God.
“The number of people who use her as their guide and their way to a higher meaning, that was impressive across the board,” Orth said.