The Virgin Mary appeared in Alabama again Tuesday night from 5:45 to 5:47 p.m., according to a popular Yugoslavian visionary who says she sees the mother of Jesus every day.
"Our Lady, when she came, she put her arms out, she extended them over the crowd," Marija Pavlovic Lunetti told a translator, who relayed the details to a crowd of about 1,000 people gathered around a candlelit Virgin Mary statue in a Shelby County field. "She prayed for a long time over all of us."
Mrs. Lunetti said she then asked the Virgin Mary to bless the people and the objects they brought to be blessed. "Our Lady then extended her hand and made the sign of the cross above us all," translator Kathleen Martin said. "And in this way she left."
She said she will have a vision again today at 5:45 p.m.
When Mrs. Lunetti was a teenager in 1981, she was one of six children in Medjugorje, Yugoslavia, who began reporting that the Virgin Mary was appearing to them every day. Over the past two decades, about a million pilgrims a year have visited the small town in a war-torn region that's now part of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Mrs. Lunetti said she had a vision of the Virgin Mary on Monday at 5:40 p.m. aboard an airplane on the way to Birmingham, then another after she arrived at 8 p.m. in the house of Caritas of Birmingham founder Terry Colafrancesco in Shelby County. Caritas promotes Mrs. Lunetti's visions.
"That is very unusual, to have two in one day," Colafrancesco said.
Mrs. Lunetti took part in reciting the rosary in the same Shelby County field on Tuesday morning, then lectured in broken English to an auditorium of admiring pilgrims. She occasionally stopped and spoke in Croatian or Italian to the translator, who would suggest English words for her.
Mrs. Lunetti said she has been accommodating to people, even letting pilgrims into her Medjugorje home while she has the visions. "People pat you and treat you like a saint, like you do miracles, not God," she said, speaking to a group of pilgrims on Tuesday at The Tabernacle of Our Lady's Messages, a $1.3 million office and chapel built by Caritas.
During her morning lecture, Mrs. Lunetti talked about the many pilgrims who have visited her in Medjugorje. She said she has met a princess from Liechtenstein and an aborigine from Australia who converted to Christianity, along with thousands of others.
"These people have come and really become part of our family," Mrs. Lunetti said. Mrs. Lunetti has often had her visions in a small chapel in her Medjugorje home. But last year, an outdoor chapel was built that accommodates more people, she said. Caritas contributed toward the building costs, Colafrancesco said.
Mrs. Lunetti said she doesn't want to be seen as anything other than an ordinary person who just happens to get a personal visit from the mother of Jesus every day. Someone in the audience Tuesday asked her what happened if she was busy when the Virgin Mary appeared.
"I'm never so busy I won't stop for Our Lady," said Mrs. Lunetti, who married an Italian man in 1993, has three children and moves back and forth between homes in Medjugorje and Milan, Italy. Her husband and three children did not accompany her to Alabama this week.
In 1998, when Mrs. Lunetti and her husband were riding horses during an unpublicized visit to Shelby County, Mrs. Lunetti was kicked in the leg by a horse and had to be taken to the hospital, Colafrancesco said Tuesday. While she was in a car on U.S. 280, she had a vision of the Virgin Mary and her pain went away during the vision, he said.
That's how he knows her visions are real, Colafrancesco said. "How do you fake this?" he said. She was in terrible pain from being kicked by a horse, but during her vision she appeared ecstatic, he said. "She's in an exalted state. She's in ecstasy. She's not aware of anything."
Bishop David E. Foley of the Catholic Diocese of Birmingham has advised pilgrims that the Roman Catholic Church has not approved the Medjugorje-related visions. He has forbidden priests from conducting Mass at Caritas.
The Rev. John H. Cunningham, a retired priest from Natchitoches, La., said he has abided by that restriction but has led prayers and held confession for Catholic pilgrims because he has been to Medjugorje and believes Mrs. Lunetti's visions are real. "Whenever people come to pray, there is always Christ," Cunningham said.
Irene Wells of Beverly, N.J., said she came to Alabama on Mrs. Lunetti's first visit in 1988. Mrs. Lunetti stayed at Caritas for three months then to donate a kidney for her brother, Andrija Pavlovic, at University Hospital. Ms. Wells said the visit prompted her to become a Catholic. "Something in my heart told me it's true," she said.
Back then, Caritas had no headquarters. A field near Colafrancesco's house became a pilgrimage site when Mrs. Lunetti had a vision there on Thanksgiving Day in 1988.
"What a change," said Ms. Wells, who said she returned to gain strength to deal with losing two friends in the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center. "I figured if I came here the Blessed Mother would give me strength to help all the people who are crying. I think she's coming in preparation for the Second Coming. If Jesus' mother was good enough for him, she's good enough for me."