Note: Last year, inspired by words from Fr. Robert Spitzer, I ran a 10-part series in our bulletin (Aug. 12 – Oct. 14, 2018) on modern day miracles that had been heavily scrutinized by science (available when you visit our parish website and pull up the bulletins from those dates). Spitzer had said that 93% of those who lose their faith today in America claim that their primary reason for this loss of faith is that they do not believe religion can hold up to the scrutiny of modern science. In other words, faith in science is replacing faith in God for many people. Spitzer’s solution to this modern phenomenon was to challenge Church leaders to make a focused effort to report Church documented miracles that have confounded science in recent decades. In that spirit, I shared a cross section of ten widely studied miracles for your consideration. At the request of several of our Sacred Heart students I decided to bring back a 2nd year of episodes on this topic. So far this year I have discussed the so-called “incorruptibles” (saints who have died but whose bodies have not decomposed), new scientific findings on the Shroud of Turin, the Eucharistic miracle of Lanciano, Italy and Our Lady of Zeitoun. This weekend, I bring you…
Episode 15: The Miracles of Akita, Japan
A few pious women known as the Institute of the Handmaids of the Holy Eucharist were leading a quiet, hidden life of prayer in Yuzawadai just outside of Akita when they welcomed into their novitiate Sister Agnes Katsuko Sasagawa, who was then 42 years old and a convert from Buddhism. When she entered on May 12, 1973, Agnes was totally and incurably deaf. However, she was blessed with various mystical favors. Soon this convent would become so well known that their little chapel would attract pilgrims from around the world.
Beginning on June 12, 1973, only a month after her entrance into the community, Sr. Agnes began to report the occurrence of apparitions and mystical visions. She reported these to Bishop Ito of Niigata and to her spiritual director Rev. Teji Yasuda. The first reported incident included seeing beams of light coming from the chapel tabernacle, seeing smoke around the altar and witnessing a multitude of angels while she was at prayer. In others, she reported seeing her guardian Angel who she says confided messages to her and prayed with her.
In addition to these ongoing apparitions, on the evening of June 28, 1973, Sr. Agnes discovered on the palm of her left hand a stigmata-like, cross-shaped wound that was exceedingly painful. This wound opened and bled beginning on July 5, 1973 as she entered the community chapel for prayer. As she entered, according to Sr. Agnes’ own account her attention was drawn to the approximately 3 ft. high hardwood carved statue of Mary that resided in the chapel for devotion. When Sr. Agnes approached the statue, she said, “I suddenly felt that the wooden statue came to life and was about to speak to me . . . She was bathed in a brilliant light . . . and at the same moment a voice of indescribable beauty struck my totally deaf ears.” Our Lady told her, “Your deafness will be healed . . .” She then recited with Sr. Agnes the community prayer that had been composed by Bishop Ito. At the words “Jesus present in the Eucharist,” Mary instructed, “From now on, you will add TRULY.” Together with the Angel who again appeared, the three voices recited a consecration to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, TRULY present in the Holy Eucharist. Before disappearing, Our Lady asked that Sr. Agnes “pray very much for the Pope, bishops and priests . . .” She was also eventually invited to offer herself as a victim soul, offering her prayers and sufferings for souls.
The next morning, when the sisters assembled for the recitation of Lauds, they found blood on the right hand of the statue and two lines, which crossed, in the middle of which was an opening from which the blood flowed. The wound matched that on the hand of Sr. Agnes except that, since the statue’s hand was smaller, its wound was smaller. It bled on the Fridays of July during the year 1973, as did the wound on the hand of Sr. Agnes. Eventually, the sister’s wound disappeared on July 27 and the matching one on the statue disappeared just as inexplicably on September 29 after the statue emitted a temporary bright light witnessed by the entire community. That same night, the statue seemed to be coated with what was described as a kind of perspiration, which the sisters dutifully removed with cotton balls.
Toward the end of May, 1974, another phenomenon occurred. While the statue’s garment and the hair retained the look of natural wood, the face, hands and feet became distinguished by a dark, reddish-brown tint. Eight years later, when the sculptor came to see the statue, he could not hide his surprise that only the visible parts of Our Lady’s body had changed color, and that the face itself had changed expression.
Then on January 4, 1975, to the amazement of the community and Fr. Yasuda, the statue of the Virgin began to weep and did so three times that day. Also witnessing these tears, in addition to the sisters, were Bishop Ito and a number of people who had joined the nuns for a New Year’s retreat. In the 10 years following, scientific studies excluded any explanation other than the supernatural (since the statue was solid wood, free from any hidden reservoir or hollow area and the statue was free of any type of artificial effect). Eventually, Bishop Ito arranged for Professor Sagisaka, M.D., a non-Christian specialist in forensic medicine, to make a rigorous scientific examination of the three fluids collected from the statue (i.e. blood samples, perspiration and tears) although the Bishop did not reveal their source. The results were: “The matter adhering on the gauze is human blood. The sweat and the tears absorbed in the two pieces of cotton are of human origin.” The blood was found to belong to group B and the sweat was from group O and tears were from group AB. Sr. Agnes belongs to group B. Since three blood groups were involved, Sr. Agnes could not have produced the fluids on her own and samples were taken of the fluids in front of witnesses so tampering seems an unlikely possibility. In most cases, according to records, anywhere from 10-70 people would witness these events as samples were being taken for study. Eventually all of these reported phenomena ceased.
Bishop Ito was advised by the Apostolic Nuncio to seek the assistance of the Archbishop of Tokyo in creating a commission of canonical inquiry. Unfortunately, the Inquisitor who was not Catholic was named president of this group. Without any of the members visiting the convent to conduct a personal inquiry, the commission rendered an unfavorable verdict. Unwilling to accept a negative verdict to the events he himself had witnessed, Bishop Ito asked the advice in Rome of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as well as the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. He was then advised to form another commission to study the events from the beginning. This commission rendered a favorable verdict regarding the supernatural aspects of the events. On April 2 of 1984 Bishop Ito, according to the directives from the Vatican and canon law authorized the public veneration of Our Lady of Akita. On June 20, 1988, the Vatican approved the contents of Bishop Ito’s pastoral letter and Pope Benedict XVI added his own assurances in August of 1990.
The tears of December 8, 1979 were filmed by a television crew at 11 o’clock in the evening, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and was shown on television to 12 million people throughout Japan. It is now shown by the nuns at the convent and was shown during news broadcasts throughout the world. The sculptor of the statue, Saburo Wakasa, a non-Catholic and a citizen of Akita, was asked his reaction to the occurrences relating to the statue. He answered, “The statue of Mary was my first work connected with Christianity. Of my various statues, it is only with the statue of Mary at Yuzawadai that mysterious events occurred . . . I sculptured the whole statue of Mary, globe, and the Cross from the same piece of wood, so there are no joints . . . The wood from which I carved the statue of Mary was very dry and rather hard.” When questioned as to whether he regards as a “miracle” the reported shedding of tears from the statue of Mary, he replied, “It is a mystery.” Well said.
Sr. Agnes was totally and incurably deaf when she entered the community, having lost her hearing on March 16, 1973. Sister was able to speak, and understood spoken messages by lip reading. As predicted by her guardian Angel, she temporarily regained her hearing on October 13, 1974. Deafness returned on March 7, 1975. Her hearing was permanently restored on May 30, 1982, as predicted by Our Lady during the first message of July 6, 1973. Both healings occurred instantaneously during Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Sr. Agnes is today in sound health, except for the rheumatism that has affected her hands. Sr. Agnes, for years, claims to have received locutions from the image of Mary. Her account of those messages was consistent with the message associated with Fatima, Portugal with a call for world repentance and prayer and an appeal for some to respond as victim souls who might make it a vocation to pray for the world without ceasing. (Catholictradition.org)