The last living visionary from Beauraing, Belgium died on February 10, 2015. I was not surprised Gilberte Degeimbre’s death elicited no coverage in the United States by Catholic writers or Marian enthusiasts. The thirty-three apparitions of Our Lady to five children in Beauraing are virtually unknown to Catholics in the United States. More common to the United States are Our Lady of Guadalupe, Lourdes, or Fatima, given their liturgical celebrations (December 12, February 11, May/October 13/First Saturdays, respectively) or the 1859 apparition in Champion, Wisconsin which received ecclesiastical approval in 2010.
The death of Gilberte, who I had the privilege of meeting in January 2015, provides an occasion to present the message of Our Lady anew. In the messages, we will not find anything different from other apparitions of Our Lady throughout time; it is the same call to prayer, the sacraments, and conversion of life. As we approach the Lenten season, Our Lady’s message encourages us to live Lent more fully in the spirit of prayer and sacrifice.
The Beginning of the Apparitions
On November 29, 1932, two children from the Voisin family, (Fernande and Albert), went to the nearby school to retrieve their sister, Gilberte. Along the way, the two children stopped at the Degeimbre household to see if their friends, Andree and Gilberte, could join them. The four children left the Degeimbre home and continued on their way to the school. After ringing the doorbell, Albert looked toward the railroad bridge and saw a woman walking in the air near the Lourdes grotto. Albert was not alone in seeing the mysterious woman, as Gilberte Voisin, upon leaving the school, did as well. The children reported seeing the woman again on November 30 and December 1. Our Lady did not convey her first message until December 2 and she continued to appear through January 3, 1933. In the course of the apparitions, Our Lady would reveal her Golden Heart and identify herself as the Immaculate Virgin, Mother of God, and the Queen of Heaven. She also requested the construction of a chapel, because as she stated, she appeared so people would come on pilgrimage.
The Simple Messages
Our Lady appeared to children and spoke very simple messages to them. As we approach the Lenten season, I believe we can see the spirit of Lent through the messages.
Always be good (Dec. 2)
I will convert sinners (Jan. 3)
The first message relayed by Our Lady to the children on December 2 was simple, considered trite by some: “Always be good.” This message coincides well with what Our Lady said in her individual messages to the children during the last apparition on January 3, 1933. To Gilberte Voisin, Our Lady said, “I will convert sinners.”
The conversion of our lives entails being good. It means living a good Christian life, obeying the commandments and loving our neighbor. When we are not good, we recognize this by going to the Sacrament of Penance and seeking out God’s pardon and mercy. Our Lady’s greatest desire in her apparitions throughout time is the conversion of sinners. She wants people to live lives that do not displease her Son. Our Lady’s declaration that she will convert sinners should startle us and call us to greater awareness of the failings in our lives.
Many people who read these words readily accept Our Lady’s apparitions. We go to these holy sites and pray there because of our devotion to Our Lady. But do we allow her message to pierce us the entire way through? Do we allow the message of conversion to sink in totally, that we are willing to experience conversion in thought, word, and deed?
Mary desires to convert sinners, meaning she wants the attitudes of our hearts to change. When we want to speak ill of another, we must realize the need for conversion. When we wish to use curse words—conversion. Our Lady exhorts us to live more consciously of our need every day for conversion. It is not enough to think about conversion; we truly need to change. During our Lenten discipline let us realize the moments that we need conversion and embrace them, so that the words Our Lady speaks, “I will convert sinners,” can be actualized.
Pray. Pray very much. Pray Always.
Our Lady exhorted the children to pray, not once, not twice, but three times and intensified each request. Prayer is communication with God. For many, the word ‘prayer’ is quite limited. We think of prayer as asking God for something or thanking God. These are good places to start, but prayer is meditative and contemplative. It is about conversing with God and listening in the silence of one’s heart for His response. Our Lady wants us to pray because it means we will be in constant relationship with her Son, a constant conversation and dialogue with Jesus. This conversation will begin to guide every moment of our lives, and through that dialogue, we will identify how God wishes for us to be converted.
We are to pray, pray very much, and pray always. Ultimately, we can make our entire day a prayer. This can be done in a simple way each morning by praying a Morning Offering. Our Lady exhorts us to pray—she wants us to pray from the moment we wake to the moment we fall asleep. Each one of us will have to figure out how we can fulfill this request.
Do you love my Son? Do you love me? Then sacrifice yourself for me.
Fernande Voisin received the last words spoken by Our Lady in Beauraing. Mary asked, “Do you love my Son? Do you love me? Then sacrifice yourself for me.” We can make small sacrifices for Our Lord and Blessed Lady by fasting this Lent. But we can sacrifice ourselves in greater ways by serving God in our neighbor. Sacrifice yourself by serving Jesus in the poor, homeless, and the sick. Live the corporal works of mercy. Sacrifice yourself for the good of the other—your spouse, children, and friends. Sacrifice yourself in the vocation you live by emptying yourself of all desires, and filling yourself only with the desires of God. In prayer, when God asks us for conversion, it will mean sacrifice. God will ask us to sacrifice time for prayer. He will ask us to sacrifice things that put up barriers between Him and us. When we sacrifice, we become more fully open and receptive to God’s action in our lives.
Our Lenten discipline reminds us of our need for conversion, prayer, and sacrifice. In the apparitions received by the five children of Beauraing, we clearly see these principles. Mary desires the conversion of sinners. As the Mediatrix of Grace, Mary intercedes for the grace of conversion. This Lent, pray for a greater desire to conform your life to Christ. Identify one area to improve. Mary asks us to pray always. How will you pray more this Lent? Consider taking up the recommendation of Pope Francis to read the scriptures and converse with God about them. Mary wants us to make sacrifices. How will you sacrifice yourself this Lent?
During my stay in Beauraing I was struck by the simplicity of Our Lady’s words and the depth of meaning they conveyed. I also had the opportunity to view a documentary about the apparition. When Gilberte Degeimbre (recently deceased visionary) spoke about the apparitions, you could sense the authenticity of what she said. She greatly desired to go home to God. When Gilberte would visit the Hawthorne tree, where Our Lady appeared, she would tell people to close their eyes, because they would see Our Lady better. In death, Gilberte has closed her eyes and she sees again the Queen of Heaven reigning with her Son. Inspired by the example of Gilberte, let us begin to interiorize the message of Our Lady and allow it to take root in our hearts and lives this Lenten season.