MIRACLES TO CONVINCE ATHEISTS
At Christmas, we celebrate the greatest miracle of all, the Incarnation of the Second person of the Trinity in human flesh. It is not easy for people to accept the reality of a stupendous miracle of this sort. Historically, many people have become more open to faith in the Incarnation of Jesus by their experience of lesser miracles, such as unexplained healings. The problem is that many stories of healings can be dismissed rather easily. The ChurchPop website a few years ago carried an article on atheism and miracles. The point being made was that atheists often find it relatively easy to reject Christian miracles. Cures of cancer or infections are generally hidden from view, making it difficult to confirm the presence of the supernatural. If, for example, a person goes to Lourdes with cancer and comes back cured, the atheist could reply, “Well, how do we know that the cancer didn’t go into remission spontaneously?”
A class of miracle that cannot be dismissed
The best type of miracle for convincing an atheist, according to the ChurchPop author, involves cures like the growing back of an amputated limb, for it would be impossible to explain away such a cure as an accident of nature. The author went on then to provide historical documentation for a case of the reappearance of an amputated leg following prayers for the intercession of Our Lady.
Even the most hard-headed and rational human being just has to accept that a miracle such as this points to the existence of the supernatural. But maybe miracles of this sort are extremely rare? If we look into the matter, though, there are actually no shortage of such historical cases in the armoury of the Catholic Church. We don’t have to limit our appeal to a single case of a regrown limb from a few centuries ago. Many of the healings that have been investigated by the Church for the canonisation of saints have involved the instantaneous regeneration of organs or skin, something that cannot be explained by natural means.
Elvira Moriano of Peru
One day, while at home, Elvira Moriano of Lima accidentally dropped an earthenware dish and it shattered into pieces. A shard of the pot struck her in the eye with such force that it pierced the cornea. All of the fluids emptied out of the eye, which became completely flaccid. Elvira was overcome with pain and began to cry out loudly. Neighbours arrived and a surgeon was called. When Elvira asked the surgeon if her eye would ever be restored, he replied that “Only God can restore the organs of the body”. News of the accident spread through the city and reached the monastery where St Martin de Porres had once lived and where Elvira’s son was a Dominican novice. The prior sent a relic of Saint Martin to Elvira. When the relic was held to her eye, the pain was alleviated and she fell into a deep sleep. Next morning, when she awoke, her eye had regenerated back to normal and she was able to see again perfectly. This healing was witnessed by many people and was confirmed by her doctor in a sworn deposition. Eventually, it was one of the miracles used for the beatification of Martin de Porres in the 1830s.
Matheus Vianna of Brazil
Four-year old Matheus Vianna was a very weak and malnourished child. He had a rare condition known as an annular pancreas in which the organ encircles the intestine, preventing proper digestion. He constantly vomited after eating. Only a transplant could save the child, but he was too weak for surgery. Doctors told his mother that he could not expect to live beyond the age of five. A local priest, Father Tenório, used to visit Assisi in Italy and developed a devotion to a young boy called Carlo Acutis who had died in 2006 after a short illness. Carlo had great reverence for the Eucharist and his cause for beatification had been opened. Father Tenório received a piece of clothing that had belonged to Carlo from his mother. The feast day of Our Lady of Aparecida, Brazil’s patroness, is October 12th, which happened to be the date of Carlo’s death. Every year after the celebration of Our Lady’s feast, the priest would display the relic of the clothing of Carlo in his parish church. In 2013, four-year old Matheus kissed the relic and, according to his mother, he prayed for healing. Specifically, he prayed aloud that he would stop vomiting. Many people present witnessed this prayer. When Matheus got home, he ate beef and French fries and did not vomit afterwards. His mother later testified that this was the first time in his entire life that this happened. At the next ultrasound scan, the doctor confirmed that the morphology of the pancreas has completely changed and become normal. One doctor declared that it was now a textbook pancreas, an organ that was so perfect that it looked unreal. When Father Tenório saw Matheus’ tests, he reported the facts to the postulator of the beatification of Carlo Acutis. The Vatican received the documents in March 2019. After stringent evaluation by a bord of medical experts, the case was declared inexplicable by natural causes. The cure was used for the beatification of Carlo Acutis.
In 1880, Mother Frances Cabrini founded the Institute of Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The order ran a number of hospitals in the United States. In one of these hospitals, a nurse dropped a fifty percent silver nitrate solution into the eyes of a newborn child named Peter. The correct dosage should have been one percent and the result was disastrous. The child’s face was burned and became like charred wood, while the hollows of his eyes were completely filled with two grotesque swellings. The medical professionals could do nothing for this child who was now totally blind and disfigured. In response, the nuns prayed all night to their foundress, seeking a miracle. The following morning, they found Peter had two perfect eyes, and his skin was healing without scarring. The miracle was used for the canonisation of Mother Cabrini. Peter attended the ceremony and eventually became a priest.
Elisa Scarpelli was a ten-year old child from Lappano, Italy. In 1932, Elisa developed cancerous ulcers spreading from her left jaw to the upper part her neck. She was first taken to the family physician, Dr Augustine Intrieri, who initially treated it with a linseed poultice, without effect. He then decided to attempt a surgical operation to remove the ulcers, which failed. Afterwards, several other doctors tried various remedies, without any positive effect.
Gemma Galgani was an Italian mystic who died in 1903. On the day of Gemma Galgani’s beatification (May 14th 1933), Elisa picked up a picture of Gemma. Full of faith and hope, she removed the bandages from her face, applying the picture directly to the cancerous ulcers. At the same time she invoked Gemma for healing. The wounds were instantly healed. She looked into the mirror, astonished, and cried out “Mother!” Her mother, who was in another room, came in to see her daughter completely cured. Both mother and daughter were overcome by emotion.
In the same town of Lappano, Natale Scarpelli (who was unrelated to Elisa) was a farmer with a wife and child. In 1935, a painful festering ulcer appeared on his leg after an accident. This condition did not respond to professional medical treatment. Natale became bedridden. As the sole breadwinner, this was a very serious situation for the family. They began to pray to Gemma Galgani, using a relic which they possessed of the mystic. At one point, the daughter took the relic of Blessed Gemma, making the sign of the cross over the ulcer. Mr Scarpelli soon grew very tired and fell into a deep sleep, something he rarely did because of the severe pain in his leg. The following morning, the family awoke to discover that he had been miraculously cured. Fresh skin had regenerated and filled the large ulcerous cavity. All pain was gone and he was able to get out of bed and walk normally.
Medical professionals later testified that “this miracle is not only incomprehensible but it upsets all the physio-pathological laws of the medical field.” Both miracles were used for the canonisation of Gemma Galgani in 1940.
St John Paul II gave great impetus to the canonisation process of Sister Josephine Bakhita (who died in 1947) when he visited Sudan on one of his papal journeys. The miracle used for her beatification in 1992 involved the healing of a nun from Bakhita’s own congregation. The nun suffered from a complete disintegration of her knees, known as arthritic synovitis. For nine years she suffered terribly and was bedridden. In 1948, while waiting for surgery, she prayed a nine-day novena to Bakhita. The night before her operation, she awoke with a clear voice saying to her, “Get up and walk!” The nun obeyed and started walking around normally, something she hadn’t done in years. The doctors performed an x-ray and found no trace of the disease. An operation was no longer necessary.
The miracle for Bakhita’s canonisation in 2000 also involved the instantaneous cure of a highly visible condition. Eva de Costa from Brazil was afflicted with diabetic ulcers in her legs. After praying fervently to Bakhita, the ulcers and pain disappeared instantly. The cure was investigated and confirmed to be naturally inexplicable by medical experts.
The Tumour of Consiglia de Martino
The miracle used for Padre Pio’s beatification process was the case of Consiglia De Martino, a married woman with three children from Salerno, Italy. In 1995, she developed a very rapidly-progressing growth in her neck. Following scans, the examining doctor determined that Consiglia’s thoracic duct had ruptured, forming a huge lump containing approximately two litres of lymphatic fluid. Consiglia was told that she would need to undergo a very difficult and risky operation on November 3rd of that year. She immediately began to implore the intercession of Padre Pio. She phoned Fra Modestino — a friar stationed in Padre Pio’s friary in the south of Italy. Fra Modestino prayed at the tomb of Padre Pio on November 1st and 2nd. On November 2nd, Consiglia’s pain diminished greatly, followed by a rapid reduction of the swelling in her neck. The next day, Consiglia was examined by the doctors prior to the planned operation. The x-rays showed the complete cure of the rupture of the thoracic duct, the disappearance of the large liquid deposit in Consiglia’s neck, and the disappearance of other liquid deposits in her abdomen. The surgery was cancelled. Consiglia had been immediately and inexplicably cured of a dangerous condition—without medical intervention of any sort.
This is just a selection of cures that have all been rigorously verified by medical commissions. In many cases, these commissions have included doctors of various faiths and none. In places like Lourdes, of course, there are many other cures that are more difficult to substantiate. It is a sad truth that cases of spiritual healing, even those involving radical conversions of life, can easily be dismissed by atheists as natural or purely psychological developments. Cures such as those listed above, however, involving rapid, visible transformations from diseased tissue to healthy tissue, are not amenable to a natural explanation.
Reflection on supernatural healings can aid our faith in the Incarnation of Christ. Our faith does not depend on miracles, but for those who have difficulty believing, or do not believe at all, genuine miracles are a valid place to start. Jesus tells us so himself.
“But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (John 10,38).
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