Amid recent reported visions of the Virgin Mary, 10,000 Catholics are expected to converge on Baltimore this fall to explore the role of the mother of Christ in the modern world.
"Our feeling is that this is the time and the place," said M. Jenkins Cromwell, an organizer of the Marian Conference scheduled for the Baltimore Arena from Sept. 11 to 15.
It's the place because Baltimore is the first Roman Catholic diocese inthe United States. It's the time because 1992 marks the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus and Christian faith in North America.
Marylanders have joined other religious pilgrims in visiting the site of reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Medjugorje, a remote town in Yugoslavia. Six child visionaries say they have seen daily apparitions from 1981 to the present.
Locally, statues of the Virgin Mary at churches in Northern Virginia and Prince George's County have reportedly wept during the past year in the presence of a Catholic priest bearing the wounds of the crucifixion.
Catholic authorities have not yet verified the authenticity of those apparitions, and it can take years for them to complete an investigation.
But church authorities did not waste any time in speaking out against other reported visions of Mary, including one in Long Island, N.Y., this year and another at a shrine near Denver last year.
The conference is timely for other reasons. Many Catholics say ++ they find in recent headlines evidence of the fulfillment of a promise made during the apparition of Mary near Fatima, Portugal, in 1917.
Three peasant children reported seeing a vision of Mary that year foretelling apocalyptic events in Europe and predicting the return of Christianity to Russia.
"Many see in the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the downfall of communism the beginning of the fulfillment of Mary's promise at Fatima," Baltimore Archbishop William H. Keeler said.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, India, was invited to the conference, butshe probably will not attend, Archbishop Keeler said.
Scheduled speakers include Cardinal Jaime Sin, the inspiration for the Philippine Democratic movement,
MA Archbishop Dominic Tang, the exiled archbishop of Canton, the
People's Republic of China, plans to tell the faithful how the rosary saved him from prison. Communist authorities persecuted him for his faith and imprisoned him without charges for 22 years.
Tickets cost $45 for adults, $15 for youths, $5 for children ages 5 to 11, and $75 for families. Clergy may attend free of charge.