Our Lady of Civitavecchia 25 Years On
Our Lady of Civitavecchia crying tears of blood.
August 31, 2020 - Reported [here]. A reflection by theologian Stephen Walford. On 2nd February, 1995 in the port city of Civitavecchia, lying under the shadow of the Vatican, a new chapter of the critical and deeply prophetic “Marian era” began to be written by the Blessed Virgin Mary. It would become famous throughout the world, and place the family of Fabio Gregori at the centre of a divine intervention with far reaching consequences for the Church and the world.
The story actually began some months before, for in September 1994, the parish priest of St Agostino’s in Pantano, Fr Pablo Martin left on pilgrimage for Medjugorje with the intention of bringing back a statue of the Blessed Virgin for the Gregori family. Whilst there, he says he was guided by St Pio of Pietrelcina (d.1968) to purchase a particular statue and was told by the famous Capuchin friar that “the most beautiful event of his life” would be the result of this decision.
At a similar time, a spiritual daughter of the renowned exorcist Fr Gabriel Amorth had informed him that a “Madoninna would weep in Civitavecchia” and that it would “not be a good omen for Italy”. The Bishop of Civitavecchia at the time, Monsignor Girolamo Grillo recounts in his Diary that Fr Amorth phoned him on 13 March 1995 and presented him with this information. The Bishop did not believe him.
Returning to 2nd February 1995, it was at 4:20 pm that the five year old Jessica Gregori first witnessed tears of blood streaming from the left eye down to the heart of the Madonna in the garden grotto. Her Father, Fabio, was soon also at the scene since the family were about to leave for Mass. The same phenomenon occurred on the following days with other witnesses, but Bishop Grillo remained sceptical. The statue would weep another thirteen times before an extraordinary grace changed the bishop’s mind. On March 15 at 8:15 am after Mass at the Bishop’s residence, his sister Grazia expressed a desire to pray before the statue having remembered Fr Amorth’s words. Bishop Grillo granted the request, and together with several others present, they began to recite the Salve Regina. When they reached the words “Turn, then, O most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us”, the statue began to cry tears of blood for the fourteenth time, and this time in the hands of the Bishop himself.
Fr Amorth was later to confess that his spiritual daughter who had informed him in the summer of 1994 of the future miraculous event, had also warned him that unless much prayer and penance was done, Italy would face civil war and terrible bloodshed. On account of this danger, the loving soul offered herself as a victim in reparation for the sins of Italy, and soon became seriously ill. Bishop Grillo meanwhile, also took it upon himself to request all cloistered convents and monasteries to pray ardently for the country.
With the Bishop now firmly convinced of the true nature of the events unfolding in his diocese, he took the statue to Rome for two separate teams of doctors to analyse the tears. Both came back with the same result: the blood was from a male in his mid-thirties, but it also revealed strong female characteristics. Astonishingly, Professor Umani Ronchi, the chief physician of legal medicine at the Sapienza University was to declare openly that a supernatural light had issued forth from the statue during the tests. CAT scans performed by several agencies along with the Catholic Church also proved there were no hidden devices or mechanisms within the statue that could have allowed the blood to pass through it. For those with faith in the miraculous event- now including the Bishop- the blood was that of Jesus Christ, and the strong female characteristics explainable because Jesus had no earthly Father, thus everything came from his Mother Mary.
The controversy became such that the state attorney’s office confiscated the statue for further investigations, which caused uproar among the public and faithful. At this point the Vatican became involved and showed tangible support for the Gregori family. Pope John Paul II sent his great friend Cardinal Andrej Maria Deskur (the Cardinal who offered his sufferings from a stroke for the Pope at the dawn of his pontificate) on 10 April, 1995 to present the family with a replica statue made by the same man who made the original. It was a personal gift from the Holy Father and soon, inexplicably, began to emit a fragrant oil on liturgical feast days, the anniversary of tears, and also on many occasions before simple pilgrims invoking the help of the Madonna of Civitavecchia. The statue also wept human tears on April 2, 2005, the day St. John Paul II left this Earth for Heaven, and on March 31, 2006, when Bishop Grillo personally witnessed the weeping, and testifying to it publicly.
As incredible as these events were in the Spring of 1995, they were only the beginning of the divine call for repentance, for within months, Fabio, his wife Annamaria, Jessica and their youngest child at the time Davide began to experience apparitions of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. Beginning on July 2 and ending on May 17, 1996, 93 public messages were given on a range of themes; yet even before that, Jessica’s Mother, Annamaria had received certain revelations in the form of dreams. Clearly the intention of Our Lady was to draw attention to the vital importance of the Christian family by gradually involving all members of the family into these mystical events. However, when news reached Bishop Grillo of these new claims, his old scepticism returned. He interrogated Jessica in September 1995 accusing her of lying, but the young girl remained steadfast, even announcing to him in a second meeting that the Blessed Virgin had told her that “he has a heart of stone.” At this point, the Bishop put Jessica to the test. He asked her to provide a fact about himself that only he knew. She later returned with not one, but several facts concerning his person. Clearly struck by the astonishing and truthful details, the Bishop fell ill, but from that moment on, all doubts vanished, and he was to become a great support to the Blessed Virgin’s plans for Civitavecchia and the Gregori family. Along similar lines, the Bishop was also given a secret from the Blessed Virgin detailing future events in his life, and shortly before his death in 2016, he publicly revealed that the contents of the secret had all come true.
One of the most beautiful aspects of the apparitions was the tenderness and humility shown by the Lord Jesus and the Blessed Virgin. For instance, when Our Lady appeared, she would apologise for taking up family time. On one occasion Davide was hugged by the Madonna while he tugged on the cord around her waist. Fabio recounts how he had been incredulous to the idea of the Blessed Virgin appearing to Jessica and Davide, yet he was to then see her too: “To me she gave a gift and a kiss on the forehead; I felt the heat and the flesh.” Jessica and her Mother Annamaria both spoke with Jesus in the Church. The Lord came forth from the Divine Mercy image and walked over to Annamaria and proceeded to hold her hand. Although the public messages ended in May 1996, the apparitions have continued throughout in a private capacity. Manuel who was born in 2002 saw Our Lady at the age of seven, at a time of particular suffering for the family, and as recently as December 2018, Our Lady appeared to Fabio and Annamaria during Mass. Jessica has also continued to have apparitions throughout the intervening years.
If we look at the messages themselves, they allow us to understand the reason for the tears of blood. They sketch out for the Church in a prophetic way the dangers that are looming over humanity, and in this sense they are certainly apocalyptic in the truest sense of the word: apostasy from the true faith, a satanic attack on the family, the dangers of a third world war, the importance of devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and a warning that the prophetic vision of the third secret of Fatima was beginning to unfold at the end of the second millennium. However, Our Lady also speaks of the coming final victory over evil with the Lord’s return in glory.
In terms of a “great apostasy” from the true Faith as Our Lady has described it, the warning is stark: “Children, the Church has entered the period of great trial, and in many of you the faith will become unstable.” On another occasion we read “Satan is taking over all humanity, and now he is trying to destroy the Church of God through many priests. Don't allow it! Help the Holy Father!”… “In Rome darkness is descending more and more on the Rock that my Son Jesus left you on which to build up, educate and spiritually raise his children.”
The warnings of apostasy are also found in the magisterium of the recent popes. St John Paul II referred specifically to a “silent apostasy” in his Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in Europa, while Benedict XVI saw St Paul’s prophecy to Timothy concerning the “day in which people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths” (2 Tim: 4:3) as occurring in our own times (1). Pope Francis on countless occasions has warned of the danger posed by spiritual worldliness which is “the most treacherous temptation threatening the Church” (2).
The Blessed Virgin implores unity in the Church through obedience of all the bishops to the Pope. “His strength [the Pope] confirms that the real Evangelical Truth is only within the Church of Jesus entrusted to the Pope and all the bishops united to him in obedience.” The bishops are also invited to “return to being of one heart full of true faith and humility.”
For the Gregori family, a central message given through the various supernatural signs concerns the destruction of marriage and the family. For instance, Our Lady presented herself as “Queen of the Church and Queen of the family”; the messages speak of “acts of love” within the family which “save souls from Satan.” The Rosary is promoted as a means to defeat the Devil as well. On July 16, 1996, The Blessed Virgin stated “Satan wants to destroy the family.” Jessica felt the call to marriage rather than the consecrated life precisely because the Will of God was for her to witness to the beauty of marriage in a time when evil forces desire to destroy it.
One of the most prophetic aspects of the messages concerns Civitavecchia’s link to Fatima. There are several reasons for this: 1) Our Lady specifically mentions Fatima “My children, the darkness of Satan is now obscuring the whole world and it is also obscuring the Church of God. Prepare to live what I had revealed to my little daughters of Fatima” 2) Our Lady revealed the 3rd Secret of Fatima to Jessica on August 27, 1995. Jessica was then able to visit Sr Lucia of Fatima in 1996 and the two discussed the secret.
There seem to be several elements of deep significance linking Fatima and Civitavecchia from historical, geographical, and eschatological viewpoints, but they all converge on one point: The sufferings of the Pope and the Church. Fatima announced the sufferings to come at the beginning of the century, while in Civitavecchia at the end of the century, we are informed that we have now entered into those times foretold, and that the years of the “triumph of my Immaculate Heart are imminent.”
In geographical terms, we must see that as Civitavecchia lies next to Rome; it tells us that the spiritual war has now entered a critical place and that Our Lady’s gaze is centred on the life and ministry of the Pope, and the dangers that threaten him and his ministry of protecting the flock from the wolves within and without.
From an eschatological perspective there is great significance in the entrustment of the third secret to the six year old Jessica five years before its release in 2000. We do not know if Jessica was given a precise interpretation of the vision, but there is clearly a reason why she was told. In any case, Civitavecchia would seem to point to two realities that are shown in the original vision: Firstly, the destruction of a city in which the Pope prays for the dead. That would represent a punishment for humanity in general. Secondly: the martyrdom of the Pope, and those bishops, priests, religious and laity before the Cross at the top of the mountain. That no doubt represents a universal persecution of the Church; one that would seem to point to the final trial before the Lord’s second coming (CCC 675). The tears of Blood from the original Statue belonging to the Gregori family could also be interpreted in this light; they prophetically represent the suffering that will result from a failure of humanity to convert. Mary weeps for all her children, but she represents the Church; she is the model of the Church in its suffering and perfection, and in its suffering she tells us that she will be beside the Cross again when the Church experiences its own Good Friday.
Of course Fatima did not end with the promise of failure, but rather with the promise of a triumph; not a temporal event, but a definitive triumph against Satan. That is why in Civitavecchia as in San Nicolas, Argentina and Kibeho, Rwanda, the Mother and Son announce a message of great joy.
To Fabio Gregori, the Lord stated “You are one of my favourites; I’ll send you an angel to show you what must happen very soon. Blessed is the one who will have kept and preached the prophetic words of the Church of God, our Father, who through our heavenly mother, the Madonna, prepares us the way by interceding before God, our Father. Never abandon the sacraments, Confession, prayer, fasting, and the body of Christ Jesus in the Holy Mass, because my coming will be very soon.”
On another occasion Our Lady said “Open your heart and your arms in the same manner and love with which you embrace your own son, in order to be ready to embrace Christ in the splendour of his glory, because his great advent is about to arrive. Pray and never grow tired of praying. My sweet children love each other, because love in Christ my son is your key to enter into that small door that leads to the Kingdom of God.”
Of course messages of this type are open to being sensationalised and even misunderstood. The point is surely that they are a summons to respond to the Gospel in the most authentic and radical way possible. They invite us to live in an Advent spirit each day, not by giving up on life and waiting, but embracing it; of living each day in the service of others. St Paul’s warning to the Thessalonians certainly applies here (cf. 2 Thess 3:11-12).
The other main link between Fatima and Civitavecchia is the desire of Our Lady that devotion to her Immaculate Heart spread. She asks for the Consecration of the World to her Immaculate Heart, and for individuals to do the same. This is because a consecration is placing oneself under the direct protection of the spiritual Mother of all peoples; it is to find refuge from the spiritual storm in the safest haven, and as Mary is the Mediatrix of grace, it is to find the quickest route to humble union with God.
For Fabio Gregori, the events of Civitavecchia are a great wake up call. He states that the Virgin Mary “immerses us in the mystery of the love of God in Jesus, through Jesus” and that the Christian family must model itself on the Holy Family. He reminds us that because of Satan’s hatred from creation until the Parousia, “there will be the great combat to destroy the Christian family, the great family of God, the Church, and diminishing his full Word and the Eucharist with apostolic communion.” When we read the signs of the times in the light of the Gospel, we cannot fail to see that this process has accelerated in recent times, and that the Blessed Virgin of Civitavecchia has joined the magisterium of the recent popes in defending the family, and promoting love and unity in the Church.
The Position of the Church
At this point, it is important that we look at the attitude of the Church towards the various phenomena detailed here. Can we say there is approval?
Soon after events began to unfold in his diocese, Bishop Grillo created a diocesan theological commission to study the facts. 11 members were chosen including 2 by the Vatican. Between 1995 and 1996 they met at various times, and in the end, the majority voted in favour of the supernatural event (7/11) Several of those who suspended their judgment until further investigations had been done later, came down on the side of authenticity. According to Fr Flavio Ubodi, vice chairman of the commission, Bishop Grillo approved of the apparitions and the findings of the commission. However, he desired the Vatican to give a response (even though the 1978 CDF document states it is the local Ordinary in first instance who has competence of deciding cases such as Civitavecchia). A Commission was formed under the leadership of Cardinal Ruini, but was later dissolved without ever giving any statement. In 2005, Bishop Grillo published the Diocesan Dossier which clearly affirmed his position that the events were of a supernatural character. Later in publishing his own Diary, he once again affirmed the same conclusion. Bishop Grillo also spoke out in favour in various other ways including public homilies, the Consecration of his diocese and the city of Civitavecchia to the Immaculate Heart on December 8, 1996 in direct response to a request made by the Blessed Virgin to Jessica on December 7, 1995, and raising the parish to the status of a Shrine, where the statue could be venerated.
He also acknowledged as far back as 2005 the many fruits of Civitavecchia in the first decade. This involved having various confessors present continuously at the Shrine in order to hear the thousands of confessions. There were many pregnancies from couples where infertility had been a problem after praying before the Statue, and at that stage he had counted over a thousand marriages that had been saved through the intercession of Our Lady, Queen of the Family.
The recognition of the supernatural events did not stop at a local level. It went all the way to the Throne of St Peter. At the time of the events, as we have seen from the gift of the second statue, St John Paul II showed paternal solicitude to the Gregori family. In fact he invited Bishop Grillo to put aside his scepticism, while joking about the hard headedness of the Italian bishops. He told the bishop that he desired to venerate the statue in 1995 and crown her, and so Bishop Grillo obediently brought the Virgin of Civitavecchia to the Apostolic Palace in secret, as the Pope did not want to be seen influencing the diocesan commission. This event was revealed in a letter written on 8 October, 2000 and singed personally by the Pope on 20 October 2000.
8th October 2000 was a very important day in the year of the Great Jubilee. It was the Jubilee of Bishops, and Pope John Paul II had decided to pray an “Act of Entrustment” to Mary with all the bishops present. What we didn’t know at the time is that this was done specifically in response to a request from Our Lady. The Polish Saint also visited Civitavecchia twice incognito to pray before the Statue.
On 30 May 2005, only weeks after being elected Pope, Benedict XVI addressed the Italian Bishops Conference and informed them of St John Paul II’s devotion to Our Lady of Civitavecchia, and he said to Bishop Grillo “The Virgin of Civitavecchia will do great things!”
The papacy, as we have seen then, is of central importance to the messages of Fatima and Civitavecchia, and Jessica still has a secret given to her by the Blessed Virgin for the Pope, and which will be given to him under obedience when he requests it.
A Personal Appeal to Pope Francis
At the conclusion of this exploration of the facts surrounding the Madonna of Civitavecchia, and considering the grave perils that threaten humanity at this time of tribulation, I would like to humbly petition our dear Holy Father, Pope Francis to consider proclaiming a new Marian Year that could be celebrated throughout the Church and the world, and as a possible crowning moment of that year, to renew the 1984 Consecration St John Paul II made of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and again inviting every bishop to join him in that prayerful act.
It is 33 years since the last Marian year, and we could perhaps recall the great joy that year gave to the Church in preparation for the Great Jubilee of the year 2000. As it happens, we are now the same distance away from the commemoration of the Redemption in 2033, and it seems that the Church is in great need of a moment of hope that can prepare hearts for the future. The Holy Father has recently and graciously added 3 new titles to the Litany of Loreto, and one in particular, strikes me as essential and prophetic moving forward: “Mother of hope.”
We cannot fail to see why the world is in such need of the virtue of hope: a piece-meal third world war as the Holy Father has reminded us on various occasions, the constant refugee crisis, the Coronavirus pandemic, the savage breakdown of the family, abortion, terrible unemployment, hunger and the ever growing persecution of Christianity and minority groups around the world. In the Church, we see disunity, scandal, evils of sexual abuse, mass hypocrisy and the desire of those who would reduce the power of the Gospel by watering down the doctrines of the Magisterium-and that applies to those on the right and left. Many are also fighting a heroic daily battle against the forces of evil in their own spiritual lives.
We cannot deny that we are living intense moments that are seemingly apocalyptic; the popes have often spoken of it, but we can and must reject the narrative being spread by some Catholics that seems to feed on fear and division, and replaces theological truth with political ideology. In this narrative there is also little room for hope. The Blessed Virgin however always teaches us the remedy to endless pessimism; it is to repent, to live the Gospel to the letter and to reach out to those in need. It is to say yes to love with no exemptions.
A Marian Year guided by the Holy Spirit could serve to remind the Church that just as Mary prayed in the Cenacle with the Apostles awaiting the unity that would come from the Holy Spirit, so now she can do the same to help heal the disunity within the Church. I am reminded of Pope Benedict XVI’s preaching on the two principles, Marian and Petrine (3). He states that the Marian principle is even more fundamental than the Petrine and continues “Everything in the Church, every institution and ministry, including that of Peter and his Successors, is ‘included’ under the Virgin’s mantle, within the grace-filled horizon of her ‘yes’ to God’s will” (4) On another occasion he said “Mary is so interwoven in the great mystery of the Church that she and the Church are inseparable, just as she and Christ are inseparable. Mary mirrors the Church, anticipates the Church in her person, and in all the turbulence that affects the suffering, struggling Church she always remains the Star of salvation. In her lies the true centre in which we trust, even if its peripheries very often weigh on our soul.” (5)
Recalling the words Our Lady spoke in Civitavecchia even during the reign of the great St John Paul II, “In Rome darkness is descending more and more on the Rock that my Son Jesus left you on which to build up, educate and spiritually raise his children”, then we see how prophetic those words were. The darkness is caused by those who threaten schism, who would like to reduce the authority of the Pope, and who set themselves up as judges of his magisterium. A Marian Year could help to remind the Church that Mary always teaches obedience to the Pope, and thus encourage a new humility to accept his teachings in the light of Tradition that remains alive and fruitful today.
With supreme trust and hope in the Lord, a Marian Year would surely bring great graces to the Church and an increase in holiness. It would serve to invite many to increase their love and devotion to the Mother who will teach them eschatological hope; who will instruct them how to avoid the pitfalls of the Devil, and who will lead them to spend their lives in the service of others. On a universal level, it will help prepare the Church to live more courageously the years of difficulty that lie ahead; those that Pope Benedict XVI warned of en- route to Fatima in 2010: A Kairos of grace on the pilgrimage towards the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart.
* Stephen Walford is a theologian and lives in Southampton, England with his wife Paula and five children. Educated at Bristol University, he is the author of two books: Heralds of the Second Coming: Our Lady, the Divine Mercy, and the Popes of the Marian Era from Bl Pius IX to Benedict XVI (Angelico Press), and Communion of Saints: The Unity of Divine Love in the Mystical Body of Christ (Angelico Press). He has written articles for various publications on eschatological and mariological themes. He is also a pianist and teacher.
1) Pope Benedict XVI, Address to Participants in the Meeting of the Christian/Centrist Democratic International, September 22, 2012
2) Pope Francis, Homily for Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019
3) Pope Benedict XVI, Mass with the New Cardinals, March 25, 2006
5) Pope Benedict XVI, Homily at Mass for the 40th Anniversary of the Closing of the Second Vatican Council, December 8, 2005