In the first centuries of Christianity, Father Daniel the Faranite, one of the Desert Fathers, wrote about a monk who doubted the Real Presence in the Eucharist. When two priests challenged his disbelief, he told them that he wouldn’t believe until he saw it with his own eyes.
A week later, an angel and “a child” appeared at the altar during consecration. The angel pierced the Child with a sword, and blood ran into the chalice.
In August 2001 in Chirattakonam, India, Father Johnson Karoor witnessed physical changes in the exposed Blessed Sacrament, and within days there developed the image of a human face.
In between those nearly 2,000 years, countless people claim to have witnessed Eucharistic miracles. Of the ones that have been investigated and approved by the Catholic Church, 140 are featured in “The Vatican International Exhibition: The Eucharistic Miracles of the World,” and in a book by the same name.
Essence of faith
That the exhibit and book exist are the result of small miracles, Dorie Gruss of Lombard, Ill., said.
“It has been blind faith,” she told Our Sunday Visitor, “and we have believed that if you have God’s work to do, you will get it done.”
Gruss, 78, is director of the Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association, which has enabled the exhibit to be seen in 18,000 churches in the United States.
“We found excellent people to help do this, and the amazing thing is that when nobody is getting paid, people are willing to help,” she said.
The organization was founded more than 10 years ago, not long before the death of Father John A. Hardon, a renowned Jesuit who was the inspiration for the association.
When he saw the website that had been created for the association, Gruss said, he got down on his knees and prayed.
“He said, ‘This is what I wanted all my life,’” she said.
Father Hardon, author of the “” (Eternal Life Publications, 2000), also wrote “The Catholic Catechism” (Doubleday, $16.95) in 1975 at the request of Pope Paul VI. He is being considered for beatification, and a Church-sanctioned prayer has been written for his cause.
Gruss met him years ago at a retreat and became one of his corresponding secretaries. She is the founder of the website fatherhardonmedia.org.
“Father Hardon was very concerned about the [low] percentage of Catholics who believe that Christ is truly here on earth,” she said. “Christ said he would never leave us, and he didn’t. He is with us in the body, soul, blood and divinity of the Eucharist. That is the essence of our Catholic faith.”
From doubt to belief
Gruss heard about a collection of approved miracles and contacted Antonia Salzano Acutis, curator of the Pontifical Academy Cultorum Martyrdom, who had a compilation of photos, images and historical descriptions.
“She wrote back and said, ‘I have been waiting for someone like you,’” Gruss said. “She said that she would love to have someone promote all these miracles, but the information was in Italian. Let me tell you, when you do God’s work, you never say, ‘What do you mean?’”
They found willing people at universities, conferences and churches to translate the stories of the miracles from Italian. Then, after everything was in English, they found more volunteers to translate the exhibit into 16 more languages, including Polish, Swahili and Chinese. There are now 14 volunteers around the country who sponsor the traveling exhibits.
The miracles are as different as the circumstances and people who witnessed them. Some took place when there were doubts, or when hope was needed. There were hosts transformed and in other cases miracles and apparitions.
In 1290 in Paris, a nonbeliever failed to destroy a consecrated host, and in 1822 in Bordeaux, France, an apparition of Jesus came to a Benediction.
In 1906 in Colombia, Father Gerardo Larrondo held a monstrance as he led his parishioners to the beach to calm a tsunami.
The “Wonder of the Miraculous Crucifix” took place in 13th-century Germany when a shepherd, unable to swallow a host because of illness, put it near a tree that later, when cut, revealed a perfectly formed crucifix.
Most astounding miracle
The Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association has entrusted the exhibition to Cardinal-designate Raymond L. Burke, prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostalic Signatura, who also serves as the association's spiritual director.
The association published its 325-page full-color book on Eucharistic miracles in 2009. It is available on the association's website, www.therealpresence.org. The association also has five books from the Vatican that may be published in the future, and a children's book on the Eucharist, written by Italian Bishop Raffaello Martinelli.
“Our faith is not founded on Eucharistic miracles, but on the proclamation of the Lord Jesus, received with faith through the action of the Holy Spirit,” wrote. “A Christian is not obligated to believe in Eucharistic miracles.” However, he added, they “can encourage us to understand and love the Eucharist” and recognize that “the most important and astounding miracle is the one that takes place whenever the Eucharist is celebrated.”
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.
The Miracle of Lanciano (sidebar)
One of the most famous and documented Eucharistic miracles happened in Lanciano, Italy, in the eighth century. According to an inscription in the Church of St. Francis, a monastic priest who doubted the Real Presence witnessed the host and the wine turn into flesh and blood during consecration.
The flesh and clots of blood have been preserved in a reliquary, and have undergone several investigations.
In 1970, the archbishop of Lanciano and the provincial superior of the Conventual Franciscans, with Rome’s approval, sought a medical examination by Dr. Oduardo Linoli, director of the hospital in Arezzo and professor of anatomy, histology, chemistry and clinical microscopy.
On March 4, 1971, he presented a detailed report in which he declared that the flesh was authentic and came from muscular striated tissue of the myocardium, in other words, from a human heart. A chromatographic analysis found the blood to be human Type AB, the same type as on the Shroud of Turin and common in Middle Eastern people.
According to the Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association, another scientific commission was appointed in 1973 to corroborate Linoli’s findings. Their work in more than 15 months included 500 tests, with the conclusion that the specimens were living tissue.
Transformative experience (sidebar)
Dr. William Ryckman, a retired family physician from Sutersville, Pa., always had strong faith in the Real Presence.
But he didn’t know much about Eucharistic miracles until two years ago when he and his wife, Mary, accompanied a group from the Diocese of Greensburg, Pa., to the World Youth Day gathering in Australia. There he met Father Alejandro Pezet from Buenos Aires, Argentina, who claimed to have seen a miracle.
We went to a couple of his conferences, and we were totally blown away by what he had witnessed,” Ryckman said.
In 1993, Father Pezet found a host in an air duct and put it into a glass of water to dissolve so that he could pour it into the ground. It was still intact three weeks later and had developed particles that looked like flesh and blood.
In 1999, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires approved an examination by Dr. Ricardo Castanon Gomez, a forensic pathologist in San Francisco. The specimens were examined in 2001 by Dr. Oduardo Linoli, who investigated the miracle at Lanciano in 1971. Another examination was conducted in 2004 by cardio-pathologist Dr. Frederick Zugibe of New York City.
Their reports described muscle of the heart (myocardium, left ventrical) and blood containing white cells, which normally would disintegrate shortly after death. The miracle has not been approved by the Church and is still under investigation.
When Ryckman returned home, he began an Internet search that led him to the Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association. He was so moved by their evangelization that he volunteered to sponsor a traveling exhibit. At his own expense, he had 140 panels printed on foam-core boards that he sets up in churches that request displays.
So far, he has arranged exhibits in his diocese, and in two churches in Ohio that drew 1,500 and 1,400 people. Many who sign the guest books write that the Eucharistic miracles changed their lives.
In Steubenville, three men who were discerning the priesthood said that the exhibit helped them to make up their minds in the affirmative,” Ryckman said.