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Twelve-year-old Eugene Barbadette rose early one January morning in 1871 to wake his younger brother, Joseph. The two French boys prayed the Rosary each morning for their older brother, Auguste, who had been called to battle. All five hundred or so villagers of Pontmaina small French hamlet about two hundred miles west of Paris talked about nothing other than the illfated war with Prussia that had begun only six months prior."God will have pity on us; his mercy will surely come to us through Mary," the Abbe' Guerin said to his congregation the morning of January 17th. The pastor lived an uncommon devotion to Our Lady and expressed hope to villagers in the midst of great despair. Not even one day passed before his words at Mass actualized in a vision of Our Lady.

That evening Eugene and Joseph were busy helping their father feed the animals in the barn when a neighbor interrupted with wonderful news: Auguste was safe. Eugene walked toward the door and gazed with gratitude into the winter's sky. His eyes were immediately drawn to one dark vacuum void of stars. Suddenly, in place of constellations, appeared a Beautiful Woman wearing golden stars on her deep blue garment. She seemed a part of the sky, yet distinguished from it by her striking beauty.

Eugene's mouth dropped open in awe. His curious brother soon stood with him entranced by the vision. The two described her to their father and neighbor in perfect consistency. Over her ocean blue gown adorned with golden stars draped a sable lavender mantle. The cloak flowed from her head, crowned with shimmering gold and precious jewels, to her matching slippers. Her uncommon poise and exquisite garments evidenced her unprecedented nobility. She balanced herself gracefully on a small cloud suspended just above the house opposite the Barbadette's.

The two witnesses and two more who had joined them looked over the boys' shoulders but saw nothing. Sister Vitaline, who later visionaries saw more clearly her overwhelming beauty. She wore a simple ivory gown that flowed gracefully to her feet, which were hidden in a snowwhite cloud. A glimmering light framed perfectly her silk mantle that draped over her head like a wedding veil. Her arms were extended in a permanent embrace to the children. The Lady appeared four times this night the last time near a rose hawthorn tree in the convent garden, where she appeared from then on.

The Sisters, nervous that the diocese would soon learn of the stories, severely warned the students about any talk of the visions. And to further discourage any activity on the premises, they locked the gates of the academy and released dogs in the convent yard. But despite the nuns' efforts, more and more people joined the children on the convent grounds. On the evening of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, just nine days after the Virgin's first appearance, nearly fifteen thousand people gathered behind the gates of the academy.

The Lady who had by now defined herself as the Immaculate Virgin continued to visit the children, but less frequently. On the last day of the year she revealed her golden heart to all five children. Nearly 35,000 people gathered to witness the Madonna's last appearance on January 3, 1933, when she told each of the children secret messages and, in a gesture of farewell, displayed her golden heart.

As was first anticipated by the Sisters, the Bishop of Namur, alerted by the reports, commissioned a committee to, research the apparitions. After fourteen years and seventytwo sessions, the apparitions were approved on July 2, 1949, two years after the erection of a small chapel at the site.

All five children married and started their own families, drifting occasionally back to the hawthorn tree in the convent garden, where thousands of pilgrims pray each year to Our Lady of the Golden Heart.


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