|Our Lady of Zeitoun|
|Location||Zeitoun, Cairo, Egypt|
|Date||April 2nd, 1968|
|Approval||Coptic Orthodox Church|
Our Lady of Zeitoun, also known simply as El-Zeitoun, Zeitun or rarely Our Lady of Light, was a mass Marian apparition that is supposed to have occurred in the Zeitoun district of Cairo, Egypt, over a period of 2–3 years beginning on April 2, 1968.
The first apparition at Zeitoun was recorded on the evening of April 2, 1968, when a Muslim bus mechanic named Farouk Mohammed Atwa, who worked across the street from St. Mary's Coptic Church in Zeitoun, supposedly thought he saw a woman attempting suicide by jumping from the structure. Two other men also noticed a white figure on the top of the church and the sighting was reported to the police. A crowd gathered on the site and the police attempted to disperse it. According to the police, the sighting was just a reflection of the light from the street lamps. However, the crowds reportedly viewed the sighting as a clear apparition of the Virgin Mary, and so, the attempts by the police to disperse the crowd were unsuccessful. The event itself ended after a few minutes.
One week later on April 9 the phenomenon reoccurred, again lasting for only a few minutes. After that time apparitions became more frequent, sometimes two-three times a week, for several years, ending in 1971. According to Coptic tradition, the site is one of the locations where the Holy family stayed during their flight into Egypt.
The head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Pope of Alexandria, Kyrillos VI appointed a committee of high-ranking priests and bishops to investigate the matter, headed by Bishop Gregorios, bishop of postgraduate studies, Coptic culture and scientific research. On May 4 Kyrillos VI issued an official statement confirming the apparitions.
Nuns of the Society of the Sacred Heart also witnessed the apparitions and sent a detailed report to the Vatican, resulting in the arrival of an envoy on April 28 who also saw the apparitions and sent a report to Pope Paul VI. As the apparition appeared over a Coptic church, the Vatican left the investigation to the Coptic authorities. On May 5, 1968, Coptic Orthodox Pope Kyrillos VI approved the apparition.
The apparitions were also witnessed by President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and captured by newspaper photographers and Egyptian television. Investigations performed by the police could find no explanation for the phenomenon. No device was found within a radius of fifteen miles capable of projecting the image, while the sheer number of photographs from independent sources suggests that no photographic manipulation was involved. Having been unable to produce an alternative explanation for the luminous sightings, the Egyptian government accepted the apparitions as true.
Skeptical interpretation of the events
Estimates of the number of observers of the event vary greatly. Thousands were said to have flocked to the Church after the first announced occurrences of the phenomenon. Some claim the apparitions were seen by millions. Other sources estimate the figure at around 250,000 in total. Cynthia Nelson was a professor of anthropology at AUC (American University in Cairo) and the founding director of the Institute of Gender and Women's Studies. She visited the church site on several occasions including April 15, 1968, another week later near the end of April and on June 1, 1968. Despite the accounts of ongoing, if irregular, visitations by the Marian apparition, Cynthia Nelson documents seeing nothing other than a few 'intermittent flashes of light'.
Some authors suggest that the sightings must be considered in context. The appearances came at a period of crisis in Egyptian history and, echoed "a widespread feeling that the defeat of Egypt in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war was the result of having abandoned faith in favor of human-made ideas and belief systems."
Sociologists Robert Bartholomew and Erich Goode offer the Zeitoun apparitions as a prominent case of mass hysteria: "It appears that the Marian observers were predisposed by religious background and social expectation to interpreting the light displays as related to the Virgin Mary."
However, these interpretations don't align with the fact that Muslims saw the apparitions including the Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser who directly contributed to the persecution against Coptic and Jewish minorities since 1952.   Hence, it would be a contradiction to claim that Gamal Abdel Nasser joined Copts in their perspective of Mary. Moreover, persecution of Christian minorities in Egypt defies the concept that both Muslims and Christians could share the same view of Mary especially that the apparition occurred above a church.
On 12 May 2018, the Coptic Church celebrated the golden Jubilee of the event., Pope Tawadros II held the four Holy Mass. A large number of priests and Christians from all over Egypt attended the celebration, Sub-celebrations have been held from May 10 to May 13.
- Carroll, Michael P. (1992), The cult of the Virgin Mary: psychological origins, Princeton University Press, pp. 211–212, ISBN 0-691-02867-2
- Michael P. Carroll The cult of the Virgin Mary: psychological origins, p. 212
- "The Apparitions Of The Blessed Holy Virgin Mary"
- Bishop Grigorius (1968), ST. MARY'S TRANSFIGURATIONS (The Coptic Orthodox Church of Zeitun), Cairo: Dar Memphis Press, pp. 16–18
- LaFave, Peter. "When Mary Returned to Egypt", The Christian Review, 21 January 2016
- Johnston, Francis. When Millions Saw Mary. Augustine Publishing Co., 1980 ISBN 0-85172-631-3
- The Virgin of Zeitoun. Worldview Magazine, Volume 16 No. 9 September 1973 online
- N Guenena and N Wassef (1999), Unfulfilled Promises. (PDF), p. 7, archived from the original (PDF) on 6 Dec 2008
- Mass delusions, Highlights from the Past Millennium, Zeitoun, Egypt, 1968-1971 online
- Nisan, Mordechai (2002). Minorities in the Middle East. McFarland. p. 144. ISBN 978-0-7864-1375-1.
- Laskier 1995, p. 579–80.
- Pearl Zaki (1977). Our Lord's Mother visits Egypt in 1968 & 1969. Publisher Dar el Alam el Arabi. Available online
- Francis Johnston (1980). When Millions Saw Mary. Augustine Publishing Co. ISBN 0-85172-631-3 also available online
- Youssef G. Kamell/ John P. Jackson/ Rebecca S. Jackson (1996): A Lady of Light Appears in Egypt. The story of Zeitoun. St. Mark's Avenue Press.
- Père Francois Brune (2004): La Vièrge de l'Egypte. L'incroyable apparition de Marie à des millions d'Egyptiens. Editions Le jardin des Livres.
- Articles "Caire III - Caire X", in: Laurentin, René / Sbalchiero, Patrick (eds.)(2007): Dictionnaire des "apparitions" de la Vierge Marie. Fayard.