Warraq al-Hadar is a small island in the Nile River in the Giza governorate, a part of Greater Cairo. This is a very poor district. December is a Marian month and Nativity Fast on the Coptic Calendar. During this month the Coptic Church celebrates a special Midnight Praise dedicated to the Holy Virgin and the Incarnation.
The apparitions began at the Church of the Virgin Mary and Archangel Michael in Al-Warraq. Hassan, a Muslim neighbor, was sitting at his local coffee shop across the street when he saw a strong light coming from the church around 8:30 p.m. More people on the street began to notice the light and saw a bird circling above the church. Around 2:00 a.m., a vision of the Virgin Mary appeared in her blue and white robes.
Father Dawoud of this same church reports how that first night developed after neighbors began calling the church, worried about why the large crowds were suddenly gathering:
“The phone calls poured in; many people said that they had just seen an apparition of Virgin Mary on the right dome of the church.”
Muslim neighbors were among the callers. A dear friend of Father Dawoud, Haj Rashad, the neighborhood distributor of gas cylinders, filed this report:
“What are you doing here (inside the church), Father? I have just seen Our Lady Mary with my own eyes! Go and see for yourself.”
“At first we thought that a little kid was playing with a flashlight, but then the light intensified and moved from the tree in front of the church entrance up to the right dome. An embodiment of the Virgin Mary could be easily recognized. It stayed there for a while. I have captured the scene with my mobile phone.”
Anba Theodosius, Bishop of Giza, issued this statement:
“On Friday, December 11, 2009, at 1:00 a.m. the Holy Virgin appeared in her full height in luminous robes above the middle dome of church named after her – Virgin Mary and Archangel Michael Coptic Orthodox Church in Al-Warraq. She was described as wearing a pure white dress with a royal blue belt. She had a crown on her head, above which appeared the cross on top of the dome. The crosses on top of the church’s domes and towers glowed brightly with light. Blessed Mary moved between the domes and on to the top of the church gate between its two twin towers. All of the local residents saw her! The apparition lasted from 1:00 a.m. until 4:00 a.m. on Friday. Many cameras and cell phones took pictures. Some 3,000 people from the neighborhood, surrounding areas, and passers-by gathered in the street in front of the church to see the apparition.
Since Friday, the huge crowds gathered in the vicinity of the church have been seeing luminous white pigeons soaring above the church during various times of the night. They also saw a star emerge suddenly in the night sky and travel some 200 meters across the sky and disappear. The huge crowds never stopped singing hymns and praises for the Holy Virgin.”
The scene, as described, along with photos and videos, was broadcast on Amr Adib’s talk show, “Cairo Today” on December 13, 2009. The news spread like wildfire; crowds flocked to Giza to catch a glimpse of Our Lady.
Bishop Theodosius adds that it is important to investigate the event fully:
“I stayed up all night on Sunday. I saw doves appear suddenly in the sky. They flew in circles in front of the church before they vanished into thin air. They were floating rather like hovering with their wings. It is uncommon for doves to fly at night.”
The event had a different dimension for security forces. Selim, a policeman, pointed out that he had been on duty at the site for seven hours already and did not expect to be relieved for another five hours. Father Dawoud said that the police were exerting a tremendous effort and were being very cooperative. Father Dawoud also praised church neighbors, many of whom allowed visitors to view the church from the roofs of their buildings.
For several weeks, a silent crowd running in the thousands gathered in front of the church, gazing up into the sky in the early morning hours. Whenever the mysterious light appeared over the church tower, the crowd was jolted into a frenzy of astonished cries.
Many of the local Muslims did not deny the sightings, but claimed they were hoaxed with laser beams – although no evidence or proof of those claims ever surfaced.
For the Muslim named Rami, it was a different reaction:
“It was her! – with her blue and white clothes.”
Kawkab Munir Shehata, age 39, is convinced of what she saw. In fact, the mother of two says that the Virgin Mary restored the sight that she had lost in her left eye.
“It was about 3:40 a.m. I felt immense pain, which lasted about a quarter of an hour. Then I was ecstatic to find out that I could see clearly. Now, my left eye is even better than my right one.”
By December 22 of 2009, more than 200,000 Christians and Muslims had witnessed the apparitions on the domes of this church in Warraq al-Hadar. Apparition lights in the night sky could be seen several kilometers away from the church. The full silhouette of the Blessed Holy Virgin dressed in a light blue gown could be clearly seen over the domes and between the church crosses. People used their mobile phones to make videos of the apparitions and share them via Bluetooth and on YouTube. These events received wide media coverage in Egyptian newspapers and Arabic TV channels.
For some, the apparition of the Virgin Mary is a response to a recent article that appeared in a periodical published by Al-Azhar University that questioned the foundations of Christianity. Father Fishay comments:
“Maybe her appearance is to bring people closer together. Maybe it will bring about the end of the state of tensions between Muslims and Christians – and an end to extremism. Maybe it will bring back forgiveness like there once used to be in Egypt.”
Maybe it was a sign of hope for Egypt’s Copts, who are 10 percent of the country’s population, and have lived far too long on the margins of society – often victims of violence.
Bishop Theodosius concludes, talking to Al-Ahram Weekly:
“If the sightings continue, a fact-finding committee will be formed to investigate the matter, and they will submit their report to Pope Shenouda III, on which basis he may issue a papal declaration.”
According to the International Marian Research Institute in Dayton, Ohio, these apparitions were indeed investigated and officially approved by the Coptic Pope, Shenouda III.