Originally created 10/14/98

Words of hope given in final message



CONYERS, Ga. -- A call for Christian unity and somber words of hope were part of the Blessed Virgin Mary's last public message to the United States, according to the Georgia homemaker who said she received the message Tuesday.

"As your loving Mother, I am gathering you together from east to west and all over the world in the one body of my son, Jesus," Nancy Fowler of Conyers, Ga., quoted the Virgin as telling her.

The Rockdale County Sheriff's Office estimated more than 100,000 faithful from across North America descended on Ms. Fowler's farm to hear the last of the annual messages the homemaker said she relays from the Virgin.

The local Catholic hierarchy has not endorsed Ms. Fowler's visions, but a Catholic church moved next to her farm in April.

"The future holds no concern to those who truly seek God and truly love him and remain in his favor," Ms. Fowler told the throng. She claimed Mary visited her earlier in the day inside her small farmhouse about 30 miles east of Atlanta.

Dressed in a plain brown blouse and brown blazer, Ms. Fowler softly read the message from handwritten notes.

The throng, at least 30 percent Hispanic and mostly women, responded to the message with occasional gasps and scattered applause. But for the most part, they were quiet and attentive while Ms. Fowler read for 30 minutes.

The Virgin requested that a church be built on the pilgrimage site, said Ms. Fowler, who has reported seeing apparitions of the Virgin since the early 1990s on her farm.

The Virgin appeared under the title "Our Loving Mother" and issued a message asking for prayer, particularly the rosary, as reparation for sin, Ms. Fowler said.

"No man is greater than God," Ms. Fowler quoted the Virgin as saying. "No country is greater than God. If you choose to live apart from God, you will fall. And fall you will."

Those who are truly seeking God do not need to fear the future, according to the message.

Ms. Fowler described seeing a multitude of people standing behind the Virgin during the apparition. Dressed in somber clothes, they were souls in purgatory. Yet God allowed those souls to ascend Tuesday to heaven in Mary's honor, Ms. Fowler said.

At another moment, a second multitude -- Ms. Fowler described them as souls in heaven -- appeared behind the Virgin, but this time their clothes were white. Ms. Fowler said the Virgin told her she would ask the souls in heaven to intercede for those on earth who didn't know God.

People fell on their knees, gasped and clapped when Ms. Fowler described the multitude that accompanied Mary in her vision. During the visit, many people described seeing medals and rosaries turn gold.

"I already have faith. This just reaffirms what I believe," said Madeline Provenzano of Sterling Heights, Mich.

Ms. Fowler related a message from Jesus for the youth of the world. In the message, Jesus noted that young people have no direction and the Lord wants them to choose a saint to imitate.

In turn, that saint would offer intercession on behalf of the youth, Ms. Fowler said.

Before the dark-haired, soft-spoken Ms. Fowler came out to speak to the waiting thousands, a sea of turquoise balloons hovered over the crowd in front of the farmhouse. A few balloons carried white steamers which fluttered in the breeze. One was lettered "Hail Mary."

Hours before Ms. Fowler's appearance, thousands of worshippers prayed and sang while waving white scarves on a hillside.

"This is the greatest experience I've ever had and nothing is going to keep me away from here," said Angie Moogalin of Chester, Va., who was making her sixth trip to Conyers.

A group of mostly elderly nuns sat in lawn chairs in rows parallel to the porch across the front of the brown clapboard house. Some priests sat to the left of the nuns near the house.

Grassy lawns stretched out in all directions from the house, but they were concealed by pilgrims sitting on lawn chairs or blankets. There were coolers and baby strollers, although it was rare to hear a baby cry.

Some pilgrims brought umbrellas or cabanas. Loud speakers dotted the perimeter.

One Augusta woman said she looked skyward when she heard someone ask if the sun was spinning.

"I saw the sun turn reddish and begin to spin," she said. It appeared to vibrate, moving to the right. Later, she said, there seemed to be a pink or reddish cloud, like a veil, covering the sun.

Another Augustan, Kathy Edry, said she felt consoled to be in the presence of her heavenly mother and deep gratitude to God for having shared the Virgin with her.

"I felt like I was given personal direction in the message," Ms. Edry said. "We are not to be concerned about storing up worldly treasures. The only thing we can take with us is good deeds, love of God and love of neighbor."

From October 1990 to May 1994, Ms. Fowler delivered Mary's messages on the 13th of each month. Then she announced that the Virgin would appear with a public message only once a year each Oct. 13.

The crowd has steadily increased over the years. Ms. Fowler announced last October that this year's public message would be the last.

Ms. Fowler told the crowd Tuesday that the Virgin said she would not be permitted to visit with her again in the way she has since 1990.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Virginia Norton covers religion for The Augusta Chronicle. She can be reached at (706) 823-3336 or vanorton@augustachronicle.com.