Johannesburg - The faithful still flock to see Francesca Zackey and receive her blessings – but they have to make an appointment now. And the once “shy teenager” has grown into a “confident young woman” who claims to still receive messages from God.
“Our Lady continues giving me messages and is just that source of strength reminding me to stay close to her son, and encouraging others to pray,” Zackey said, in a rare interview.
“The messages that are coming are so positive and uplifting. People need encouragement and hope in the world we are living in today… I’m just a vessel sharing the message from God.”
In May 2007, the then 17-year-old girl from Benoni courted controversy when she claimed to have seen the Blessed Virgin while she was eating dinner with her family. Then, a few weeks later, she said she saw the Virgin Mary in the sun.
Thousands of believers flocked to her home for her spiritual blessings and guidance – until one devout follower claimed to have been blinded after Zackey instructed her to seek the Virgin Mary in the sun.
For over a year, Zackey, a Maronite Christian, has been the editor of Bella News, a monthly magazine that “aims to spread the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ and all the messages that Francesca had received a few years ago”.
“It’s a new task that Our Lady has given to me. I’m very excited to inspire and share the positive message that has been given to me, to pray the Rosary like it’s the last day on earth.
“The experience I had in 2007 will always stay in (my) heart. It was real for me. It’s hard to explain. It’s very mystical. I can’t find the words. It just overcomes me. I just feel this peace.
“May 7, 2007 was “the day Our Lady visited my home.
“As I entered the study, I smelt the sweet strong smell of roses. With tears of joy I fell on my knees. I called my sister Samantha to come. It was heavenly scent, no perfume in the world could compare.
“I knelt down to pray, opened my eyes and then I saw the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. There sitting on the left side of my bed, near the window Our Lady appeared.
“She was wearing an ice-blue cloak with a royal blue veil. It looked like silk. She has caring ice blue eyes. (She said) Pray the Rosary like it’s your last day on earth.”
On May 23, she saw the sun start to spin.
“It was my personal experience that I saw the figure of Our Lady in the sun. Different people had different interpretations of the experience… some completely misunderstand what they saw.”
Amal Nassif, a devout Catholic, was one of thousands that poured into the family home to seek blessings from Zackey. She claimed the teen told her the Virgin Mary would appear in the sun and make it spin at sunset if she gazed into the sun. She was nearly blinded.
“I’ve heard from the faithful that she can see now. Obviously this lady stared longer than she should have and it affected her eyes. I do pray for her and for all the people who came and supported me and heard about my experience.”
The Catholic Church ordered Zackey to stop blessing pilgrims and telling the faithful to look into the sun.
“Everybody has grown from that experience and moved on,” Zackey says now. “I’ve grown spiritually in my faith now, under spiritual direction with my priests. I’ve learnt a lot.”
In the May edition of Bella News, Catholic Archbishop of Johannesburg Buti Tlhagale congratulated “Francesca’s courage in putting her heart and joy of our Catholic faith in writing” and in doing so, spreading the Gospel.
“People need to know that God is with them,” says Zackey, who has also completed a certificate in counselling.
“My diary is full of appointments but it is a lot more orderly now. When people come we pray together.”
In the magazine’s introduction, Father Badaoui Habib, a Superior of the Maronite Catholic Mission in SA, writes: “As Francesca’s spiritual director, I encourage every one of you to be part of the magazine … ”
Zackey writes of the “persecution” she has encountered. “I’ve come across… many people not believing. But nothing will stop the mission I have been given by God,” she says.