South Africa: Church Clips Wings of Virgin Mary Teen

Cape Town, South Africa - The Catholic Church has told Benoni teenager Francesca Zackey to stop blessing pilgrims after a woman severely damaged her eyes.

Yesterday, the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, the highest Catholic authority in the region, asked Zackey not to receive pilgrims, not to speak to the media and not to encourage people to look into the sun.

"Several priests spoke to the family to urge them to take time to themselves. We would consider it better if she (Francesca) took some time off to think about what has happened," spokesman Father Chris Townsend said.

He said the church's investigation into whether the 17-year-old's visions were genuine was due to start at the end of the week. Three priests and a nun have been assigned to carry out the probe.

Zackey claims she has been experiencing spiritual sightings of Mary, mother of Jesus, at her home since May 7. She also says that on May 23 the sun began spinning at sunset, allowing believers to see Mary appear in it.

But, in light of the case of Amal Nassif who, at Zackey's behest, stared directly into the sun, the church is now advising people to be "extremely careful" and to practise common sense.

After looking into the sun for an entire minute, Nassif now lives in a blurred world, in which she can't recognise shapes. And, in almost a month, her vision has not improved.

"I can't see anything. There is a large dark blind spot," she said. She is fighting to save what remains of her sight.

Speaking about the investigation, Townsend said: "It's a broad investigation which will look at what's been said, the consistency (of the claims) with the religion, the family's life and the life of the young girl."

Townsend warned that the investigation was not bound by a deadline as there was no "scientific formula" to perform it.

Interestingly, however, scientists could be called in to investigate the family's claims that their water supply had turned into holy oil.

The world of theology and science, Townsend said, could work together.