Here’s a look at what believers say happened when Mary appeared in Zeitoun, Egypt from 1968 to 1971, in events now known as "Our Lady of Zeitoun":
A bus mechanic named Farouk Mohammed Atwa was working at a Public Transport Authority garage across the street from the Virgin Mary Orthodox Coptic Church in Zeitoun, Egypt (a suburb of Cairo) after sunset on the evening of April 2, 1968 when the figure of a woman standing on top of one of the church’s domes caught his attention. Alarmed because he saw the woman moving and thought she was preparing to commit suicide by jumping off the church’s roof, Farouk alerted two of his coworkers, and they all shouted at the woman to be careful so she wouldn’t fall. Their shouting attracted the attention of many people passing by on Tumanbay Street, who also saw the glowing white female figure when they looked up.
Some of the people in the crowd exclaimed: "The Virgin Mary!" More and more people gathered, until police arrived and closed the street to traffic. People watched in awe as the apparition of Mary floated around on the church’s roof for a few minutes, then disappeared.
Over the next few years (until 1971), apparitions of Mary would continue to appear at the church. Some, like the first, would last for just a few minutes. Others would last for several hours, with the longest lasting for nine hours. Mary sometimes appeared by herself, and sometimes accompanied by glowing white images of dove birds (doves symbolize the Holy Spirit and peace) that would fly around her and orbs of light that would move into formation to create the shape of a cross. Sometimes Mary would kneel in prayer before a cross on the church’s roof. Mary did not speak to the crowd, but she did interact with them. She would wave, nod, and extend her hands toward the watching crowd to bless them. The smell of incense permeated the area around the church when purple smoke appeared in the air.
Millions of people witnessed the apparitions. People of all faiths who honor Mary and skeptics who were curious about the phenomenon came to Zeitoun to see what was happening. During the apparitions, people watched in silence, prayed, sang, or wept. After Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser saw the apparitions and learned that people had been sleeping in the government-owned garage across the street at night to wait for them, he donated the land to the church. Besides the many people who encountered the apparitions in person, many more saw images of them broadcast on television or in newspaper photographs. Skeptics analyzed the film footage and photographs, but couldn’t find anything that would disprove their authenticity. People cut off electricity to the area around the church during some of the apparitions to test whether or not that would affect the apparitions, but it didn’t, and scientists determined that the apparition was generating its own powerful light.
Coptic Orthodox Pope Kyrillos VI set up a church commission to investigate the apparitions, and after examining the evidence, the commission declared them to be genuinely miraculous. People reported experiencing many miraculous healings that occurred while they were watching the apparitions and were later medically verified. Cancer patients had the disease go into remission, people suffering from blindness or deafness had their sight or hearing restored, paralyzed people were able to move and walk, and those afflicted by a variety of other medical conditions experienced full healing.
The first man to have seen the apparition of Mary in Zeitoun, Farouk, had been scheduled to undergo an operation to treat a gangrene infection the day after he saw Mary. At the hospital, doctors pronounced him completely cured and canceled the operation. A photographer whose pictures of the apparition were published on the front page of an Egyptian newspaper, Wagih Rizk, also experienced a miraculous healing while watching the apparition. Wagih had severely injured his left arm in a car accident years before. While he was taking photos of the apparition, Wagih realized that he was suddenly able to use his left hand with a full range of motion, for the first time since the car accident had damaged his left arm. He later discovered that his entire arm (including his hand) had been completely restored to good health.
In 1971, Mary made her last miraculous appearance at Zeitoun, after the Egyptian government began charging people to see her by selling tickets to the apparitions. But she returned to Egypt in 2000 and 2001 through apparitions at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church in Assiut, and again in 2009 through apparitions at Virgin Mary and Archangel Michael Coptic Orthodox Church in Warraq.