Apparition Hill at Dawn, Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina
WHILE only the Public Revelation of Jesus Christ requires the assent of faith, the Church teaches that it would be imprudent to ignore the prophetic voice of God or “despise prophecy,” as St. Paul says. After all, authentic “words” from the Lord, are, from the Lord:
One can therefore simply ask why God provides them continuously [in the first place if] they hardly need to be heeded by the Church. —Hans Urs von Balthasar, Mistica oggettiva, n. 35
Even controversial theologian, Karl Rahner, also asked…
…whether anything God reveals can be unimportant. —Karl Rahner, Visions and Prophecies, p. 25
The Vatican has insisted upon remaining open to the alleged apparition thus far as it continues to discern the authenticity of the phenomena there. (If that’s good enough for Rome, it’s good enough for me.)
As a former television reporter, the facts surrounding Medjugorje do concern me. I know they concern many people. I have taken the same position on Medjugorje as Blessed John Paul II (as witnessed to by Bishops who have discussed the apparitions with him). That position is to celebrate the wonderful fruits flowing from this place, namely conversion and an intense sacramental life. This is not an ooey-gooey-warm-fuzzy opinion, but a hard fact based on the testimonies of thousands of Catholic clergy and countless laymen.
There has been plenty written on both sides of the phenomenon. But I want to simply highlight here the most important facts surrounding these alleged apparitions. In this way, I hope to set at ease the concerns of some of my readers, as I have obviously taken a more positive view of the phenomena also. I wish to stress again that I make no final judgment on the authenticity of the apparitions, but respect the ongoing investigation of the Church, and will fully adhere to the outcome forthcoming which is now to be a judgment of the Vatican or those whom the Holy Father may appoint in the future (see this recent confirmed report).
- The authority over the authenticity of the apparitions is no longer in the hands of the local bishop of Medjugorje. In a rare move, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith took the investigation out of Bishop Zanic’s hands, and placed it in the hands of an independent commission. Now (as of April 8th, 2008), the Holy See itself has taken full authority over the alleged phenomena. There HAS NOT been a definitive pronouncement from the Vatican regarding Medjugorje (even though they could have ruled it false several times by now), other than the ones I list below: “We repeat the absolute need to continue deepening the reflection, as well as prayer, in the face of whatever alleged supernatural phenomenon, until there is a definitive pronouncement.” (Joaquin Navarro-Valls, head of Vatican press office, Catholic World News, June 19th, 1996)
- In a letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from then Secretary Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone (May 26th, 1998), he described Bishop Zanic’s negative decision as “the expression of the personal conviction of the Bishop of Mostar which he has the right to express as Ordinary of the place, but which is and remains his personal opinion.“
- Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, and main author of the Catechism of the Catholic Church wrote, “The supernatural character is not established; such were the words used by the former conference of bishops of Yugoslavia in Zadar in 1991… It has not been said that the supernatural character is substantially established. Furthermore, it has not been denied or discounted that the phenomena may be of a supernatural nature. There is no doubt that the magisterium of the Church does not make a definite declaration while the extraordinary phenomena are going on in the form of apparitions or other means.” Regarding the fruits of Medjugorje, this distinguished scholar said, “These fruits are tangible, evident. And in our diocese and in many other places, I observe graces of conversion, graces of a life of supernatural faith, of vocations, of healings, of a rediscovering of the sacraments, of confession. These are all things which do not mislead. This is the reason why I can only say that it is these fruits which enable me, as bishop, to pass a moral judgment. And if as Jesus said, we must judge the tree by its fruits, I am obliged to say that the tree is good.” (Medjugorje Gebetsakion, #50; Stella Maris, #343, pp. 19, 20)
- Regarding whether or not pilgrimages can take place there, Archbishop Bertone (now Cardinal Bertone) further wrote, “as regards pilgrimages to Medjugorje, which are conducted privately, this Congregation points out that they are permitted on condition that they are not regarded as an authentication of events still taking place and which still call for the examination by the Church.“
The devotion of Medjugorje is allowed. It’s not prohibited, and need not be done in secret… Today, dioceses and other institutions can organize official pilgrimages. It’s no longer a problem… The decree of the former episcopal conference of what used to be Yugoslavia, which, before the Balkan war, advised against pilgrimages in Medjugorje organized by bishops, is no longer relevant. —Aleitia, Dec. 7th, 2017
- In 1996, then spokesman for the Holy See, Dr. Navarro Valls, said, “You cannot say people cannot go there until it has been proven false. This has not been said, so anyone can go if they want. When Catholic faithful go anywhere, they are entitled to spiritual care, so the Church does not forbid priests to accompany lay-organized trips to Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina” (Catholic News Service, August 21, 1996).
- On January 12, 1999, Archbishop Bertone instructed the leaders of the Beatitudes Community to help serve the needs of the Church in Medjugorje. On that occasion, he said “For the moment one should consider Medjugorje as a Sanctuary, a Marian Shrine, in the same way as Czestochwa” (as relayed by Sr. Emmanuel of the Beatitudes Community).
- Regarding the length of the apparitions (thirty years and running now), Bishop Gilbert Aubry of St. Denis, Reunion Island said, “So she talks too much, this “Virgin of the Balkans”? That’s the sardonic opinion of some unabashed skeptics. Have they eyes but do not see, and ears but do not hear? Clearly the voice in the messages of Medjugorje is that of a motherly and strong woman who does not pamper her children, but teaches them, exhorts and pushes them to assume greater responsibility for the future of our planet: ‘A large part of what will happen depends on your prayers’… We must allow God all the time he wills to take for the transfiguration of all time and space before the Holy Face of the One who is, was, and will come again.” (Forward to “Medjugorje: the 90’s—The Triumph of the Heart” by Sr. Emmanuel)
- And as a note of interest… in a handwritten letter to Denis Nolan, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta wrote, “We are all praying one Hail Mary before Holy Mass to Our Lady of Medjugorje.” (April 8th, 1992)
- When asked if Medjugorje is a Satanic deceit as alleged by a Bishop Emeritus, Cardinal Ersilio Tonini responded: “I cannot believe this. In any case, if he has really said this, I think that it is an exaggerated phrase, absolutely outside the topic. Only unbelievers do not believe in Our Lady and in Medjugorje. For the rest, nobody is forcing us to believe, but let us at least respect it… I think that it is a blessed place and a grace of God; who goes to Medjugorje returns transformed, changed, he reflects himself in that source of grace that is Christ.” —interview with Bruno Volpe, March 8th, 2009, www.pontifex.roma.it
- On October 6th, 2013, the apostolic nuncio on behalf of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), stated that, at this time, the CDF “is in the process of investigating certain doctrinal and disciplinary aspects of the phenomenon of Medjugorje” and thus reaffirms that the 1991 declaration remains in effect: “that clerics and the faithful are not permitted to participate in meetings, conferences or public celebrations during which the credibility of such ‘apparitions’ would be taken for granted.” (Catholic News Agency, October 6th, 2013)
POPE JOHN PAUL II
Bishop Stanley Ott of Baton Rouge, LA., who has since gone to God, asked the John Paul II:
“Holy Father, what do you think of Medjugorje?” The Holy Father kept eating his soup and responded: “Medjugorje? Medjugorje? Medjugorje? Only good things are happening at Medjugorje. People are praying there. People are going to Confession. People are adoring the Eucharist, and people are turning to God. And, only good things seem to be happening at Medjugorje.” —www.spiritdaily.com, October 24th, 2006
In the presence of the Indian Ocean Regional Episcopal Conference during their ad limina meeting with the Holy Father, Pope John Paul answered their question regarding the message of Medjugorje:
As Urs von Balthasar put it, Mary is the Mother who warns her children. Many people have a problem with Medjugorje, with the fact that the apparitions last too long. They do not understand. But the message is given in a specific context, it corresponds to the situation of the country. The message insists on peace, on the relations between Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims. There, you find the key to the comprehension of what is happening in the world and of its future. —Revised Medjugorje: the 90’s, The Triumph of the Heart; Sr. Emmanuel; pg. 196
And to Archbishop Felipe Benites of Asuncion, Paraguay, regarding his direct question as to whether witnesses to Medjugorje should be allowed to speak in churches or not, JP II said,
Authorize everything which concerns Medjugorje. –Ibid.
Most significantly, the late pope said to Bishop Pavel Hnilica in an interview for the German Catholic monthly magazine PUR:
Look, Medjugorje is a continuation, an extension of Fatima. Our Lady is appearing in communist countries primarily because of problems that originate in Russia. http://wap.medjugorje.ws/en/articles/medjugorje-pope-john-paul-ii-interview-bishop-hnilica/
The Vatican, having taken authority over the apparitions, has not asked the visionaries to cease their activities. Thus, the visionaries are not in disobedience (their current bishop wants the manifestations and messages stopped immediately.) Indeed, the Vatican has had plenty of opportunities to shut down Medjugorje based on previous negative rulings, but has instead relegated those rulings to ‘opinion’ or simply disbanded the commissions and struck new ones. So in reality, the Vatican has been the greatest advocate in allowing the phenomena of Medjugorje to continue. As already shown, the Congregation has asked that pilgrimages to Medjugorje be properly accommodated with the help of local Church authorities. It seems then that the Bishop of Mostar is in contradiction to the current desires of the Vatican.
Two scientific studies have been done on the visionaries during their apparitions (Professor Joyeux in 1985; and Fr. Andreas Resch with Doctors Giorgio Gagliardi, Marco Margnelli, Marianna Bolko and Gabriella Raffaelli in 1998). Both studies found that the visionaries are not manipulated nor “put on an act” during their thus far unexplained state of ecstasy in which they feel no pain and cannot even be moved or lifted during an apparition. More importantly, the visionaries have been found to be completely normal, mentally healthy individuals with no pathologies. As one visionary put it during my visit there, “I’m not fabricating these things; my life depends on it.”
Steve Shawl has answered other questions regarding the visionaries, including their lifestyles, at his website www.medjugorje.org
Several detractors suggest that a schism in the Church will come from Medjugorje. They hypothesize that, because of the large following of these apparitions throughout the world, a negative ruling by the Vatican will cause Medjugorje followers to revolt and split from the Church.
I find this assertion unbelievable and bordering on hysteria. In fact, it is contrary to the fruit of Medjugorje which is a deepening love, respect, and fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church. One could say that the hallmark of Medjugorje is the incarnation of the heart of Mary in pilgrims that is, a heart of obedience—fiat. (This is a general statement, and does not speak for every pilgrim; no doubt, Medjugorje has its fanatics as well.) I contend that it is this very faithfulness to the Church which keeps Medjugorje balanced and it’s Marian spirituality authentic as evidenced in the fruit, and ultimately, will play a role in the decisions regarding the authenticity of the events.
I, for one, will obey whatever the Vatican eventually decides. My faith is not hinged on this apparition site, nor any others, approved or not. But Scripture says prophecy should not be despised, for it is intended for the building up of the body. In fact those who reject prophecy, including approved apparitions, may miss an important word God is giving His people at a certain time in history so as to illuminate more clearly the path already revealed through the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Indeed, the Lord God does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants, the prophets. (Amos 3:7)
Before major events occurred throughout the history of God’s people, He always sent prophets to prepare them. We must beware then not only of false prophets, but of beheading the authentic ones as well!
IT’S JUST THE SACRAMENTS
Some critics of Medjugorje contend that the extraordinary fruits there are merely the result of the efficaciousness of the Sacraments. Yet this statement falls short of logic. For one, why then are we not seeing a continual swell of these kinds of fruits (dramatic conversions, vocations, healings, miracles, etc.) in our own parishes where the Sacraments are offered daily in some places? Second of all, it fails to regard the vast majority of testimonies that indicate the presence of the Mother, her voice, or other graces that then lead souls to the Sacraments. Third, why does this argument not apply at other famous shrines, such as Fatima and Lourdes? Faithful who have gone to these pilgrimage sites have also experienced extraordinary graces similar to Medjugorje that are above and beyond the Sacraments that are also offered there.
The evidence points toward a special grace present at these Marian centers, including Medjugorje. You could say that these shrines have a special charism:
There are sacramental graces, gifts proper to the different sacraments. There are furthermore special graces, also called charisms after the Greek term used by St. Paul and meaning “favor,” “gratuitous gift,” “benefit”… charisms are oriented toward sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church. They are at the service of charity which builds up the Church. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2003; cf. 799-800
Again, unless one ignores the words of Christ, it becomes difficult to not remain open toward the phenomenon. Perhaps the question can be asked of critics intent on cutting down the “tree”: what fruits exactly are you waiting for if not these?
I observe graces of conversion, graces of a life of supernatural faith, of vocations, of healings, of a rediscovering of the sacraments, of confession. These are all things which do not mislead. This is the reason why I can only say that it is these fruits which enable me, as bishop, to pass a moral judgment. And if as Jesus said, we must judge the tree by its fruits, I am obliged to say that the tree is good.” —Cardinal Schönborn, Medjugorje Gebetsakion, #50; Stella Maris, #343, pp. 19, 20
THE RUINI COMMISSION
The Commission noted a very clear difference between the beginning of the phenomenon and its following development, and therefore decided to issue two distinct votes on the two different phases: the first seven presumed [apparitions] between June 24 and July 3, 1981, and all that happened later. Members and experts came out with 13 votes in favor of recognizing the supernatural nature of the first visions. —May 16th, 2017; lastampa.it
The committee argues that the six young seers were psychically normal and were caught by surprise by the apparition, and that nothing of what they had seen was influenced by either the Franciscans of the parish or any other subjects. They showed resistance in telling what happened despite the police [arresting] them and death [threats against] them. The Commission also rejected the hypothesis of a demonic origin of the apparitions. —Ibid.
A personal speculation: as we near the time when the so-called “secrets” of Medjugorje are revealed by the visionaries, I believe—if the apparitions are authentic—we will see a tremendous surge of anti-Medjugorje propaganda in an attempt to discredit the secrets and central message. On the other hand, if the apparitions are false and a work of the devil, its followers will eventually reduce themselves to a “small” fanatical group who will support the apparitions at any cost.
Yet the actual situation is the opposite. Medjugorje continues to spread its message and graces throughout the world, bringing about not only healings and conversions, but a new generation of spiritual, orthodox, and powerful priests. In fact, the most faithful, humble, and effective priests I know are “sons of Medjugorje” having been converted or called to the priesthood while visiting there. Countless more souls emerge from this place and return to their homes with ministries, vocations, and callings which serve and build up the Church—not destroy it. If this is a work of the devil, then perhaps we should ask God to let him do it in every parish. After thirty years of these consistent fruits, A book worth reading is “Medjugorje, Triumph of the Heart!” by Sr. Emmanuel. It is a collection of testimonies from people who have visited the apparition site. It reads like the Acts of the Apostles on steroids. one can’t help but ask Christ’s question all over again:
Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste, and no town or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself; how, then, will his kingdom stand? (Matt 12:25)
Lastly—why? Why speak of Medjugorje here? Mary is my mother. And I will never forget the way she loved me when I was there (see, A Miracle of Mercy).
For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.(Acts 5:38-39)
For a more detailed history of events, see Medjugorje Apologia.
- Recent article in the Catholic Herald: “Until the Vatican rules, don’t dismiss Medjugorje”
- Too many apparitions? Why So Long?
- My personal experiences: That Medjugorje
- A personal healing : A Miracle of Mercy
|A book worth reading is “Medjugorje, Triumph of the Heart!” by Sr. Emmanuel. It is a collection of testimonies from people who have visited the apparition site. It reads like the Acts of the Apostles on steroids.