The Apparitions of Medjugorje - "Prepare the Way of the Lord"
Today, on the actual Seventeen year anniversary when Our Lady first appeared to the visionaries in Medjugorje on the Feast of Saint John the Baptist, we examine the Church's stance on Medjugorje and her consent to allow the millions of pilgrims to flock to Mary's special Oasis of Peace despite all the negative propaganda that twists the truth and persuades people to avoid this opportunity for grace and conversion.
What does the Vatican really say about Medjugorje?
There has been much said both pro and con about the purported on-going apparitions in Medjugorje where the Blessed Mother is reported to have been appearing daily for the past fifteen years in a mountain village in lower Bosnia-Herzegovina. Medjugorje has had its share of peaks and valleys over these last fifteen years, attracting unprecedented world-wide attention especially in the United States. There have been many who have embraced all that the Mother of God professes; but likewise there have been many - albeit too many - who have denied Medjugorje and mounted a campaign to discredit it, to discourage others to come to this Oasis of Peace and cleverly used certain Vatican sources to "imply" that pilgrims should not believe or go to Medjugorje. Such is the case of articles over the years by prejudice journalists and one a few years ago by John Thavis of the Catholic News Service which was plastered in Diocesan papers nationwide. It conveyed a very negative undertone and the confusion surrounding that article needs to be clarified.
The controversy first began back in 1984 when then Ordinary of the diocese of Mostar, Bishop Pavao Zanic openly demeaned Medjugorje because of resentment stemming from the centuries-old feud between the Diocesan clergy and Franciscans in that region which is documented. The bishop’s scathing condemnation was plastered all over Catholic papers throughout the world, but calmer minds prevailed and on May 2, 1986 in an unprecedented move by Church authorities, jurisdiction for ruling on reported apparitions in Medjugorje was taken out of the hands of the local ordinary, Msgr. Pavao Zanic. The intervention of higher Church authorities with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the head, discarded the conclusions of the Zanic Commission, and removed the right to pass judgment as to the authenticity of the events at Medjugorje from Zanic, appointing the Bishops’ Conference of Yugoslavia to study the matter, while withholding the right to pass judgment on the matter to itself. In 1987 the Vatican officially proclaimed Medjugorje a "shrine of worship" and authorized the Franciscans there to minister to the spiritual needs of the pilgrims going there as well as entrusting to spiritual directors accompanying pilgrims that these traveling priests serve the sacramental obligations of the faithful in a pastoral way when away from their own home parish.
Yugoslav Commission of Bishops Openly Favorable to Medjugorje
On April 29, 1990 the National Catholic Register quoted Pope John Paul II as having told Bishop Murilo Krieger of Santa Caterina, Brazil: "Medjugorje is a great center of spirituality." Shortly after that reporter John Thavis for the Catholic News Service wrote a scathing article playing up the report of the Yugoslavian Bishops that they could not confirm that supernatural apparitions were occurring at Medjugorje. Diocesan papers across the country plastered their front pages with huge headlines proclaiming: "Medjugorje Apparitions not supernatural" Like the secular media, the false prophets of today, the Catholic press also fell into the trap of instant assumption. That article harmed many and discouraged many who might otherwise have followed their heart. Yet, on December 23, 1990 Cardinal Kuharic, the highest prelate of the Yugoslav Commission stated implicitly that "the Bishops’ Conference was taking a positive stance towards the events in Medjugorje.", The President of the Yugoslav Bishops’ Commission, Archbishop Frane Franic told this writer personally in an interview in September 1991, citing Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 5: 19-22 , that "It is the duty of the Church Authority as St. Paul says not to suffocate the spirit in the Church of Love but to discern the spirits. Unfortunately, too often many bishops and priests put it aside. They should examine it for whatever is good and coming from the Holy Spirit, like Medjugorje, they should cooperate so they are all together in respect to authority for the main law of the Church is to love. The Church of Authority and Love, which is the Holy Spirit, should walk together. Too bad they do not always. As I said, the media, through wrong input, misinforms."
Always, when the Vatican has been asked about the Church’s stance on Medjugorje, the Holy See has maintained the standard modus operandi of Holy Mother Church regarding all private revelation in taking a cautious, but open approach in the spirit of Paul’s words. The Church does not encourage Church-sponsored pilgrimages to Medjugorje now because she cannot, but she does not discourage lay-sponsored pilgrimages to Medjugorje and, as mentioned earlier, has encouraged that these pilgrimages be accompanied by a spiritual director so that their spiritual needs are ministered to as well as encouraging the Franciscans at St. James parish in Medjugorje to minister to the needs of all who go there.
"Authorize everything that concerns Medjugorje."Pope John Paul II
Even though the Holy Father is on record for saying the above, sadly, some journalists, including Mr. Thavis, released confusing, negative articles, one such one on the heels of the Fifteenth Anniversary celebration of the Apparitions on June 25, 1996. Unfortunately, it was misinterpreted and spread like wild-fire, taking front page space in every diocesan paper and reissuing doubt in so many. It has definitely had a negative impact on the Marian movement which has seen the ranks of the faithful diminish in the face of apathy and doubt caused by half-truths. Again, the facts are that the first pronouncement in 1986 and followed up in 1990 by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, constituted proper protocol for Holy Mother Church. Since the Church has not passed judgments on the purported apparitions in Medjugorje, the Church cannot promote said apparitions. This is standard in any private revelation. There is nothing sensational or condemning in that. Yet, Mr. Thavis made it sound like the Church was condemning Medjugorje and cautioned every pastor to keep people away from Medjugorje, thus doing much harm and saddening Our Lord and Our Lady who have been asking for seventeen years that we listen to the messages.
In late June 1996 Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reiterated exactly what Cardinal Ratzinger said but, again, it was taken out of context. It basically said the Church cannot promote or organize pilgrimages. That is standard operating procedure for any purported apparition still under investigation as Medjugorje is. It did not say we cannot go and the Holy Father John Paul II himself has often said to those who have asked him, "Yes, go to Medjugorje. But go there to pray." Just a few years ago he stated: "Authorize everything that concerns Medjugorje." Archbishop Franic, in a personal exclusive in-depth interview with this editor a few years back, confirmed the Pope’s belief, "Actually he has publicly recognized that the Blessed Mother is appearing there, that she is there and is speaking and talking there. His Holiness personally told me, `I pray for a good solution of Medjugorje.’" The Holy Father also conveyed to Bishop Paolo Hnilica, SJ, who consecrated Russia to the Immaculate Heart from deep within the bowels of the Kremlin in 1984 at the same time the Pope was doing likewise in St. Peter’s Basilica, "If I wasn’t Pope I would be in Medjugorje already."
Yet Thavis' article quoted current Mostar Ordinary Bishop Ratko Peric, the successor to Bishop Paveo Zanic, as saying "the alleged apparitions have stirred confusion and division in the local church ." Sorry, Bishop Peric and John Thavis, but Medjugorje has not caused confusion and division. Rather it is those who constantly fight the possibility that Medjugorje is indeed part of God's Heavenly Plan...those who don't believe in private revelation...those who fear what Our Lady is saying is true and they don't want to change their lives, don't want to face the fact that we all need to pray and fast in order to not only save our own souls but the countless souls who refuse to believe - before it is too late, who truly cause the confusion.
"By their fruits you will know them." Matthew 7: 16
Our Lady said in November 1983, "These are my last apparitions to mankind." Those are pretty powerful words when you consider the Blessed Mother has been appearing on earth to mankind since the first century at Zaragoza in Spain and has increased her appearances and communication to unprecedented numbers in these last two decades throughout the world, especially here in the United States. Does that tell us something? The Holy Father realizes this for his papacy is dedicated to Mary and in our heart we know Our Lady is communicating to him in Heavenly ways for he is truly a saint for our times. If Medjugorje and the messages imparted were not so important, would the Pope privately encourage people to go and even express strong desires to go there himself? Certainly not. If he absolutely did not believe he would either speak against it or ignore it. As we all know, John Paul II has not and is not ignoring Medjugorje and neither should we. Jesus said in Matthew 7: 16, "By their fruits you will know them...A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit...Therefore, by their fruits you will know them."
Therein lies the proof of Medjugorje. Could millions of good fruits from conversion of heart through Medjugorje have come from a bad tree? We think not. Syllogistically then, it follows that Medjugorje must be a good tree. That being the case Medjugorje, and we the believers, must weather the storms that batter her limbs. Father Francis Zachman, OMI, a wise priest who played a major role in this writer’s formation said often, "A tree needs lots of wind and storms to make it grow strong, straight and tall." With the storms pummeling Medjugorje from attacks within the Church to outside the Church in the form of political unrest and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, Medjugorje will indeed weather the storms of controversy and go on to grow stronger, straighter and taller for after all, she is rooted in the greatest soil possible - the Word of God.
For more on Medjugorje and the events there, go to the official Medjugorje site on the web to explore the sources available. We encourage you to pray for those who do not believe rather than confronting them or arguing with them. The best rebuttal is to show them by example. Remember, by their fruits you shall know them. In time they too will bear good fruit. If we press the issue we could bruise the fruit. We must wait for it to ripen in God's time. After all, God has been waiting for seventeen years, not to mention nearly 2000 years of patience with His children. Remember, it is not our time...but rather God's Time!