Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Until the Vatican Rules, Don't Dismiss Medjugorje

John Ellis says Catholics should keep an open mind about the claims of the town's 'seers' -
27 June 2008

This in an article I came across this morning in Catholic Herald, the most widely-read Catholic newspaper in the United Kingdom. I thought it was worthy of posting, as so many do not understand what is actually happening in Medjugorje as regards the Vatican Commission and the opposition the visionaries have faced for over twenty-five years. May our Blessed Mother continue to bless each and every one of us with her encouragements and prayers.

On June 24 1981 six children in a sleepy mountain village in what was then Yugoslavia claimed to have seen the Blessed Virgin. Twenty-seven years later, those same "seers", adults now, insist they are still being visited by the Mother of God, and many millions of people from all over the world, believers and unbelievers, have flocked to Medjugorje. Even priests, bishops, archbishops and cardinals in their thousands have been on pilgrimage there. Yet still the town's very name can be relied upon to provoke frothy splutterings of vitriolic condemnation from dyed-in-the-wool sceptics - as indeed did Lourdes and Fatima in their time. The epitome of Catholic orthodoxy, Medjugorje seems to be only about peace, prayer, renewal and reparation.

So why all the fuss? The two most-voiced grumbles of the Medjugorje-bashers are these: the inordinate length of time the "visions" and "interior locutions" have endured, and the perception that somehow those who go on pilgrimage there - along with the Franciscan priests who minister to them - are disobeying the local Ordinary. Yet any ruling, any decision to be made concerning events at Medjugorje, is no longer in the hands of the Bishop of Mostar; and while the Church is certainly well able to denounce fraudulent visions or visionaries when required, it never allows itself to pronounce in favour so long as the phenomenon continues and until all relevant facts have been gathered and carefully studied.

In the case of Medjugorje the jury is still out. Meanwhile, the Vatican has made clear that the faithful are free, both lay and religious, to go on pilgrimage there, but even where such pilgrimages are attended by a priest or bishop, they must not be seen as being arranged by the clergy. That is the status quo. There are those who seem concerned that the "visionaries", instead of retiring to the cloister, have chosen to marry and raise families. Have they forgotten La Salette? Besides, in an age addicted to profligacy and promiscuity, where marriage is demeaned and family life dangerously weakened, might not this example be both relevant and timely? And perhaps those who are too eager to convince themselves that Medjugorje, far from being heaven-sent, is satanic in origin should look again at its fruits, for surely this is our best measure.For almost two decades now the International Youth Festival held during the summer in Medjugorje has each year attracted tens of thousands of good, faithful, discerning young Catholics, the very best of the world's youth - and perhaps our only hope for a better tomorrow.

These are the spiritual children of John Paul II, faithful to the Magisterium, disciples of orthodoxy, not easily deceived. And is it really possible that Satan laughs up his diabolical sleeve at the 50 million communicants who have tasted Our Lord in Medjugorje, many for the first time in years? Are dark forces, then, responsible for such fervour at Holy Mass and Eucharistic Adoration seen there, and for the daily rosary for a sick, deluded, traumatised world? There is surely a dilemma here, for if that is the case then logic tells us hell itself stands ready to crumble, since "a house divided against itself must fall".When the Medjugorje "visions" began in 1981 the then Bishop of Mostar, the late Pavao Zanic, was keen to support the children.

He urged his priests to "accept God's providence", insisting that the "visionaries" were all to be trusted. Later, choosing to interpret one of the children's messages, purportedly from the Blessed Virgin, as a reprimand for having dealt harshly with the local Franciscan priests - whose "crime" was saying Mass for a group of pilgrims - he remarked during a meeting of prelates gathered to discuss the phenomena: "The Blessed Mother would never admonish a bishop"; and therefore, ipso facto, the apparitions were a fraud. Archbishop Franic of Split, who was convinced they were dealing with "affairs of heaven", retorted: "In the Book of the Apocalypse the Holy Spirit admonishes seven bishops!"Any serious student of Medjugorje has to ask some difficult questions.

What was Bishop Zanic's state of mind? During one television interview he spoke of "wiping out Medjugorje", while on another occasion he recommended "burying" it. On April 1 1985 the cardinal in charge of the Vatican State Secretary's office urged Croatian Cardinal Franjo Kuharic to demand that Bishop Zanic "suspend the airing of his own personal statements and renounce making judgments". He refused. Here was a bishop so intent on wiping Medjugorje off the map that he was even prepared to disobey his superiors and set himself against them. Interestingly, the very first commission to investigate the happenings in the mountain village was authored by Bishop Zanic. It proved to be nothing less than a whitewash, his "commission" consisting almost entirely of individuals hostile to the phenomenon, its avowed aim being to totally discredit both "visionaries" and Medjugorje itself.

Once the Vatican understood the extent of Bishop Zanic's opposition his commission was disbanded and a new one set up in its place. Unfortunately, the Balkans war and the subsequent splitting up of Yugoslavia brought everything to a grinding halt, since it meant the Vatican no longer had a local Ordinary with whom it could conduct the Church's business. The incumbent Bishop of Mostar, Ratko Peric, was a close friend of his predecessor and, while not subject to Bishop Zanic's obsessive rants, he is not an advocate for Medjugorje.

Yet it is important to reiterate that the Church's position remains as before insofar as pilgrims are at liberty to visit Medjugorje, and in fact the Vatican has frequently insisted that proper and adequate provision is made for them.For those wishing to examine the fruits of Medjugorje it must be admitted that these are rich indeed. There are stories of conversions and reversions by the hundreds of thousands. The Cenacolo community established there to rehabilitate young drug addicts and tearaways has been successful beyond most people's wildest dreams. The orphanage, originally for war orphans but now open to any child in need of parenting, is thriving, thanks mainly to the goodwill of pilgrims.

Many bishops, archbishops and cardinals the world over are convinced Medjugorje is genuine; many others hold the opposite view. Pope John Paul II counted himself with the believers, more than once stating his desire to make the pilgrimage. Sadly, both Bishops of Mostar in turn determined to deny the Holy Father that pleasure. Since, politically speaking, even the Supreme Pontiff could not go there without formal invitation from the local bishop, they made sure that offer was never extended to him.

Medjugorje dissenters might spend a truly enlightening retreat in the quiet village in the mountains, perhaps kneeling in the open air with 5,000 other "God's idiots" for Eucharistic Adoration; or attending one of many daily Masses, in several languages, each concelebrated devoutly by a dozen or more priests; observing (perhaps joining) the international team of priests who, seven days and evenings a week, generously hear confessions, both in the confessionals and in the open air, sometimes until midnight.

Is this the "fraud", the "addiction damaging to our health" that one Jesuit writer alleges? Until the Church decides, surely we should all stand back, observe with Christian charity, weighing the pros and cons without presumption.