Međugorje, a village located in present day Bosnia-Herzegovina, has been the site of alleged apparitions of the Virgin Mary since June 24, 1981. The present article, The Status of Međugorje, has examined the Catholic Church's response to these alleged apparitions.
* 1 Investigation status
o 1.1 Authorities responsible to evaluate the question
* 2 Claims of supernatural effects
o 2.1 Medical Cures at Međugorje
* 3 Views of theologians and others
o 3.1 Supportive views
+ 3.1.1 René Laurentin
+ 3.1.2 Michael O'Carroll
+ 3.1.3 Henri Joyeux
+ 3.1.4 Briege McKenna
o 3.2 Critical views
o 3.3 Neutral views
+ 3.3.1 Yugoslavian Episcopal Conference
o 3.4 More supportive views
+ 3.4.1 Apostolic nuncios
+ 3.4.2 Christoph Schönborn
+ 3.4.3 Joseph Ratzinger
+ 3.4.4 John Paul II
+ 3.4.5 Mother Teresa
+ 3.4.6 Joaquin Navarro-Valls
+ 3.4.7 Tarcisio Bertone
* 4 References
The status of the site ("approved", "condemned", or "currently under investigation") is dependent upon the Catholic Church's investigation of the claims being made there. The status at this time is "currently under investigation." This article looks closely at the evidence gathered so far about the validity of the claim that the Virgin Mary has been appearing in Međugorje.
Authorities responsible to evaluate the question
According to a 1978 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the foremost authority for the discernment of the alleged supernatural character of an alleged apparition is the local bishop of a diocese. However, the relevant Bishops Conference may intervene at the request of the local bishop, or if the influence of a phenomenon extends outside the region. Also, the Holy See can intervene either at the request of the bishop, or at the request of a group of Catholic faithful, or at its own initiative.
Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) said in a 1991 interview: "If we have only a local phenomenon, it's not necessary that the Vatican intervene." In situations of greater importance, however, the Vatican may either confirm or refute the bishop's decision with its own declaration.
No reported claim of a supernatural apparition can receive approved status until the alleged phenomena have ceased. Nevertheless, in what was applauded by followers of Medugorje, the Vatican confirmed in March 2010 that it had established a commission to evaluate the apparitions, headed by Cardinal Camillo Ruini.
Medical Cures at Međugorje
Also relevant to determining the supernatural character of an apparition site would be any miraculous cures that take place. In July 1987, Newsweek magazine declared that "already 290 miracle healings [in Međugorje] are under study by Catholic physicians."
The first cure to occur at Međugorje took place on the fifth day of the apparitions, June 28, 1981. A three-year-old boy named Daniel Setka was brought to the place of the apparition and commended to the Madonna. His condition was extremely serious: he was unable to walk, speak or even hold his head up. Electroencephalogram scans revealed that the child experienced "paroxysms" at the rate of three to five per second, and the conclusion was a combination of spastic hemiparesis and epilepsy. On the evening of the 28th, he was carried up the hill toward the site of the apparition by his parents. One of the visionaries, when presenting the boy to Mary, called out, "Please make a miracle so that everyone will believe us." The visionaries reported that for approximately a minute Mary stared with great mercy at him, then said, "Let [his parents] firmly believe that he will be healed", and then concluded with, "Go in God's peace." Following the apparition, the first sign of a healing took place: at dinner the boy slapped the table and declared, "Give me a drink." The following day, still unable to walk, he was taken again to the place of the apparition, and about halfway up the hill he began to walk under his own power. As he gained more strength ascending the hill, he began speaking words and then climbed atop a rock and called out, "Mama, look, I'm walking!" His full healing would be declared complete that very day.
Another cure was a case compiled by the University of Milan's Specialist Clinical Institute. The case involved an Italian woman named Diana Basile, a mother of three who had developed advanced multiple sclerosis, an incurable disease. By 1983 she was completely incontinent, shaking uncontrollably, completely blind in her right eye, unable to raise her right arm and capable of walking only with a shuffle when aided by others. She traveled to Međugorje at the invitation of a nurse at the clinic and managed to enter the room where the apparition was to take place. At the time of the apparition she suddenly became completely unaware of her surroundings. Instead, she viewed past episodes of her life, many of them previously forgotten. As the apparition ended, she stood and exited the room with the visionaries, walking normally. By the following morning she was cured of incontinence and blindness in her right eye; by the time she returned home, every sign of her illness had disappeared.
At least two people who have claimed healings in Međugorje were medical doctors. One, a general practitioner from the Philippines, had contracted breast cancer that had recently metastasized. While in Međugorje she prayed the Stations of the Cross on Mt. Krizevac, and at the 12th and 13th stations received a "spiritual healing." The spiritual healing was accompanied by a physical cure, because when she arrived back in the Philippines, all signs of her cancer had disappeared. The other doctor was an Italian pediatrician with a life-threatening ulcerated colon and abscessed fistula. The family prayed in Međugorje for a cure in the fall of 1984, while he prayed in Italy for the first time in years, he said. He promised Mary that if he were healed he would travel to Međugorje himself. That night the fistula closed and he was cured.
Perhaps the most celebrated cure came to Vicka, one of the six visionaries, who mailed a letter to the bishop's commission investigating the apparitions (as well as a letter to her confessor and the priests of Međugorje) indicating the exact date she would be cured of an inoperable brain tumor. Seven months later, on September 25, 1988, she asked the letters to be opened by the recipients in the presence of two witnesses. The letter stated that her brain tumor—not a punishment from God but a gift to aid in the conversion of souls—would be miraculously healed on that date, September 25. Her tumor, in fact, vanished on that date.
Other teams of doctors from Italy, Poland, Austria, England and the United States would study the children. Dr. Luigi Frigero, the doctor who supervised a team of doctors from Milan's Mangiagalli Clinic, concluded that the results "cannot be explained naturally, and thus can be only preternatural or supernatural."
With regard to the first question, many notable theologians and Church officials traveled to Međugorje prior to the first alleged official statements about the apparitions to judge the authenticity of the messages. One of the most respected theologians to do so was Fr. René Laurentin. His book, Is the Virgin Mary Appearing at Međugorje?, became a foundation for those choosing to understand the events more clearly. In the book, he undertakes a thorough theological investigation of Međugorje's apparitions and messages, then states that "there are no doctrinal problems at Međugorje."
Another theologian, Fr. Michael O'Carroll, studied the events and concluded that the messages were completely orthodox. His book, Međugorje: Facts, Documents, Theology, included the statement that "after having studied the facts of Međugorje in books and [in Međugorje], I am entirely convinced of the authenticity of these apparitions." He also cites Fr. Laurentin's works and states that the famous theologian concluded "There is notable doctrinal orthodoxy…" contained in the messages of Međugorje. Fr. Gabriele Amorth, renowned as the chief exorcist of Rome and the author of the international bestseller, An Exorcist Tells His Story, has stated: "Međugorje is a fortress against Satan. Satan hates Međugorje." Finally, in an interview with the Jesuit Fr. Richard Foley, Hans Urs von Balthasar, the first recipient of the Paul VI prize for theology and a giant of the 20th century in Mariology, stated for the record: "Međugorje's theology rings true. I am convinced of its truth."
Dr. Henri Joyeux, a cancer researcher, headed a team of scientists from the University of Montpellier 1. He made video and audio recordings of more than 35 reputed apparitions and conducted a battery of tests searching for either a hoax or fraud. Among the many tests performed by the team were brain, vision, hearing, voice and cardiac function tests, using electroencephalographs, electrooculographs and other scientific devices.
Dr. François Rouquerol, an ear, nose and throat specialist who accompanied the Montpellier team, saw no reaction to 90 decibels of engine noise directed into the ears of the visionaries during the apparition, an indication of a "disconnection of the auditory pathways during the ecstasy." Dr. Bernard Hoarau, a heart specialist, conducted experiments that eliminated the possibility of epilepsy. The tests of a neurologist, Dr. Jean Cadhilac's, claimed to be able to "eliminate formally all clinical signs comparable to those observed during individual or collective hallucination, hysteria, neurosis or pathological ecstasy."
In the spring of 1985, Dr Joyeux concluded: "The ecstasies are not pathological, nor is there any element of deceit. No scientific discipline seems able to describe these phenomena."
Sr. Briege McKenna of the Sisters of St. Clare, who has a worldwide healing ministry, was a witness to prophecies about Međugorje two months prior to the reported apparitions. She saw a vision of the twin spires of St. James Church, though she had never seen the church itself, and told Fr. Tomislav Vlašić, one of the Međugorje priests, that "great streams of living water" would soon usher forth from his church.
Sr. Briege's bestseller, Miracles Do Happen, contains a special section about Međugorje. In the book she states that while praying the Rosary one morning in Ireland, she heard the voice of the Blessed Mother saying: "You must go to Međugorje and there I will give you a message for my priests." She obtained permission from her mother superior and went to Međugorje on the Feast of Corpus Christi. She testified in her book that while in Međugorje, "I witnessed a tremendous sense of Mary's presence and her purity in the young people, particularly in those who belong to the prayer group Our Lady told the visionaries to organize."
The critics of Međugorje, among them the French-Canadian parapsychologist Louis Belanger, concluded that either the apparitions were a hoax or were the result of natural causes. Belanger's reasoning, however, was criticized for being far from reasonable. He stated in an interview with a Quebec newspaper in June 1985: "Tectonic movements of mountains and rocks, which move in cycles, can set off piezo-electric and geomagnetic effects which are visible in the form of columns of light and can influence the behavior of a living organism."
The local ordinary of the diocese, Bishop Pavao Žanić, was originally in favor of the apparitions and early on stated his unqualified support for the visions. However, hostilities with the Franciscans, coupled with a statement allegedly coming from Mary that the bishop should not censure them, led the bishop to denounce the apparitions.
Bishop Žanić was eventually replaced by Bishop Ratko Perić, a monsignor who also viewed the apparitions of Međugorje skeptically. Bishop Perić wrote a personal letter declaring his position to be that nothing supernatural was occurring in Međugorje. Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, the Secretary to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that was presided over at the time by Cardinal Ratzinger, wrote in a letter to the bishop of Saint-Denis de la Réunion that "what Bishop Perić said in his letter... is and remains his personal opinion." Thus, no one was to regard Bishop Perić's statement as an official Church declaration. The intent of Bertone's statement was to clarify that the authority to make official declarations about the status of Medjugorje now fell to the commission led by the Bosnian bishops' conference, which was still investigating the apparitions.
Yugoslavian Episcopal Conference
The second question used to assess the validity of an apparition concerns supernatural events. With regard to determining if a supernatural character exists at the site, three possible designations can be made:
1. Yes, supernatural events are occurring;
2. It is impossible given present circumstances to confirm the presence of supernatural events and further investigation is needed;
3. No, nothing supernatural is occurring.
On November 28, 1990, the Yugoslavian Episcopal Conference sent a private letter to Rome stating that Međugorje's status fell into the second category: it was impossible at the present time to confirm the supernatural character and thus further study would be needed.
Many of the faithful came to believe that the answer given was the third designation (nothing supernatural is happening) because of the confusing Latin phrases that distinguish between the second and third designations (constat de non supernaturalitate vs. non constat de supernaturalitate). But in fact, the determination means that the question remains open and further study will be done. In the words of Cardinal Franjo Kuharić, president of the Bishop's Conference, "We therefore leave this aspect for further investigation. The Church is in no hurry."  Međugorje, however, was to be accepted by the faithful "as a place of prayer, as a sanctuary."
Archbishop Franc Perko of Belgrade stated in 1991 that "It is not true that [the Declaration of Zadar means] nothing supernatural is happening in Međugorje." He then added that the commission "is open to further developments."
Many Church diplomats, after having traveled to Međugorje, were able to witness the fruits coming from the place (the third piece of information used to determine the authenticity of an apparition) and began giving their own personal opinions. On July 31, 1985, Cardinal Francesco Colasuono, former Apostolic Nuncio in Yugoslavia and the representative of the Holy See in Russia, declared, "Međugorje represents the event of the century."
That same year Cardinal Agnelo Rossi, the Dean of the College of Cardinals, awarded the Italian Sapienza Award to the book A Thousand Encounters with the Gospa in Međugorje by Fr. Janko Bubalo. And Cardinal Giuseppe Siri of Genoa, Italy, stated in 1989, "I have noticed that the people who come from Međugorje become apostles."
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna and the principal author of The Catechism of the Catholic Church, gave a testimony at Lourdes on July 18, 1998, which was subsequently published. His testimony reads in part:
"Personally, I have not yet gone to Međugorje; but in a way I have gone there through the people I know or those I have met who, themselves, have gone to Međugorje. And I see good fruits in their lives. I should be lying if I denied that these fruits exist. 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 judgement. And if as Jesus said, we must judge a tree by its fruits, I am obliged to say that the tree is good."
In April, 1986, bishop Žanić submitted a negative judgement to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican and the future Pope Benedict XVI, but Cardinal Ratzinger rejected the conclusions. Cardinal Ratzinger then removed Bishop Žanić from his position as overseer of the investigation and dissolved the bishop's commission. The Yugoslavian Episcopal Conference was then given responsibility for overseeing the matter.
The future Pope's actions were somewhat unusual. Never in the history of reported Marian apparitions has the Church hierarchy intervened in such an authoritative way by overruling a local bishop's statement and removing him from the responsibility of overseeing the case.
John Paul II
John Paul II, the Pope at the time the apparitions began, also began making comments about Međugorje. In March 1984, John Paul told Bishop Pavol Hnilica, a theologian and personal friend of the Pope, "Međugorje is the fulfillment and continuation of Fatima." Later, on Aug. 1, 1989, the Holy Father stated to Bishop Hnilica: "Today the world has lost the supernatural. Many people sought it and found it in Međugorje through prayer, fasting and through confession." Then the following year the Korean Catholic (Nov. 11, 1990) reported the following conversation between Archbishop Angelo Kim and John Paul: "Thanks to you, Poland has now been freed from Communism", the archbishop said. "No, not me", replied the Holy Father, "but by the works of the Blessed Virgin according to her affirmations at Fatima and Međugorje."
One of the most remarkable comments coming from John Paul regarding Međugorje came in 1994. During an address by Bishop Hnilica at a National Conference at Notre Dame, the bishop stated that the Holy Father had said to a group of Americans on their way to Međugorje, "Our Lady of Međugorje will save America." The bishop did not indicate exactly how or in what sense this would take place.
A number of other positive statements about Međugorje have been made by Pope John Paul II, including a surprising "Thank You" note in August 2002 to Fr. Jozo Zovko, the former parish priest of Međugorje, who has spent the past 20 years testifying about the apparitions. The headline from the August 24, 2002 Zagreb daily newspaper declared, "A surprising gesture from the Vatican. The Pope thanks Father Jozo for Međugorje!" The article reported that a handwritten note by the Holy Father was delivered to Fr. Zovko invoking "a new outpouring of graces and heavenly favors, and the continuous protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary."
Other important figures in the Church have spoken about Međugorje. In April 1992, Mother Teresa wrote in her own hand to Denis Nolan, director of Queen of Peace Ministries, that she and her nuns were praying "before Holy Mass to Our Lady of Međugorje."
The Church's position regarding Međugorje was to be clarified by Rome in an official capacity. On August 21, 1996, Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, spokesman for the Vatican, told the Catholic News Service: "You cannot say people cannot go [to Međugorje] until it has been proven false. This has not been said, so anyone can go if they want." Bishop Hnilica also would offer an assessment of the status of Međugorje. In an interview with Msgr. Kurt Knotzinger, the bishop stated: "An ecclesiastical recognition of Međugorje would not be possible so long as the apparitions continue. However, the Church's reserve also implies that until now Rome finds everything legitimate."
In January, 1999, Archbishop Bertone told the Beatitudes Community, a community of believers with a presence in Međugorje, "For the moment one should consider Međugorje as a Sanctuary, a Marian Shrine, in the same way as Częstochowa." It is possible he chose to compare Međugorje to a shrine in Poland because of John Paul II's previous statements in favor of Međugorje.
1. ^ "1978 Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith document on apparition discernment (unofficial English translation)". http://www.theotokos.org.uk/pages/appdisce/cdftexte.html.
2. ^ Interview with Roy Varghese at the Vatican, 1991, published in God-Sent: A History of the Accredited Apparitions of Mary, Roy Varghese, Crossroad, 2000, p. 228.
3. ^ "Holy See confirms creation of Medjugorje Commission". Catholic News Agency (ACI Prensa). March 17, 2010. http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/holy_see_confirms_formation_of_medjugorje_commission/.
4. ^ Ibid. pp. 95, 102
5. ^ Cited in The Miracle Detective, Randall Sullivan, pp. 216-217
6. ^ Ibid, pp. 217-218.
7. ^ The Visions of the Children, Janice Connell, St. Martin's Press, 1998, p. 266.
8. ^ Ibid.
9. ^ Is the Virgin Mary Appearing at Međugorje?, René Laurentin and Ljudevit Rupčić, The Word Among Us Press, 1978, p. 119.
10. ^ Međugorje: Facts, Documents, Theology, Fr. Michael O'Carroll, Veritas Press, 1989, p. 78
11. ^ Ibid, p. 52.
12. ^ The Catholic Herald, Nov. 22, 1985, and cited among other places in Međugorje: Facts, Documents, Theology, Fr. Michael O'Carroll, Veritas Press, 1989, p. 56
13. ^ Cited in The Miracle Detective, Randall Sullivan, pp 201-204.
14. ^ Miracles Do Happen, Briege McKenna with Henry Libersat, St. Martin's Press, 1992, p 158.
15. ^ Cited in The Miracle Detective, Randall Sullivan, Grove Press, 2005, p. 209.
16. ^ Msgr. Pavao Danic, Bishop of Mostar. "The Truth About Medjugorje." 1990. -- An article by the Bishop who was ordinary of the diocese from the time of the beginning of the alleged messages through 1993, giving many reasons why he does not consider the messages to be authentic.
17. ^ Bishop Ratko Peric. Throne of Wisdom. 1995. -- Excerpt from a Croatian book in which the Bishop in whose territory Medjugorje lies and who has the primary authority to ihnvestigate and rule on the authenticity of the apparitions there, describes criteria for discerning their authenticity.
18. ^ What did Archbishop Bertone really say about the Bishop of Mostar
19. ^ Glas Koncila (the Croatian Catholic Newspaper), August, 1993.
20. ^ 30 Days, February, 1991
21. ^ Ibid.
22. ^ Cited in Međugorje: What Does the Church Say?, Sr. Emmanuel and Denis Nolan, Queenship Publishing, 2000, p. 19.
23. ^ Gebet, #4, 1990.
24. ^ Ibid.
25. ^ Cited in Međugorje: What Does the Church Say?, Sister Emmanuel and Denis Nolan, Queenship Publishing, 2000.
26. ^ Ibid.
27. ^ Ibid.
28. ^ Ibid, p. 25.
29. ^ Interview with Msgr. Kurt Knotzinger, president of the ecclesiastical institute Marian Lourdes Committee, cited in Međugorje: What Does the Church Say?, Sister Emmanuel and Denis Nolan, Queenship Publishing, 2000.
30. ^ Ibid.