Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is investigating apparitions
By Kevin Jones
MEDJUGORJE, Bosnia (CNA)
Photo: The town of Medjugorje was allegedly visited by the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1981. While the Vatican has yet to comment on the authenticity of the apparitions, Archbishop Henryk Hoser concluded the site has merit. (BCC file photo)
Pope Francis’ envoy to Medjugorje said the site seems to be bearing numerous expressions of faith and vocations. However, he added, the final determination of the apparition’s authenticity remains to be seen.
Archbishop Henryk Hoser was sent by the Pope to evaluate the pastoral situation for residents and pilgrims in Medjugorje. He clarified that he was not tasked with anything beyond this scope.
“The same as you, I expect a final decision from the commission, and of course the Holy Father Pope Francis,” Archbishop Hoser said at a press conference April 5 in Medjugorje. “I do not know what the Holy Father thinks, he never told me,” he said. The apparitions are under investigation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is to submit its final document to the Pope for a decision.
The apparitions allegedly started on June 24, 1981, when six children in Medjugorje, a town in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina, claimed to witness apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
According to the alleged visionaries, the apparitions conveyed a message of peace for the world, a call to conversion, prayer and fasting, as well as certain secrets surrounding events to be fulfilled in the future.
These apparitions are said to have continued almost daily since their first occurrence, with three of the original six visionaries claiming to have received apparitions every afternoon because not all of the “secrets” intended for them have been revealed.
Since their beginning, the alleged apparitions have been a source of both controversy and conversion. More than 2.5 million go on pilgrimage to Medjugorje each year. Some claim to have experienced miracles at the site, while many others claim the visions are non-credible.
Skeptics of the apparitions include Bishop Ratko Peric of Mostar-Duvno, whose diocese includes Medjugorje. In a Feb. 26 statement, he said “these are not true apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
“The female figure who supposedly appeared in Medjugorje behaves in a manner completely different from the real Virgin Mother of God in the apparitions currently recognized as authentic by the Church.”
Unlike approved apparitions, the Mary of Medjugorje usually does not speak first, Bishop Peric said. “She laughs in a strange way, before some questions she disappears and appears again, she obeys the 'visionaries' and the local pastor who make her come down from the hill into the church even against her will. She doesn't know with certainty how many more times she will appear, she allows some of those present to step on her veil extended on the ground, and to touch her dress and her body. This is not the Virgin of the Gospels.”
Bishop Peric also pointed to a sense of nervousness rather than peace among the seers.
As for the papal envoy, Archbishop Hoser, he said Wednesday that he had contact with the reputed visionaries of Medjugorje. This contact was “completely normal,” but not in-depth.
“Let us remember they are no longer boys and girls,” he said. “Some of them are already grandmothers.”
“We should note that they are immersed in the normal, regular, everyday life of the family. They need to work and support their families. They have a similar life to many of us,” he said.
Archbishop Hoser compared and contrasted the apparitions with the Marian apparitions at Kibeho in Rwanda, which began in October 1981. An apparition of the Virgin Mary had warned about a coming genocide, years before the mass killings of 1994.
The archbishop had served on a medical commission evaluating that apparition.
“The message was similar to the message that was said here in Medjugorje,” the archbishop said. “it was a calling to conversion ... it is a calling to peace, an invitation to peace.”
Unlike Medjugorje, the Rwanda apparitions have already received Church approval for having nothing that contradicts the faith.
“In the beginning there were doubts whether those visionaries were authentic,” he said of the Rwanda apparitions. “That is why I ask you for your patience. The more complex a phenomenon is, it takes more time to achieve valid conclusions.”
He noted some differences between the Medjugorje apparitions and other Marian apparitions. Some have counted 47,000 claims of individual apparitions related to Medjugorje, while other Marian apparitions are much fewer in number.
In other Marian apparitions, the Virgin Mary appears only in one place. At Lourdes, she always appeared in the cave that later became the famous grotto. In Fatima, she always appeared above the oak tree.
“Here, according to what visionaries are saying, the apparitions follow the person, where the person goes,” Archbishop Hoser said. “This could be at home, when they are traveling, in the church.”
“These are all specifics that make the work of a final decision more difficult,” he explained.
When the archbishop’s appointment as papal envoy was announced in February, Holy See press officer Greg Burke stressed that his mission was pastoral, not doctrinal, and would not consider the substance of the Marian apparitions there. Archbishop Hoser praised various expressions of faith he found in Medjugorje: the centrality of the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, devotion to the Word of God, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, devotion to the Rosary, and the frequent use of the sacrament of reconciliation.
It has also proven to be very fertile ground for religious vocations, Archbishop Hoser said. About 610 priests have cited Medjugorje as a motivating force in their vocation, with Italy, Germany, and the U.S. producing the greatest.
Archbishop Hoser noted the need to consider parish life for those who live there and the effects of the millions of pilgrims, who pose “a huge challenge” for the priests who serve in Medjugorje.