There is ample evidence that something is amiss at Medjugorje. Yet, millions of pilgrims flock there every year to catch a glimpse of one of the "seers" during a scheduled "visit" from Our Blessed Mother.
The Chief Shepherd of Mostar, Bishop Ratko Peric, has warned people that he does not approve of these "visions." On his diocesan website, he has published a scathing report of what he describes in Croatian as the "Medugorski fenomen," or the "Medjugorje phenomenon."
This was a very brave move, on his part, as I'll explain later in this article.
One peculiar characteristic of Medjugorje is that many of its followers become extremely angry, and rabidly defensive, if they discover that their devotion to "Our Lady of Medjugorje" is not shared by others. Much of this wrath is directed toward the local bishop, whom is responsible for guarding the faith and morals in Mostar.
His opinion in this matter, however, appears to carry no weight. The Medjugorje devotees I've met seem to think this bishop simply needs to wake up and get with the program, and agree with them that the Mother of God is appearing in his diocese, every night, right on cue, and has been doing this since 1981, when the first trickle of tourists started to descend upon Medjugorje, a once sleepy Bosnian village that falls under his jurisdiction.
Where is Medjugorje?
Medjugorje is a town of about 4,000 people, located in the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It sits rather close to the Croatian border, and a number of residents in this region are Croatian Catholic.
At the start of the summer of 1981, six children living in the village reported seeing a vision of Mary, the Mother of God. They were generally believed, even by Bishop Pavao Zanic, then Bishop of Mostar, which oversees the town of Medjugorje and the parish church where the visions are now said to occur.
Bishop Zanic then reversed his stance, after it was discovered the children's stories did not add up. According to the Mostar Diocesan website, in 1982, a special commission formed by Bishop Zanic asked each of the children, separately, the same question about a "great sign." The children had been saying this would happen and the commission wanted more details.
Each of their individual responses was supposed to be doubled sealed in different envelopes, only to be opened when the sign actually happened. However, five of the six "seers" refused to answer, claiming they were instructed by Mary not to reveal this information. However, Ivan Dragacevik, one of the "seers," did supply the requested information.
I don't know exactly what Dragacevik wrote, but, according to the bishop's site, "His response was more than inappropriate."
The bishop's website now reports that, "A number of lies and tricks are tied to this 'great sign.'"
The "Visions on "Apparition Hill"
The initial Medjugorje "visions" took place on a hill overlooking the village of Podbrdo, now referred to as "Apparition Hill." This is a dry, rocky incline that looks almost like pictures we've seen of moonscapes. On this hill is a bare cross and a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which sits in a base shaped as the six-sided Star of David.
The Vatican will probably not issue a definitive declaration on the authenticity of the visions until they stop. However, they show no sign of stopping and may even be spreading to the next generation.
Vicka Ivankovic-Mijatovik first claimed to have seen Our Blessed Mother as a teenager. Now a married, middle-aged woman, she has a daughter, named Marija, whom also may be seeing something, according to Bishop Ratko Peric.
"It is becoming hereditary," his website wryly notes.
Three of the seers now claim daily visions of Mary, who appears to them on a strict schedule, no matter where they happen to be in the world. Until recently, seer Ivan Dragicevic visited parishes in the United States. People would come to hear him speak, and then stay for his 6:40 pm apparition.
However, in 2013, the Vatican banned American pastors from sponsoring Dragicevic. This ruling, though, appears to have done little to dampen the enthusiasm of the Medjugorje proponents. Nor does it appear to have curtailed the booming tourism industry that's sprung up in this Bosnian village.
Cross on "Apparition Hill"
Vicka Recently Banned in Italy
For years, the Vatican has issued warnings that alleged "apparitions in Medjugorje had not been proven authentic. Catholics were allowed to visit the the town, and even St. James, the local parish church where many of the scheduled "visions" happened. However, no one could not travel with the idea that they were venturing to a place where Mary was really appearing.
However, this statement did not stop many priests and laity from going to Medjugorje, and they didn't seem to be going just for the restaurants and the scenery. Although a priest, or his parish, could not organize a pilgrimage, a member of the laity could. In practicality, this is what typically happened. Someone in a parish would plan a trip, and a priest would travel along as a "spiritual director."
A Division Among the Clergy
Medjugorje is one of the more confusing Marian "apparitions." Privately, many priests do not believe that Mary is really appearing there. However, they tread lightly, apparently afraid of setting off a firestorm.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the characteristics of the Medjugorje followers is to violently attack anyone who questions any of the details surrounding these "visions."
Recently, though, the Vatican has taken a harder line. In November of 2014, for the first time, Vicka was banned from speaking at a prayer meeting in Fiuggi, Italy. Acting under a Vatican directive, the local bishop had pulled the plug on this talk. But this didn't stop Vicka from defying his orders. More than 2,000 people, it was reported, attended this event, despite the fact church authorities tried to stop it.
Every other authentic visionary in the history of the Church has obeyed the hierarchy. But the Medjugorje "seers" have a long history of disobedience to their bishops, other bishops and, now, even the Vatican.
Is Medjugorje a Trick of the Devil?
People who are committed to the "Medjugorje Message," which consists of prayer, fasting, reading the Bible, praying the Rosary and frequenting the Sacrament of Reconciliation (something all Catholics should be doing anyway) are quick to point out the "good fruits" as proof of the authenticity of the apparitions.
And, if these messages are not from God, it leaves only a couple of other possibilities. One is diabolical deception.
"Why would the devil be interested in getting people to pray the Rosary?" is a question that's often asked by those who want to believe Mary appears in Bosnia, and elsewhere in the world when the "seers" travel.
One plausible answer would be that the devil is trying to trick the faithful, and he'll use the appearance of piety to lure people in. Because Satan is targeting the devout, he needs to draw them with something attractive, such as admonitions to pray more.
However, at the same time, he leads them into disobedience. People who discount the advice of the Bishop of Mostar, and, now, even the Vatican, are on a very slippery slope. They are following their own whims and desires, rather than trying to do the will of God by humbly submitting to Church authorities, as countless saints have done in the past.
Scandal and Disobedience Surrounding Medjugorje
We often hear about the "good fruits" of Medjugorje. But what about some of the other fruits, typically not mentioned in devout Catholic circles, where many have taken multiple pilgrimages to Bosnia.
Here are just a few of the more questionable aspects of this reputed apparition site:
- Current Mostar Bishop Ratko Peric was kidnapped in 1995 by a pro-Medjugorje contingent. His cross was ripped from his neck and he was held against his will for 10 hours. His release came only with the help of the United Nations.
- One of the suspended Franciscan priests associated with the apparitions was suspended. He later impregnated a religious sister, breaking his vow of celibacy. This surfaced after Vicka delivered a "message" alleged from Mary, to the local bishop, that this priest was "innocent" and that the bishop was "wrong."
- Various statements allegedly made by Mary that contradict Catholic doctrine, such as it doesn't matter what religion you follow.
- More focus on the visionaries, than on Our Blessed Mother. True visionaries have historically entered religious life, and lived in relative seclusion. The Medjugorje "visionaries have attained celebrity status.
There are many other inconsistencies, as well as a spirit of disobedience to legitimate Church authorities. This last matter is precisely what's so disturbing about Medjugorje.
Let's suppose that two consecutive Mostar bishops have been mistaken, and that Our Blessed Mother really is appearing in Bosnia. Eventually, the Holy Spirit will reveal the truth. Meanwhile, what harm is there in obediently waiting for this to happen?