Is Medjugorje A Spiritual Movement
'Medjugorje' means more than just the town in Herzegovina that carries this name. It stands for the movement that this name has triggered ever since several youths testified that on the 24th of June 1981 the Gospa, the Mother of God, the Mother of Jesus, appeared to them and is still appearing to them today. The most important aspects of this movement can be described as follows: First, it is a MOVEMENT OF PILGRIMAGE. To this day, many millions have come to this place of pilgrimage from all parts of the world. Further, Medjugorje represents a MOVEMENT OF PEACE, that emanates from within. There, people experience the gift of peace in their hearts and are ready to pass it on to others, where they live: in their marriage and family, in their neighbourhood and their community, their working place and in politics. They are being motivated not only by their own experience of reconciliation and peace but also by the name, with which the Gospa introduced Herself to the visionaries: I am the Queen of Peace. Third, one can call Medjugorje a MOVEMENT OF RENEWAL, which permanently renews the spiritual life of individuals, groups and communities. A great number of people have had deep spiritual experiences: physical and spiritual healing, conversions, renewal of prayer and faith, impulses for fasting, liberation from addictions. The most obvious sign of these renewals are the prayer groups, which have been founded by the pilgrims in their communities upon their return from Medjugorje. There they meet regularly, usually once a week, for prayer and adoration, to pray the rosary, to read the Sacred Scripture and to discuss the gospel and Christian life. And finally, Medjugorje has become the symbol for a MOVEMENT OF HUMANITARIAN AID, which in itself is unique. This was particularly evident when the Balkan war began and extended into Bosnia-Herzegovina. Millions of pilgrims, who had received spiritual gifts in Medjugorje, were now showing their gratitude by helping materially: with food, clothing, medicines and other goods, with money and by sponsoring orphans and war victims. This short outline shows what is meant when one talks about Medjugorje as being a movement. It should also be mentioned that this movement is being fed with the messages, which the Gospa has given to Marija Pavlovic from March 1, 1984 to January 8, 1987, on a weekly basis, and since then on the 25th of each month. These messages consist generally only of several sentences and are impulses to make the five original basic messages more concrete: faith and conversion, prayer and fasting, as well as peace.
There are two questions, with which we are going to be dealing with and they are: Is this movement, which comes from Medjugorje, a spiritual movement? Is it within the Church? In order to understand these questions, it is necessary to further point out several things.
Looking at the above-mentioned outline of the Medjugorje movement one could say: it is obvious that this is a spiritual movement- since to go on pilgrimage, to fast, to serve peace and to help the needy - all this speaks for itself. Still, this is not enough to be able to decide if a movement deserves to be called 'spiritual'. Because 'spiritual' in the exact sense of the word means that God's holy Spirit is the main motivating power of a movement. But one cannot assume this beyond question. Some people go on pilgrimage to places, where there is more superstition than faith. One can also pray and fast like the Pharisees, without being moved by the spirit of God. Peace initiatives also exist among people, who are just plainly fed up with war. And one also finds charity among philanthropists, who do not always believe in God. The second question - is Medjugorje a movement within the Church? - is similar. At first glance, also here everything speaks for it: the liturgy is being celebrated, according to the guidelines of the church renewal, the sacraments are being given, according to regulations, the homilies are inspired by the Sacred Scriptures and the faith of the Church. During the past years more than 20 million faithful Catholics, thousands of priests and more than 200 bishops have visited Medjugorje and commented on it approvingly. Some have come with the express blessing of the Pope. Although now and then the suspicion is brought up that Medjugorje could be sectarian. The Bishop of Mostar accuses the Franciscans, who are connected with Medjugorje, of manipulation and disobedience. Up to the present, there has been no approval by the Church of the authenticity of the apparitions and the messages. The official declarations almost seem to maintain the contrary. So Cardinal Kuharic said in an interview on September 14, 1996, "The Bishops' Conference still adheres to the verdict it has made about Medjugorje before the war. Based on the three-year investigations, one came to the conclusion that no supernatural apparitions are taking place in Medjugorje."
These few remarks should suffice to underscore the seriousness and importance of our two questions, regarding the spirituality of Medjugorje and whether or not it is a movement within the Church.
I. IS MEDJUGORJE A SPIRITUAL MOVEMENT?
In order to find a well-founded answer, we have to go back to the beginning. Without any doubt, the Medjugorje Movement began on June 24, 1981, when several youngsters had the first apparition of Our Lady on Podbrdo, a hill next to Crnica, which was followed by more apparitions the following days at the same place. During the second apparition, on June 25th, the first speaking contact was made between the apparition and the group of six visionaries: Vicka Ivankovic (16), Mirjana Dragicevic (16), Marija Pavlovic (16), Ivanka Ivankovic (15), Ivan Dragicevic (16) and Jakov Colo (10). The news about the apparitions spread like a fire, causing the coming of masses of people and thus brought the local church authorities and the then still communist authorities into the picture.
In order to prove if this origin of the Medjugorje Movement is spiritual - that is, brought about by the Spirit of God - one must investigate if there are any natural explanations for this phenomenon. Should this not be the case, one must investigate if the positive aspects that the Church considers decisive in the teaching on discernment of spirits can be proven.
Natural explanations for the phenomenon of apparitions and messages of this type include mainly: mental illnesses, imagination through suggestion, hallucination through drugs and, finally, manipulation. All these possibilities have been taken into consideration and have been thoroughly discussed. I recall Father Jozo Zovko, who had only returned on June 27th from a retreat, and Father Zrinko Cuvalo first thought that drug consumption could be involved. Immediately upon his return, Father Jozo began to question the youths individually. There are tape recordings of this. The suspicion, that the youths had taken drugs, proved untenable. Instead, Father Jozo thought it could be a communist manipulation in order to harm and ridicule him. On the same day, the visionaries were taken to Citluk by officials of the MUP (Ministry of Internal Affairs) and were interrogated and examined medically. The result: the youngsters are healthy and no traces of drugs are to be found. I also recall the examination made by a team of French doctors from Montpellier during an apparition. Here too there were no indications of physical or mental illnesses. Instead, the doctors found signs of true ecstasies, during which the visionaries are unaffected by sense-impressions and are completely engrossed "in another world". Finally, I would like to recall the thorough medical examination made by various specialists, which had been requested by the Commission of Inquiry of the Church. Also here no indications suggesting any illnesses were found. All these examinations were documented and published. Also manipulation - that is fraud and lies - can be excluded as the source for the Medjugorje Movement. The youngsters had not played a trick. Also neither did the Communists manipulate the youngsters in order to ridicule Father Jozo nor did the Franciscans manipulate, in order, let us say, to "pull heaven on their side" in their conflict with the Bishop of Mostar. Regarding the continuation of the apparitions and messages, we will, of course, have to deal with this subject specifically because it had been raised by a prominent person, Bishop Pavao Zanic, and has so far not been taken back by his successor, Bishop Ratko Peric. I will come back to this point in Part II, when we talk about Medjugorje's position in the Church. First, let us ask ourselves if the positive aspects, which the Church requires in its teaching on discernment of spirits and authentic prophetic apparitions can be proven.
According to the word of Jesus in Mt 7,20, true and false prophets can be recognized by their fruits. The same criterion plays an important role in the judgement of apparitions and messages. Regarding this, I myself, vividly recall a statement by Cardinal Kuharic from 1983. At that time, I had the opportunity to ask him in a private audience about his opinion on Medjugorje. Without hesitation, he answered, "If I use the biblical criterion of the fruits, then Medjugorje is authentic". The Archbishop of Split, Dr. Frane Franic, also once said similarly, "The spiritual renewal that is coming from Medjugorje has done more in three years than what we have been able to accomplish within the last 40 years in our pastoral service". These opinions have been confirmed and strengthened by developments in the ensuing years. Medjugorje carries fruits into the entire world. There are numerous spiritual vocations because of Medjugorje, 14 of which have been published in the book, Thank You Mary, by Jörg Müller. New religious communities, like the "Oasis of Peace" and "Kraljica Mira", have been founded in Medjugorje. Other communities have received and are receiving spiritual impulses in Medjugorje for their life and their work. One of them is the therapeutic community "Cenacolo" of Sister Elvira, where former drug and alcohol addicts are being healed. Another community is the "Beatitudes". Many other religious communities, older as well as younger ones, have inquired at the parish office in Medjugorje if they could acquire a piece of land there to start a branch of their community. This is very interesting and important for our question at hand, because religious communities are particularly sensitive in matters concerning spirituality. Aside from innumerable conversions, there exist hundreds of testimonies regarding inexplicable healings. Charisms have blossomed in the parish of Medjugorje. Prayer groups have been formed there, which meet regularly. The number of worshipers, taking part in holy mass on Sundays and weekdays, is far above the average of other Catholic communities. The pilgrims always praise the hospitality of the local people. Many parishioners unobtrusively give testimony of their faith. This is particularly true of the life and testimony of the visionaries. Already during my visit in 1983 I asked myself how they can cope with the steady stream of pilgrims, who often intrude into their private sphere. Since then they have been at the centre of public attention for more than 16 years, they are being invited to faraway countries, giving account - and have still remained simple and natural. They are not interested in using their prominence and service for material gains. Rather, they consider themselves witnesses of the Gospa, according to whose messages they are trying to live.
This brings us to the messages! In addition to the approximately 150 messages of each Thursday, there are now for more than 11 years also the monthly messages - that is almost the same in numbers. These nearly 300 messages are being spread all over the world in many different languages. In judging the messages, it is important for the Church if they concur with the Sacred Scriptures and with the teachings of the Church. Furthermore, the way the faithful live these messages and their spiritual experiences with them are the determining instance for the spiritual character of the messages. A dissertation at the University of Vienna came up with a very interesting result. According to the pastoral theologian, Paul Zulehner, the messages are completely in line with biblical tradition. I am convinced that the testimonies of the faithful, as well as a thorough theological examination, will come to the same conclusion - that is, that the messages are an authentic prophecy. In other words: they are of spiritual origin and of the Church. With this, I mean that adherence to the messages does not lead away from the Church but rather leads more deeply into it.
It would go beyond the scope of this talk to state all the reasons for this conviction. Instead, I would like to point out an observation, which you can verify yourselves: the messages of the Gospa do not make any comments on anything that is happening within the realm of politics or the Church. There are no messages, concerning the Gulf War or the war in the Balkans, which said that one side or the other was right or wrong. There exists no message, in which movements or groups within the Church are being judged, condemned or favoured. The Gospa does not favour any position regarding Holy Communion on the tongue or in the hand. Also in the official messages, we find no comment on the conflict between the Franciscans of Herzegovina and the Bishops of Mostar, which has been going on for centuries. I will come back to the few private messages in regard to this subject in Part II. Many faithful, who believe in the messages of Our Lady in Medjugorje, have wondered about this lack of reference to current events in the messages. And some believe that Our Lady should make a clear statement at least once on such a topic. I, myself, believe this abstinence to be a clear sign of authenticity! I believe that this shows the Gospa's respect for secular and Church authorities, appointed by God. For example, would She comment on and take sides between competing Church groups, one could easily suspect that the messages were being influenced by an interested party. But Our Lady has introduced Herself as the Queen of Peace and Her concern is reconciliation. This is why the central biblical themes of prayer, faith, conversation and fasting suffice. In contrast to taking sides and making accusations, they serve rather as a way to peace and reconciliation with God and mankind. But most of all, I consider this reservedness of the Gospa to be respect for the dignity and freedom of men, which, for example, is expressed in the message of November 25, 1987: " ... Dear children, you know that I love you immeasurably and that I desire each of you for myself, but God has given to all a freedom, which I lovingly respect and humbly submit to.... " I have not yet found a psychologist, who could explain to me how such a word can be said by a young woman, who was brought up in the traditional conception of Marian devotion: Our Lady bows humbly before our freedom and respects it in love, even if it closes itself to Her invitations. For me, it is clear: these words only She, Herself, can say! I summarize from what we have said so far: The Medjugorje movement is, in its origin and development up to the present, a spiritual movement. It is more than a creation of man. It comes from heaven. Its decisive impulse is the spiritual work of God, who lets the Mother of Jesus appear and speak to the world as the Queen of Peace.
II. IS MEDJUGORJE A MOVEMENT WITHIN THE CHURCH?
We have ascertained that the Medjugorje Movement is of spiritual origin. From this one can deduce that it then must also be ecclesiastical in its origin. It is indeed the Holy Spirit, through whom our human actions become spiritual, who is the soul, the innermost principle of the life of the Church. The central manifestation of life of the Church is the celebration of the sacraments. This is particularly true of Medjugorje. There the celebration of the Holy Eucharist is the absolute centre of life for the community, as well as for the pilgrims. As far as confession is concerned, Medjugorje is rightly called the greatest confessional of the world. The parishioners, the visionaries, the Franciscans are baptized and faithful Catholics, they belong to the Church, they are the Church. That is why also the movement, which they have started, is a movement within the Church. Prof. Zulehner, the Viennese pastoral theologian I mentioned previously, visited Medjugorje 10 years ago, together with 40 students of theology. He summarized his impressions as follows, "For me, Medjugorje is something like a novitiate for the Church. It is a place, where basic church observances are being practiced." - But the Church has two aspects. She is the hierarchically arranged official Church, and She is the 'laos', God's people, the laity. These have their special charisms, they are animated by the Holy Spirit, "...the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes" (1 Cor 12,11). The apostle Paul says the same, "...you are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets" (Eph 2,20). The hierarchy of the Church is absolutely necessary (that is, the deacons, priests, bishops and the Pope, as Bishop of Rome), but also the prophets (that is, men, women but also children, who are filled with the Holy Spirit). In the Acts of the Apostles, we read, "...your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men will see visions" (2,17b). It should be the rule that persons, holding an office, and the charismatics, priests and prophets, the official Church and the Church of the people should work together peacefully. But, unfortunately, this is not always the case. Often, there is tension and conflict among them. And so, one side or the other can go wrong. The history of the Church gives us enough examples of this. If she is not speaking infallibly at the highest level of authority, the official Church can err and close itself to true prophets and prophecies. So, the official Church has, for example, burned Joan of Arc as a heretic, before she realized that she was a saint and acting on behalf of God. The history of many orders and spiritual communities in the Church shows that their spiritually motivated founders were often confronted with stern opposition and resistance from the official Church before they were finally recognized. In the interaction between the official and the charismatic Church, between persons holding an office and prophets, God has given both sides special gifts and duties. The prophets, who feel themselves called upon and motivated directly by the spirit of God, must stand to their mission and, if necessary, obey God more than the officials of the Church, when the latter forbid them to talk. This can actually be compared with the apostles before the Sanhedrin (see Acts 4, 18-20). For example, how many difficulties and hostilities did Bernadette Soubirous have to endure from representatives of the Church before her mission was finally recognized after many years of accusations. How much lack of understanding and mistrust did the children of Fatima have to endure, before the Church decided to recognize their apparitions and messages as being authentic. On the other hand, it is the duty of the official Church to examine prophets and prophecies, as to whether they come from God; since there also exist false prophets and false prophesies.
As far as the Medjugorje Movement is concerned, we are dealing precisely with this classical conflict within the Church. The visionaries know that they are in the service of God and bear witness of their spiritual experiences, their meetings with the Gospa. The official clergy of Medjugorje has examined them and has come to the conclusion: We are dealing with authentic apparitions and messages, which are brought about by the Spirit of God. So, in Medjugorje, itself, the apostolic office (the priests and clergy of the community and the prophetic charism (the visionaries) are unanimous. The opposition takes place on a higher official level: between the community of Medjugorje and the by now world-wide Medjugorje Movement, on the one hand, and the Bishop of Mostar and most of his colleagues in the Bishops' Conference, on the other hand. The conflict becomes very clear in the interview of Franjo Cardinal Kuharic, already mentioned earlier, in which he states: "The Bishops' Conference still adheres to the verdict it has made about Medjugorje before the war. Based on the three-year investigations, one came to the conclusion that no supernatural apparitions are taking place in Medjugorje."
Let us take a closer look at this remarkable statement. In the year 1996 the Bishops' Conference adheres to the decision, it had made in the statement in Zadar on April 10, 1991. At that time, this decision was based on the examinations that the Commission, which had been appointed in 1986, made during three years - that is, roughly from 1987 to 1990. So one indirectly admits that the first six years, as well as the last six years since 1991, when no examinations were made due to the war, were not taken into account. But during these twelve years the phenomenon of Medjugorje was very much alive! During the years of the war, there was an almost unbelievable resonance of active help from all over the world for the plight in Bosnia-Herzegovina from pilgrims and groups, who had been motivated by Medjugorje. In spite of the war, which spread to the outskirts of Medjugorje, the town of the apparitions was not damaged and remained an oasis of peace. Can one disregard all this? In this atmosphere of war, which was highly emotionalised with hate and animosity, words were coming out of Medjugorje like those uttered by Vicka, "We must also love the Serbs, our enemies!" Is there a purely natural explanation for all this? Those, who know a little about the numerous efforts to get to the bottom of the Medjugorje phenomenon, are - to put it mildly - surprised at how carelessly the Bishops' Conference reached its decision that no supernatural apparitions are taking place in Medjugorje. What about the fact that, according to all medical findings, the visionaries are psychically healthy and normal? What about the fact that, according scientific examinations by Prof. Joyeux, the young visionaries were in true ecstasy during their visions, which cannot be simulated or induced artificially? What about the many hundreds of healings, which - according to medical experts - cannot be explained from a medical point of view? We won't even mention the innumerable conversions and spiritual experiences, which have made faithful Christians out of unbelievers and people, who had been far away from the church.
But one does not want to accuse the Bishops' Conference of acting irresponsibly. But how can one understand the lack of thoroughness in their examinations? I, myself, only have the following explanation for this: Obviously, the Bishop of Mostar knew how to convey his personal interpretation of the Medjugorje phenomenon to most of his colleagues in such a manner that they subscribed to his assessment or refrained from making their own judgment. This could have been all the easier for them when he mixed the Medjugorje phenomenon with the "Case of Hercegovina", in which the Bishops are taking sides against the Franciscans. But, if the Medjugorje phenomenon is clear, as Bishop Zanic said in his statement about the events of Medjugorje on October 30, 1984, and once more later in a statement from February 9, 1990 (in spite of an injunction from Rome to restrain himself!) - what is then left to examine? Then one also does not need to consider the millions of pilgrims, who come to Medjugorje. Then one can dismiss their experiences, conversions and healings, saying that all this also happens elsewhere. Then one can disregard the faith of the believers, which Pope Pius XII valued so highly that he put into effect the definition of the dogma of the bodily Assumption of Our Lady into heaven only after he had consulted all the bishops of the entire Church to find out what the faithful of their respective dioceses thought about it. When the Medjugorje phenomenon will have been sufficiently explained, there will really be no need for further investigations. Then a bishop can answer a question of a journalist - as, in fact, it has happened, as follows: "I am not interested in what 12 million pilgrims believe. For me it is decisive what 20 Croatian bishops say."
When we deal here with the question as to whether Medjugorje is a movement within the Church, we have no choice but to take a closer look and further analyse the opinion of bishop Pavao Zanic; all the more as this opinion has evidently been adopted by his successor, Ratko Peric and is also being shared or nevertheless tolerated by other Croatian bishops. The bishop of Mostar is convinced that Medjugorje is not an ecclesiastical movement but a movement against the Church. Therefore, he pretends that, with his statements, he is trying to protect the Church from being harmed. In the conclusion of his statement of October 30, 1984, he writes that within him had ripened "the moral certainty that the events in Medjugorje are a case of collective hallucination"; that this matter was then being exploited cleverly by a group of Franciscans. Regarding the question of the transfer of parishes ("The Herzegovina Case") - it was their goal to prove that truth and justice were on their side and that the bishop was wrong. The main culprit he sees in Fr. Tomislav Vlasic. In his last statement of February 9, 1990, he says, "Vicka Ivankovic is the 'main visionary' of the first years and through her the creator of Medjugorje, Fr. Tomislav Vlasic, started the major part of the lie about Medjugorje." Also Marija Pavlovic is for him "only a toy in the hands of Vlasic" and finally the bishop claims, "So Fr. Vlasic has manipulated all the visionaries". But at the beginning, Bishop Zanic had also believed in the apparitions. He had stated publicly, "The children are not lying". In his statement in 1984 he admits that he, for his part, had thought, "If the scandalous "Herzegovina-Case" .... could not have been solved with human means then maybe God wanted to send us Our Lady to bring the disobedient back to obey and love the Church". But what then brought about this change of mind in him? Here the case of the two Franciscans Ivica Vego and Ivan Prusina plays an important role. Both chaplains were suspended by Bishop Zanic because of disobedience and, as a result of his pressure, they were expelled from the Order. In this matter, the Gospa supposedly said that the bishop had acted too hastily, that both were innocent. From there on, it seems, the bishop turned into a radical opponent of Medjugorje. In the statement of 1984, he writes, "The attacks of Our Lady against the bishop and the defence of the ex-Franciscans of Mostar were the strongest proofs against the authenticity of the apparitions". Thus, in short, his train of thought is: A mother of God, who criticizes a bishop, cannot be the Mother of God! To this, I want to make two comments. From the history of the Church, we know enough examples when prophets criticized high and the highest officials of the Church. For example, what the saintly prophetic women, Birgitta of Sweden and Catherine of Siena, told Pope Gregory XI. on behalf of God in order to induce him to leave Avignon and return to Rome, by far surpasses any criticism and admonition that Bishop Zanic got to hear. But one should note that these messages were handled very discretely, as personal messages by the Franciscans and the visionaries and were never published. Bishop Zanic did this himself. Probably because he thought that this was the strongest proof against the authenticity of the apparitions. Everyone can judge for himself how effective this argument is. The second comment: In the case of the two Franciscans Vega and Prusina, Rome's judgement is quite interesting: They were treated unjustly and were expelled without the necessary procedure. Doesn't this almost sound like what the Gospa supposedly had said, that the bishop had acted too hurriedly?
By condemning the Medjugorje Movement, the Bishop of Mostar believes to be protecting the Church. As far as he is concerned, the movement is an anti-Church movement. He writes, "The greatest danger is in the fact that this entire emotional excitement around Medjugorje will disintegrate sooner or later like a balloon or a soap-bubble". And this would lead to great disillusionment and the authority of the Church would be discredited. - However, until now the Medjugorje-balloon has not burst. It is getting larger and larger, the Medjugorje Movement brings spiritual fruits to the entire world and is not harming the Church, but is a blessing for it.
The question we posed at the beginning of this analysis - is Medjugorje a spiritual movement within the Church? - we can now, based on sound arguments, answer with an exclamation mark: MEDJUGORJE IS A SPIRITUAL MOVEMENT WITHIN THE CHURCH!
III. WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE URGENTLY!
A classical principle of Catholic social doctrine is the principle of subsidiarity. It implies that tasks and conflicts should first be solved at the lower level. As soon as it is obvious that the lower level is unable to solve the problem, the next higher level must come to its assistance. This happened in the case of Medjugorje. When it became obvious that the Episcopal investigating commission of Mostar was not able to do its job, Rome ordered the Yugoslavian Bishops' Conference to take on this case. In the meantime, it became more than obvious that also the Bishops' Conference is not able to handle the case. One only needs to look at the revealing comment Cardinal Kuharic made in the interview in 1996 mentioned above, "the Bishops' Conference still adheres to the judgment it had made about Medjugorje before the war". This sounds as if one possibly wanted to revise this verdict. But how? How, if the investigating commission does not do serious work? Whether the commission is not able to work or whether it does not want to: in this urgent case, which concerns the entire Church, according to the principle of subsidiarity, the next and highest instance must now become active. Now the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pope are in demand. A neutral, independent commission, consisting of theologians and experts, must be formed and everything needs to be openly dealt with and examined. The commission should work according to the principle of audiatur et altera pars! Both sides must be heard and both sides must be taken seriously. The representatives and supporters of Medjugorje, as well as its opponents.
An interesting event, which already took place in 1983, shows how important the summoning of the last and highest instance of the Church is. The Slovenian Jesuit, R. Grafenauer, wanted to form his own opinion about Medjugorje. He went to visit Bishop Zanic in Mostar, remained there for three days, talked to him and listened to 20 tapes, which the Bishop had taped, among them interviews he had had with the visionaries. Thereafter, for him, the Medjugorje-case was settled. The material seemed to prove to him that the events of Medjugorje could not be authentic. But, the bishop urged him to go to Medjugorje. And, after having done so and after having met and talked with the visionaries, the community and also Father Tomislav Vlasic, the priest changed his mind completely and became convinced that the apparitions were authentic. This example shows very clearly that both sides have very strong arguments. I, myself, must admit that I would never have been interested in Medjugorje had I only known the documents of Bishop Zanic. There, statements of the Gospa are being cited, which are very questionable. There are contradictions and absurdities in the statements of the visionaries, which are not easily solved. There is, for example, the question as to whether or not Vicka Ivankovic had written a diary. Despite this and other problems, I concur with the opinion of theologians, such as Rene Laurentin and Hans Urs von Balthasar, that they are not important when being compared with the signs of authenticity. Very helpful and clarifying in this regard is the book The Truth about Medjugorje, by Fr. Ljudevit Rupcic. It is an answer to the bishop's statement from 1990. As far as specific words of the Gospa and as they were relayed by the visionaries are concerned, one should read what the responsible priests of Medjugorje have written about this; this was published in 1986 and shows high theological competence. It points out possible sources of error and cautions from bringing leading questions into the process of the apparitions. Finally, in judging the apparitions and messages, one should also consider what Karl Rahner described in his book Visions and Prophesies (Tyrolia, Innsbruck 1952). Particularly interesting are the distinctions he makes between mystical visions, which are meant for individuals, and prophetic visions, which are important for the Church and the world; for the latter, he questions the term "private revelations". Also interesting is what he says about the involvement of the psyche when the visions and auditions are being reproduced in pictures and words.
The case of Grafenauer shows that there is little chance for success when opponents and supporters of Medjugorje sit down together at a table, in order to solve the case. Every side has its arguments and has made its options. Each side is convinced to have the truth on its side. That is one more reason why the higher ecclesiastical instance should get involved in the case of Medjugorje.
In the language of Roman theology, there are three classical formulations for judging apparitions and messages: 1. Constat den non supernaturalitate 2. Constat de supernaturalitate and 3. Non constat de supernaturalitate. Admittedly, it is difficult for lay men to correctly interpret the third formula. As a matter of fact, the verdict "non constat de supernaturalitate" was reproduced in the headlines of the press, as follows: Nothing supernatural in Medjugorje! Whereby this verdict of Zadar actually leaves the case of Medjugorje open: It is not certain if the events of Medjugorje have a supernatural character. One can understand that the journalists can err like this in their hectic daily work; especially, when the press releases of the Bishop of Mostar misinterpret the statements of Zadar in such a way. However, it is surprising, that even a Cardinal can make such a mistake, as it is documented in the Viennese newspaper MEDJUGORJE in an interview from September 14, 1996. Does this possibly show a negative prejudice?
Coming back once more to the topic we are dealing with. Bishop Pavao Zanic believes that the Franciscans have mingled the "Herzegovina-case" with the Medjugorje phenomena. Father Tomislav Vlasic, on the other hand, declares that he has always tried not to burden the apparitions of Medjugorje with the "Herzegovina-case". I ask myself if it were not possible that, with Her call for conversion and reconciliation, the Queen of Peace also has the "Herzegovina-case" in mind? After Marija Pavlovic had seen the Gospa 26th of June 1981, standing beneath the cross crying and saying, "Peace, peace, you must search for peace!" - many asked themselves: What does She mean? We have peace! Yes, there was no war. But there was no peace in the Church of Hercegovina. There was and still exists today the "Herzegovina-case". And this is a heavy burden for the Church and hinders its peace efforts throughout the world more than one would believe at first glance. The Gospa did not mention this specifically. She said to Marija Pavlovic at that time, "There must be peace again in the world". But in this, the Church plays an important role! She is, according to a statement of the Second Vaticanum, "So to speak the Sacrament, the sign and instrument for the most intimate union with God, as well as the unity of all mankind". But the Church cannot be this instrument for reconciliation and peace in the hand of God when she is torn within herself and she, herself, has no unity and peace within. That is why, according to the words of Pope John Paul II in his apostolic letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente for the year 2000, the highest priority is that all Christians be reunited. Only a united Christendom can evangelize the world so that it can believe in Christ (John 17,21: ... so that they may all be one .....that the world may believe that you sent me ...). With the same urgency, the Pope asks for a collaboration of the main religions of the world, which have so often fought among each other and have been a counter witness to peace for the world. But the question is: how can the Church do all this, if she is not united within herself? From this point of view, we understand when the Gospa said later in a private message, which Vicka relayed to us, that the conflict in Herzegovina is a great shame. There, surely, also exist other conflicts in the Church, which also have to be resolved, as they obscure the credibility of its efforts for peace and reconciliation. But the "Herzegovina-case", right on the border to with Orthodoxy and Islam, is surely particularly serious. Therefore, should the Queen of Peace also and finally not want this conflict resolved? Then Her initiative would be exactly on line with the Pope: from a Church united in itself and the reunion of all Christians to a new evangelisation, from an understanding of the great religions of the world to peace among all nations, to peace on earth. Once more the Gospa, "There must be peace again on earth". If the peace movement of Medjugorje synchronizes in such a way with the orientation of the pontificate of John Paul II, it is a further proof that this movement is spiritual and within the Church. And it is a further reason for the Church to deal with it on its highest level.
What needs to be done? Until now, we have mainly talked about what Rome should do. A final word as to what we and all others, who are committed to the Medjugorje movement, can do. One thing we can do is that each one of us tries as best as he can to live the messages, which the Queen of Peace gives us so patiently and tirelessly. Another thing we can do is to take care that the original message is not being falsified or obscured in the Medjugorje centres and prayer groups. Medjugorje is not just any pious prayer movement. The program of Medjugorje is not simply that of any popular mission, as it is from time to time presented to our communities. It is good to pray, to fast, to go to holy mass, to go to confession regularly, to read Sacred Scriptures. But, if we do not understand that, despite all personal piety, we are dealing here with total peace and conversion, then we have not yet correctly understood the essence of the Medjugorje message. Certainly, it always also has to do with "saving your soul". However, the essence of Medjugorje is the biblical message: God wants the unity of his people, peace on earth and the salvation of the world.
Dirk Grothues, 1998
Dirk Grotheus, born 1928, ordained priest 1955 in Munster, Germany. He is chaplain to a community of workers, instructor of religion in a gymnasiums, pastoral caregiver in a clinic for psychosomatic medicine, counsellor in the service for marriage and family affairs, and spiritual director of spiritual communities. From 1968 to 1995, he is theological collaborator for the diocesan newspaper Kirche und Leben, rector of the provincial house of sisters in Munster. Since 1987, he is spiritual advisor at the Centre Mary Queen of Peace, Medjugorje. He collaborates on theological symposia and in publications that refer to the Medjugorje apparitions and messages.