New Church Commission To Study Medjugorje
Church leaders in Bosnia-Herzegovina plan to assemble a commission to study the effects of pilgrimages to Medjugorje.
Msgr. Mato Zovkic, the vicar general of the Sarajevo archdiocese, confirmed the plans for a study commission during a September 5 conversation with the I Media news service in Rome. He said that the bishops' plans had been discussed this summer with Archbishop Alessandro D'Errico, the apostolic nuncio in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
A 1972 Vatican document sets out the procedures to be followed in investigating the authenticity of extraordinary claims, such as the reported appearances of the Virgin Mary at Medjurorje. The document calls for examination of three questions. First, Church officials are called to assess the phenomena themselves, and the people who report them, looking for evidence of authenticity. Next they are to study any message that is associated with the extraordinary reports, to ascertain whether that message conforms to orthodox Church teaching.
Msgr. Zovkic said that Church leaders are now tackling the third question raised by the document, appraising the pastoral implications of the phenomena, by studying the "fruits" of the reported apparitions. He explained that the study commission will attempt to answer several related question: What are the experiences of pilgrims who visit Medjugorje? What motivates some people to make repeated visits there? What effect does their pilgrimage have upon the way they live after they return home? These questions contribute to the overall appraisal of the reported apparitions.
In 1991, a commission set up by the bishops of what was then Yugoslavia reached the conclusion that there was no clear evidence of extraordinary events at Medjugorje, saying that the study "could not confirm the supernatural character" of the alleged Marian apparitions. The commission recommended a follow-up study to determine whether or not the pilgrimages to Medjugorje were promoting a firm adherence to the norms of Church teaching and liturgical discipline.
However, the plans for that second study were disrupted by the outbreak of civil war in Yugoslavia. After years of bloodshed the country disintegrated and the newly independent state of Bosnia-Herzegovina emerged. Now that peace has been restored, and pilgrimages to Medjugorje continue, the Holy See encouraged the formation of a pastoral commission to continue the study, Msgr. Zovkic reported. The commission is to be established under the jurisdiction of the local ordinary, Bishop Ratko Peric, in conjunction with the nation's episcopal conference.
The steady influx of pilgrims to Medjugorje is "a phenomenon that must be taken seriously," Msgr. Zovkic said. The faithful who come to Medjugorje to receive the sacraments deserve proper pastoral attention from the local priests and bishops, and the many reports from pilgrims who experienced a spiritual renewal there should be taken into account, he said.
The composition of the new investigating commission has not yet been settled, Msgr. Zovkic reported. He predicted that it might take several months to choose the members of the panel, including experts in liturgy, Mariology, and theology. In all likelihood, he said, the commission would include members from the different regions of the former Yugoslavia as well as others appointed by the Holy See. In July, Cardinal Vinko Puljic of Sarajevo said that the bishops of Bosnia-Herzegovina were waiting for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to recommend theologians for the panel. That Congregation has not offered any public comment on the planned inquiry, although sources there acknowledge that a new study is underway.
The Church is not likely to make any final conclusion on the authenticity of the reported Marian apparitions at Medjugorje, Msgr. Zovkic said, until the "seers" report that those apparitions have ended. To date the seers have continued to say that the Virgin Mary appears to them daily, 25 years after the first such reports.
Millions of pilgrims have traveled to Medjugorje, a village in western Herzegovina, since the first reports of apparitions on June 24, 1981. Two commissions established by Church authorities-- one at the diocesan level in 1982, and another by the Yugoslavian bishops' conference-- have cast doubts on the authenticity of the reported apparitions. Nevertheless, Msgr. Zovkic emphasizes, the Church wishes to preserve whatever spiritual fruits the pilgrimages have brought forth.