Last week I received a mailing from Caritas of Birmingham, in Sterret, Alabama. It was an invitation to come to the four-storey Tabernacle of our Lady’s Messages at Caritas, where a visionary, Marija Pavlovic Lunetti, is slated to receive five messages and apparitions during the 2012 gathering from July 1 to July 5.
Caritas is a group devoted to the Medjugorje Marian apparitions in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is a continuation of international devotional interest in a phenomenon beginning on June 24, 1981, when six young people said they had received apparitions from the “Gospa” (Madonna). I’m not sure how we got on to their mailing list. Possibly a relative submitted our name and address.
The Caritas group, however, is considered schismatic by the visionaries and priests at the pilgrimage center, in a part of what used to be Yugoslavia. On the “official” Medjugorje website we are warned that Caritas of Birmingham is a cult, something like a religious business, not approved.
But one of the visionaries, Marija, still comes regularly to Caritas in Birmingham, contributing to a local, in-house schism of an international cult that bespeaks a larger and ongoing schism with orthodox Catholicism.
Numerous books have been written on Medjugorje, most of them favorable. But most of the pro-Medjugorje books ignore the early tapes made by Fr. Cuvalo and Fr. Zovko, on the days immediately following the apparitions, which began on June 24, 1981; they are based on interviews recorded over a year after the original visions, and incorporated in the 1985 book, A Thousand Encounters with the Blessed Virgin Mary in Medjugorje. And none of them take into account the first tape made by Fr. Cuvalo before Fr. Zovko took over the taping of interviews with the visionaries.
But Donal Foley’s book, Medjugorje Revisited: 30 years of Visions or Religious Fraud? does take into account early tapes as well as later sources, brings out some crucial differences in the early and later transcripts, and leads the reflective reader to serious doubts about what is really happening at this pilgrimage center.
Compared to approved apparitions of the Blessed Virgin, for example, at Lourdes and at Fatima, the alleged apparitions at Medjugorje contain numerous anomalous aspects:
In the initial appearances, the Gospa appears out of a cloud of light which gradually takes on the image of a young woman in her late teens. She has blue eyes and is wearing a gray dress. She looks like she is holding “something like a baby” in her arms, but none of the features of the baby can be seen. Her hands are shaking. She laughs. The visionaries are able to touch and kiss her, but her vestments are “steel to the touch.” When a lady doctor asked if she could touch her also, the Gospa agreed, but complained about “unbelieving Judases.”
Fr. René Laurentin, a supporter of Medjugorje, in his Chronological Corpus of the Messages, changed this obvious blooper to “doubting Thomases.”
In the first few years following the apparitions, around thirty different apparition places were chosen, with the Gospa appearing often as if “on cue.” Some of the messages, even in our open-minded era, would be categorized as not just heterodox, but heretical. We hear that all religions are equal (“Before God all the faiths are identical. God governs them like a king in his kingdom.”) All sufferings are equal in hell; and Mirjana quotes the Gospa as telling her that people begin feeling comfortable in hell. As regards the afterlife, those who go to heaven after death “are present with the soul and the body.” When the Madonna is asked about the title, “Mediatrix of all graces,” she replies, “I do not dispose of all graces.”
Although Medjugorje claims to be a continuation of Fatima and the “last appearance of Jesus or Mary on earth,” there is strangely no exhortation to the devotion of the Five First Saturdays, which Our Lady of Fatima asked for in reparation for the five kinds of offenses and blasphemies against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Unlike the approved apparitions, the visionaries at Medjugorje have been consistently disobedient to local bishops.
- December 19, 1981, Vicka in her Notebook writes that their bishop, Pavao Zanic, was “the more guilty party” in conflict with the Franciscans, and the Gospa defended the Franciscans who were disobeying the bishop’s order to share their parish with secular clergy.
- June 21, 1983, in a letter the visionary Ivan said that the Gospa demanded the Bishop’s “immediate conversion” and that he should stop emphasizing the “negative side”– otherwise she and her Son would punish him.
- February 3, 1985 the Gospa told three visionaries that Fr. Barbaric, whose removal was requested by the bishop, should stay.
According to the German theologian, Manfred Hauke, the Gospa urged disobedience thirteen times to Bishop Zanic, who had originally been inclined favorably to the apparitions.
Pilgrims to Medjugorje occasionally report signs, such as the appearance of a gold tint on the chains of their rosaries, and the phenomenon of a “dance of the sun,” in which the sun, seen by the naked eye without causing harm, proceeds up and down in a yo-yo manner, emitting various colors. The latter is obviously construed as a reenactment of the famous “miracle of the sun” at Fatima, on October 13, 1917. “Healing” miracles have been reported, but none have been tested by experts and verified.
On June 29, 1981, the Gospa announced that a four-year-old boy would be healed, but this never happened. A sign from heaven predicted by the visionaries for August 17, 1981, never materialized. Ivan, in a signed statement, on May 9, 1982, said that a sign would appear in six months – a “huge shrine in Medjugorje” in memory of the Gospa’s apparitions. But this also never materialized. In 1983 the visionaries said a “visible sign” would be left at Medjugorje in perpetuity. But this has not happened.
In September, 1981, the prophecy that “Germany and the U.S. will be destroyed,…the Pope will be exiled to Turkey,” never took place. Nor did peace for Yugoslavia predicted by the Gospa during the 80s. Yugoslavia broke up during the Bosnian war, 1992-95, leading to the violent separation of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina from Serbia.
The visionaries allege that they have received secrets from the Gospa. Jakov Colo, Ivan Dragicevic and Ivanka Ivankovic have each received nine, while the others have received all ten. Only one of the secrets has been revealed by the visionaries: Namely, the Gospa’s promise of a “visible sign,” mentioned above.
On June 30, 1981, the Gospa said that her appearances would end in three days, but they went on without interruption. As of 2004, over 33,000 messages had been delivered by the Gospa. The number now is around 40,000. Three of the visionaries, Ivan, Vicka and Marija, still have daily visions. We are dealing with a Madonna who, in contrast with the authorized apparitions, has become extremely talkative. If we weren’t referring to heavenly personages, the category of “personality change” would suggest itself.
Numerous attempts have been made to subject the visionaries to testing by experts. However, when experts came from various countries in 1984, 1987, 1988, 1992 and 1995, to test the visionaries, they either claimed to be sick, or that Our Lady had “paused” in her appearances, or they simply did not cooperate.
During the tests on October 6-7, 1984, of the visionaries during ecstasy, Dr. Philippot, an ophthalmologist, found that the pupil of the visionaries did react to light. Once, when the visionaries were being filmed during ecstasy, a skeptical pilgrim made movements with his two fingers towards the eyes of Vicka in ecstasy, and she reacted by moving her head back; later she explained that this was because she thought the Blessed Virgin was about to drop the baby Jesus, and she wanted to keep him from falling.
Both Pavao Zanic and Ratko Perić, the bishops who have had jurisdiction over Medjugorje since 1981, have concluded that the apparitions are not of supernatural origin. Nineteen out of 20 bishops in the Yugoslav Episcopal Conference in 1991 issued the Zadar declaration: “On the basis of investigation up till now, it cannot be established that one is dealing with supernatural apparitions and revelations.”
In 1884, Pope Leo XIII had a vision in which he listened to a dialogue taking place between God and Satan. Satan boasted that he could destroy the Church, if only God would remove some of the restraints on his power and give him a hundred years. God answered, “So be it,” causing the Pope, fearful for the coming trials of the Church, to compose the prayer for protection to St. Michael, recited at the end of Mass until 1964.
Is it conceivable that starting in 1981, the devil, looking over his victories and concerned that his time might be coming to an end, might look to subvert the Church with something like a pretend-Madonna? Jesus warned us (Mt. 24:24, Mk. 13:22) that in the final days prophets would arise with signs and wonders, and would be able to deceive even the elect.
For the Spirit of Evil, with no interest in goodness or holiness, it would have to be “out of character” to appear as the holy Woman whom he hates, and whose foot (Genesis 3:15) will finally crush his head. On the other hand, what a tremendous victory it would be to get the devotion of the faithful, drawing them in subtle ways to the devil’s own “religious reeducation” project.
Mistakes might be made, of course. For example, in 1982, one of Mirjana’s expected visions of the Gospa turned out to be the devil, until it changed into the Madonna, apologizing and telling her that this was just a trial. And on August 2, 1981, the Gospa allowed the people present to come and touch her, but turned black; Marija explained that this was because sinners were touching her, and they should go to confession.
Medjugorje is frequently touted as a continuation of Fatima. At Fatima, Our Lady promised that eventually, through the power of the rosary and fulfillment of her request of Mass attendance on five first Saturdays, her Immaculate Heart would eventually triumph and world peace would ensue. This might coincide with the end of the time given to the devil. From the devil’s viewpoint, might not a distraction be in order? Some traditional piety, with prayer and fasting, and a touch of “New Age” spirituality? If Medjugorje were approved officially by the Church, the devil’s feared triumph of Mary’s Immaculate Heart might be staved off indefinitely.
Jesus told us to judge trees by their “fruits.” In Medjugorje, numerous conversions have been reported, Catholics returning to the sacraments after many years, etc. But the main fruit, and the fruit closest to the heart of the devil, has been disobedience. Original sin came into the world not through lust or greed or murder, but through disobedience; and the redemption took place through the obedience of Jesus (Romans 5:19) and the fiat of his mother. In Medjugorje, we are confronted with the counterintuitive phenomenon of the Madonna encouraging disobedience to the successors of the Apostles, and disobedience of some Franciscans to Vatican directives.
Other “fruits” include the massacres and mutilations that took place from 1991 to 1992 when, because of the war, three groups involved in the pilgrimage trade, losing business, turned on each other, resulting in an estimated 80-140 deaths and 600 expulsions; and the revocation of faculties or laicization of Frs. Zovko and Vlasic, guides of the visionaries accused of sexual infractions. Nine Franciscans were also expelled from the order and a divinis. According to historian Michael Sells, religious nationalists in Medjugorje “cleansed” non-Catholics, destroying an Orthodox monastery and murdering priests and monks. Bishop Perić was kidnapped on April 2, 1994, in retaliation for his criticisms of unauthorized activities in Medjugorje, and released only when the Mayor of Mostar intervened with UN troops.
And so what are we to conclude? Bishop Perić’s statement in 1997 still seems to be the most relevant:
On the basis of the serious study of the case by 30 [academics], on my episcopal experience of five years in the Diocese, on the scandalous disobedience that surrounds the phenomenon, on the lies that are at times put into the mouth of the “Madonna,” on the unusual repetition of “messages” for over 16 years, on the strange way that the “spiritual directors”of the so-called “visionaries” accompany them throughout the world making propaganda of them, on the practice that the “Madonna” appears at the “fiat” (let her come!) of the “visionaries,” my conviction and position is not only non constat de supernaturalitate (“no evidence of the supernatural”) but also the other formula constat de non supernaturalitate (“evidence of the non-supernatural character”) of the apparitions or revelations of Medjugorje.
Howard Kainz is professor emeritus at Marquette University. He is the author of several books, including Natural Law: an Introduction and Reexamination(2004), The Philosophy of Human Nature (2008), and The Existence of God and the Faith-Instinct (2010). Professor Kainz is a regular contributor To Crisis Magazine