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It's impossible to know how the Vatican will rule on it (abiding, as we will, by any such ruling), but there certainly are aspects about the famous apparition site of Medjugorje in Bosnia-Hercegovina that continue to intensely intrigue.

Previously, we have written about how the happenings there seemed to have been prophesied. This occurred a number of times. There was a famous Catholic charismatic priest, Emiliano Tardif, from Santo Domingo, who, in a "word of knowledge" at a conference, saw it coming. There was also a prediction, of sorts, from an Irish-American nun, Sister Briege McKenna. Those were immediately before the occurrences -- in fact, earlier the very same year and month: June, 1981.

Farther in the past, however, and with more detail, there was a villager named Mate Šego, born in 1901, died 1979, who, as we have reported, often spoke of a future time when, "My Gospa [Our Lady] will come -- blessed are they who remain in prayer.

"I'm telling you this now!" he was quoted as prophesying. "I will not see any of this but you, children, will! There will be lots of buildings not like houses we have now -- some of the buildings will be huge. Our folks will sell their land to foreigners who will build hotels. Medjugorje and the surrounding hills will be a holy place. There will be so many people on our Crnica you won't be able to sleep at night. They will come for my Gospa! Be kind and hospitable to those who come here and all will go well for you."

Šego was an illiterate man who was only half-listened to at the time. Obviously, aspects of what he foresaw came stunningly true: Once tobacco fields and houses made of rough-hewn stone, Medjugorje is now a pilgrimage city the size of Lourdes with religious shops, pensiones, and even hotels densely clustered around the church, many of them largely built with foreign money to provide for pilgrims whose numbers continue to swell (even as a Vatican commission studies the events; in September alone, 5,441 priests concelebrated Mass there, or 181 a day, distributing 300,500 Hosts).

But there was more. Older than that were the prophecies of an elderly woman named Marićuša who tended to sheep on the hillsides and likewise saw a tremendous future in which Our Lady would appear and a "white army" would also come (this perhaps the white-clad United Nations peacekeepers during the Yugoslavian civil war in the 1990s).

Meanwhile, in 1933, the large Cross on a massive hill/mountain known then as Śipovac (Rosehip Hill), now called Kriźevac (Hill of the Cross), was erected at the behest of parish priest named Father Bernardin Smoljan (below, right), who in 1945 was murdered by Communists in Mostar). Father Smoljan wanted to also build a new church, but the impoverishment of the area prevented that until 1969, when the original quake-damaged church [left] was replaced by the now-famous two-tower one.

If it was all a hoax -- these intimations of something tremendous in the area's future -- it was certainly a long-running one!

It is all detailed in a splendid new book, Medjugorje: What's Happening? by Father James Mulligan of London.

In 1974 there was also what Father Mulligan calls a "naive painting" [below, left] by a local artist, Vlado Falak, of Šurmanci (an adjacent hamlet), depicting the Blessed Mother in the sky above the new church with Cross Mountain in the background. That was seven years before six children began receiving their apparitions! The picture had been displayed in the choir loft of the church -- where many later apparitions would occur (as well as in the rectory and sacristy).

What was it that seemed to pre-ordain this area?

No one can really know how places here and elsewhere are chosen and figure into God's master Plan, nor the role of history (and even pre-history: this is old caveman territory). It is a fact that Franciscans have ministered here for many centuries -- since the Middle Ages, with legends that Saint Francis himself once walked the craggy, dolomite-stone hillsides of former Yugoslavia.

The blood of martyrs has been spilled in this vicinity.

In 1941 -- during World War Two -- a train with six cars filled with women and children was sent to Šurmanci. They were led up the mountains and thrown alive off the precipices. Sixty-nine Franciscans in Hercegovina were killed in 1945 (some buried alive at a nearby monastery called Široki Brijeg) and a total of 617 priests slain by Communists in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina. Later, the priest who served as pastor of Medjugorje at the time of the initial apparitions would be imprisoned by Communists, who intimidated the bishop, threatened to detain the seers, and tried to keep villagers away from the hill of apparitions. Intriguing, to say the least.

And the Vatican? Father Mulligan relates the account of a meeting in Linz between Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Medjugorje priest Father Slavko Barbarić at which time, referring to the apparitions, Cardinal Ratzinger told the Franciscan that "the Church does not want to repress anything that is bringing good spiritual fruits" (reported in Nasa Ognjista, 1991, number 10). Father Mulligan says that according to taxi drivers and others in the village the future Pope first visited the site incognito in 1985 as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Among the alleged witnesses: an Irish pilgrim named Mary E. Smith who was with a friend named Anita Curtis and recalls that "we were sitting on the steps outside the sacristy.

"Cardinal Ratzinger walked right by us at half-a-meter's distance.

"He put his head down and to the left, toward the wall of the church, as if he did not want to be recognized by the general body of pilgrims. He was dressed in civilian clothes: a white, short-sleeved shirt open at the neck and a light gray pair of trousers. I also recognized his snow-white hair."

Seers [see Vicka Ivankovic, left, as young girl] have declined to comment on whether the future Pope has been there (there are reports of three visitations), but it is documented that the Vatican has regularly sent "observers."

Meanwhile, it was Cardinal Ratzinger who later sent away a local bishop from Mostar who had sought to reject the apparitions. It is also reported that in October 2009, Monsignor Edmond Farhat, former apostolic nuncio of Austria, went to Medjugorje with a group of 2,000 pilgrims and related that he had spoken to Pope Benedict about going and that the Pope was "delighted."

Still, no one knows what the current commission will recommend, and how the Vatican will react to that recommendation. (We will abide by whatever final decision the Church renders.) A final word on Mate Šego: he also prophesied, enigmatically, that one day there would be a lake in Medjugorje, where now, in summer dryness, there is cracked earth.

[resources: My Heart Will Triumph and The Bridge to Heaven]

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